Psst! Are elementary, middle and high school students in your town being taught anything about the history of Black Americans this month? What about Black contributors to the economy, education, health and the sciences today? Anything?
I know it’s October, not February’s celebrated month of Black History, but are students hearing mention of Black people who shaped Baton Rouge, the state and nation?
According to a 2015 study by the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the answer is probably no. That study found on average only 8% to 9% of history time in U.S. schools is devoted to Black History. Even that feeble percentage may not be met in some private schools.
Now, I’m not preaching the need for "critical race theory," a presentation that scares the heck out of some folks, although there is a definite place for it. No, I’m just suggesting that Black history, and current contributions of Blacks, be taught year-round.
Apparently, something happened over the past 400 years that some feel should be locked in cold storage. Part of it, some parents feel, would shock the senses of their children and lead them to think America has been a bit racist. (Sarcastic chuckle from the dark corners of America’s conscience.)
Some of these people feel more comfortable with comments suggesting there are two sides to the Holocaust, and there are good Ku Klux Klansmen — “good people on both sides.” Remember that one?
They are more comfortable with a story in a Connecticut textbook that told fourth graders that slaves were treated just like family. Or a Texas geography textbook that referred to enslaved Africans as workers.
Real history says my ancestors' route here is a nasty tale that their children shouldn’t have to endure. The part about them being carried here packed like sardines soaked in stench, vomit, feces and diseases in the bottom of ships, is just too much.
Don’t tell the truth that Black slave women were raped by plantation owners, their sons, and slave masters. Being lynched or having limbs amputated for trying to escape slavery to freedom — well, that’s way overboard for their emotions.
Black history that talks about them rising from the hell of segregation to risk their lives in foreign wars only to return knee-deep in the same atrocities and told they had no right to vote or eat in certain restaurants. What child should endure that, they ask.
What’s wrong with telling a remarkable story of a people, who despite being dragged down with the horrendous weight of unequal justice on their shoulders, police brutality, laws set to discriminate against them in housing, banking and voting, somehow scratched out lives and economic successes? Isn’t that a great story? As the retort to the preacher in the old Black church goes: “Tell it!”
Oh, wait, there is Black History Month. Yeah, you get to hear about Martin Luther King, Hank Aaron and Aretha Franklin. Sometimes you might get W.E.B. DuBois, Bloody Sunday, the Baton Rouge Bus Boycott, Thurgood Marshall and Rosa Parks. As great as they are, there are a lot more.
About Rosa Parks, you do know she was not the first Black person or woman to refuse to give up her seat on a bus. Read about a 15-year-old Black girl named Claudette Colvin.
Hey teachers and schools, you don’t have to wait until February to incorporate black history in your classrooms. You can start looking for sources now, but be vigilant about the sources you use. See what perspective they are using. You certainly don’t want the authors of books who called slaves workers.
Here's hoping that schools across the state and nation are incorporating the history of Black people in their local, state, national history lessons every week.
Black history isn’t just a few paragraphs from the past. It is about yesterday and today, about this morning and this evening. There are historic things being done by Blacks in boardrooms, the school board and in technology. Yes, the past is harsh and brutal, but it isn’t too hard to hear or see for our students.
Just tell it!
Email Edward Pratt, a former newspaperman, at firstname.lastname@example.org.