Dr. Carter G. Woodson created “Negro History Week” in 1926 to celebrate the history and accomplishments of African Americans in the United States and beyond. Since 1976 our country has set aside the month of February to celebrate Black History. But how much African American history were you taught in your K-12 classroom? How many chapters in your history books were dedicated to the accomplishments of African Americans beyond Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Harriet Tubman or Sojourner Truth? Did you hear more about slavery or achievements during those February lessons? For a majority of us, the answers to the previous questions are very little, chapters – maybe a paragraph or two – and slavery, respectively.
Throughout my time as a K-12 student, I was taught very little about black history. I remember reading about the slave trade, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as a civil rights leader. My interest in black history was sparked by my grandmother. She would tell stories of growing up in Mississippi before, during and after the Civil Rights movement. She told of the times she and her sharecropper parents would pick cotton, and how frightened they were when the bodies of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner were discovered a few miles from their home. She took me to the county courthouse and showed me the "colored entrance" in the basement because blacks were not allowed to enter through the front doors. She also shared stories about the pride she experienced when James Meredith was finally accepted to the University of Mississippi, but only after Medgar Evans had been denied admission. Stories similar to these were not found in my textbooks. My grandmother’s tales intrigued me and stirred me on to do more research.
As an educator, I am intentionally sharing with my students Black History facts throughout the year. I share with them the stories of major and minor figures of the Civil Rights movement. I want them to know more about black his- torical figures like Henry “Box” Brown, Thurgood Marshall, Paul Robeson, Mary McCleod Bethune, Dorothy Irene Height, the Freedom Riders, Myrlie Evers-Williams and so many others. Black History is so much more than a one month celebration. It is worth more than a few pages in a textbook. It is up to us as educators to spearhead this change by allowing our children – all children – to learn the richness of African American history.
LaToya M. Newson is a school counselor at Walton Ferry Elementary.
Photo credit: Nashville Banner
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