Black history in education: is one month enough?

Feb 01 2017
Posted by: Staff
Black history in education: is one month enough?

By: LaToya M. Newson

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.

The richness of Black History has been condensed to a few pages in present-day textbooks. Our children are being short-changed in the walls of schools across America when it comes to the history of African Americans. Before the recent Hollywood blockbuster Hidden Figures, how many of you knew the names Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson? Is it Hollywood’s responsibility to teach our youth (and many adults) history they should have learned in American class- rooms? Absolutely not! As educators, there must be a paradigm shift in how we plan, prepare and teach our students about black history. Our children are searching for role models that are buried in the pages of history, and it is OUR responsibility to reveal the stories of these African American heroes, activists, inventors, educators and trailblazers.

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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