By Drew Sanemeterio
The University at Albany has been brimming with events this past month in celebration of Black History Month. Dr. Leonard A. Slade Jr. led a commentary and discussion this past Thursday about the 1999 TV-movie adaptation of Ernest J. Gaines’s “A Lesson Before Dying.” Slade is a poet, a civil rights scholar, and a professor of Africana Studies at UAlbany.
The film, originally a fictional novel based loosely off of the life of Willie Francis, a young black man living in 1940s Louisiana who was sentenced to death, captivated the audience of students and professors.
Khadijah Boxill, a second-year graduate student of Africana studies, originally came to the event for the extra credit points that her professor was offering for attending. Boxill kept an open mind though, looking for a “better understanding of African American literature and what those authors have to say about the political climate that they wrote in.”
Dr. Slade Jr. opened the event up with a brief synopsis of what the film was about, as well as some of the themes that could be expected to surface throughout the film’s 1.5-hour runtime. The movie sadly had to be cut 15-minutes short of its runtime in order to accommodate the discussion that took place afterward.
The after-viewing discussion was led by Dr. Slade Jr. and joined by special guest Frank Wiley, the University at Albany’s Police Chief.
When posed the question, “Do we still have the same problems in the criminal justice system now, then we did then (the 1940s)?” Frank Wiley responded with an adamant, “Oh, yes we do.”
Wiley referenced studies such as the “Doll Test,” which was used by the defense in Brown V. The Board of Education to display the psychological effects of segregation on African American children. Wiley also talked about the judicial problem that is jury nullification and how this issue affects many court rulings, comparing the judicial process which took place during the film to our modern-day judicial process.
When asked what he hopes his students will walk away from this event thinking, Dr. Slade Jr. says, “I hope our students will be motivated to develop to the maximum of their intellectual and professional capacities.”
“This university exists for all students, for all faculty, and for all staff, to learn. And by learning, we are supposed to change for the better,” Slade said. “I am an eternal optimist, and I believe the beauty of our country when you get an education, become enlightened, we learn how to make right the wrongs in our communities, in our states, in our nation.”
For more information on Black History Month events being held on campus, visit https://www.albany.edu/africana/news/black-history-month.