Black History is Every American’s History

Black History is Every American’s History

February is Black History Month in the United States. Ninety-three years ago, historian Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History chose the second week in February to encourage the “coordinated teaching of the history of American Blacks in the nation’s public schools.” The week was chosen in honor of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday (February 12) and Frederick Douglass’s birthday (February 14). But, let that sink in. There was one week to educate students in public schools on the history of American Blacks. Fifty years later, following the lead of Black educators at Kent State University, President Gerald Ford recognized Black History Month as part of the nation’s Bicentennial celebration. Instead of a week, there was now 28 days given to the effort. Over four decades since that national recognition in 1976, the history of Black Americans is still largely unknown, separated, and barely covered in our schools. The ignorance of Black History and thus, American History, is one of the root causes of the divisiveness we are experiencing today.

Every Year I Learn More

I am always amazed by what new Black history facts I learn every year, and I wonder why I was not taught those facts in grade school. Sure, my parents and the Black community added to my knowledge, but where do non-Blacks learn Black history? This is about the role and responsibility of a system to educate all of its students. Pertinent facts about the significant contributions of Black Americans in the shaping of America didn’t show up in my American history books – and what did was routine and brief. The ugliness of racism was remarkably absent. Often, it was left to the earnestness of a teacher to pull together supplemental materials so as to provide what little education students did receive.

When I entered college and decided to take courses through the African American studies program, I learned so much more about the truth and expansiveness of the African Diaspora. There, I learned the history of a people that transcends slavery, Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, and many of the other notable, but usual stories. Please don’t take offense. I’m thankful for Dr. King, Mrs. Parks, and so many other past and modern trailblazers whose histories and contributions are taught in schools during this month. The entire country is indebted to them. My point is that Black history is America’s history. It is time to integrate the full story into America’s history, from slavery to the Civil Rights Movement to today.

Some Don’t Want to Hear It

In February 2018, Donald Earl Collins, an associate professor at the University of Maryland University College (UMUC), wrote an article in the Washington Post, Black history is U.S. history — but some of my students don’t want to hear it. In it, he described how woefully uninformed students are about slavery, racism, and the Reconstruction. Sadder is that some of his students complain that the history being taught is not the history they want to learn. They would prefer to remain ignorant about our country’s beginnings and the travails that have gotten us to where we are today. Collins wrote, “Race and American history are inextricably linked; black history and American history are one and the same. Students who demand that race be excluded from a history class reveal how little they understand: about U.S. history, about race and, ultimately, about themselves.” I wager that some of Collins’s students simply were told a different American story their entire lives, or at least a starkly sanitized version. Going to his class created cognitive dissonance for them, and they rejected the truth of American history.

To Know Our History is to Understand What’s Happening Today

I believe the reason for a resurgence in identity politics and the racial tensions we are experiencing today in the United States are due in part to an ignorant populous. I would say we have forgotten our history, but the truth is too many don’t know it. This is true regardless of race and ethnicity, and including Blacks. America’s history has been cleaned up to make it bearable. Sadly, denying the ugly truth creates divisions among peoples because groups know America from vastly different vantage points. To heal, we must educate all of America about our past and we must do this all year long. I appreciate February as a month to highlight African culture in America, to pay homage to African ancestors, honor the contributions of notables past and present, and to recognize the road ahead. But, Black history cannot be contained to 28 days. When all of America sees Black history as their history too, then we will grow from a place of empathy, understanding, and connectedness. Then, we will move closer to an equitable and just society.

Note: Similar posts could be written about the many other heritage months, women’s history, LGBTQ, etc. We are a diverse America. We have to become a more inclusive America, and our story has to reflect such.

 Other history months (Please note this list is from Wikipedia and is not exhaustive)

Heritage months

International

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