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It’s not just Black History Month that’s endangered – It’s Black history itself

Sanitizing our country’s history doesn’t accurately portray our past, leaving a cloud hanging over Black History Month.

Femasle slave quarters at Mount Vernon, the home of President George Washington. Source - Tim Evanson, CC SA 2.0.
Femasle slave quarters at Mount Vernon, the home of President George Washington. Source - Tim Evanson, CC SA 2.0.

Sanitizing our country’s history doesn’t accurately portray our past, leaving a cloud hanging over Black History Month.

A movement to regulate how Black history is taught has taken root across the country, fueled by the passage of Florida’s “Stop WOKE Act,” which requires that lessons on race be taught in “an objective manner” and prohibits teachers from making students feel “discomfort” or “guilt” over past actions committed by others of their race.

Sadly, at least 13 states have new laws or directives in place that restrict what can be taught and how it can be discussed.  These restrictions put the teaching of history and social studies under a microscope.

Many Black parents and students are alarmed at the number of schools in so many states that are skirting the breadth of the Black American experience. For them, it’s not just Black History Month that’s endangered. It’s Black history itself, according to the Washington Post.

Jamarah Amani, a Miami midwife and mother of four children, and the executive director of the Southern Birth Justice Network, which advocates for Black maternal health, says “To just give children some sanitized, watered-down version of history that doesn’t address the historical context and the truth doesn’t work.”

Colored” drinking fountain; racial segregation in Oklahoma, USA, 1939. Source – United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division, digital ID fsa.8a26761. Public Domain

Katie Couric Media quotes LaGarrett J. King, the Director of the University of Buffalo’s Center for K-12 Black History and Racial Literacy. “You can’t teach Black history without teaching about power, oppression, and anti-Blackness,” King says. “That’s the material reality of what Black people have experienced in this country.”

Telling the truth sets all of us free

Marvin Dunn is a professor emeritus at Florida International University and has taught about race relations for decades in Florida. Last month, he began leading high school students to the sites of some of the state’s ugliest episodes of racial violence, from Rosewood — a majority Black town that was destroyed by a white mob in 1923 — to Newberry, where six or more Black men were lynched. 

“My concern was and remains that difficult stories in Black history are being lost, and the best way to assure that doesn’t happen is to take young people to these places,” Dunn says. But he believes that capturing the full scope of these and other morally repulsive events — and much of the Black experience in America — in an impartial way is an “impossible” task. 

“I cannot teach about a mother having her child snatched from her bosom and stolen away in an objective way,” he says. “I can’t teach about the Holocaust and babies being burned in ovens in an objective way.”

If Texas has its way, this image would be called “people undergoing involuntary relocation.” This image is from a sketchbook of watercolors depicting places visited by Francis Meynell while on a Royal Navy anti-slavery patrol off the west coast of Africa. Source – Meynell, Francis, Lieutenant, 1821-1870 CC SA 4.0.

Many historical facts are repulsive to people today, but they are truths and part of the Black experience. Basically, history is about helping us to understand who we are.

It’s about helping us understand humanity — the good, the bad, the indifferent,” King says. “And when you don’t provide that type of knowledge to these people, who would be decision-makers down the line, you’re doing a disservice to society.”

Black history is part of the history of America

The history of this country will be forever tied in with the enslavement of Africans who have become symbolic of slavery’s roots, which was present in the Americas in the 1400s and as early as 1526 in the region that would become the United States.

African American women teachers overseeing a class of African American grade school children. The younger children play on the floor and at tables with blocks. The older ones sit and read on benches lining the wall. On the floor, a group of girls play with white dolls as others ride on tricycles and push a carriage. One teacher stands by two blackboards; one board lists the names of good and bad boys and the other of good and bad girls. Source – United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division, Public Domain

The American Civil War was all about slavery – and after the war, the racist legacy of slavery would persist, to varying degrees clear up to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The eagerness of students to learn and discuss difficult history has long been apparent to Myron Curtis, a teacher and the head football coach at Broad Run High School in Loudoun County, Virginia.

When the school held its curriculum day in early February to allow students to sample courses, Curtis’s African history and diaspora classroom was full — three separate times. Interest in this elective crossed racial and ethnic lines.

It all comes down to accepting the good, the bad, and the ugly. Black history should touch on the accomplishments and successes of Black Americans. However, we must not ignore slavery, Jim Crow, and ongoing racism in this country.

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We are deeply saddened to announce the passing of our dear friend Karen Graham, who served as Editor-at-Large at Digital Journal. She was 78 years old. Karen's view of what is happening in our world was colored by her love of history and how the past influences events taking place today. Her belief in humankind's part in the care of the planet and our environment has led her to focus on the need for action in dealing with climate change. It was said by Geoffrey C. Ward, "Journalism is merely history's first draft." Everyone who writes about what is happening today is indeed, writing a small part of our history.

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