By: Zach Fulwood
So, here we are once again in the month of February, celebrating Black History Month. How are we celebrating it? Well, we play snippets of Dr, King’s “I Have a Dream” speech over and over again, talk about racism, and discuss how much better race relations are because Barack Obama was able to become the first Black President. Oh, and we might make mention of Rosa Parks and the bus boycott of 1956.
Needless to say, the two thousand plus year history of Black people and the five hundred plus year history of Black people in America goes far beyond three individuals. Yet and still, give or take a few names, this pretty much encapsulates Black History Month each and every year.
When I think back to my grade school days, the Black History Month curriculum never changed. We didn’t add any new faces to the conversation. Whenever it was time to do a book report, half the class would do it on Dr. King, the other half would do Rosa Parks and if you’re lucky, you might have one or two doing it on Harriet Tubman and that was only because they wanted to be different. The variance of names being introduced to the class was nonexistent and that was a direct result of what was wasn’t being taught in the classroom. You would think that with an entire month dedicated to learning about Black history, there would be a much more expansive list of topics and people discussed.
The truth of the matter is, teaching about Black history is not a priority for schools or teachers. There was never a time in my life where teachers put down the textbook and took it upon themselves to teach Black history facts. I was never taught about influential Black figures such as Robert Sengstacke Abbott, who founded The Chicago Defender and became one of the more prominent post-slavery Black millionaires. We never talked about James Baldwin, a renowned novelist, or civil rights activist and educator, Mary McLeod Bethune.
If we weren’t going to talk about the success stories in Black history, we certainly weren’t going to talk about the horror stories that existed. The tragic stories of Nat Turner, a former slave who helped lead the biggest slave revolt in American history and Emmett Till, a 13-year old child that was beaten and murdered for supposedly flirting with a White woman, are stories that go untold in schools across the country.
We can sit here and act like Black History Month is some momentous occasion all we want but the reality is, we are severely lacking in our knowledge of Black history and that’s a reflection of our schools. I love Dr. King and all the contributions he made to the advancements of the Black community but he is not the sole face of the Black community. I shouldn’t have to take an African American studies course to learn about Black history. American history is Black history and it’s time our schools acknowledge that.