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Teaching Black History is Broken

A discerning look at public school history books, grades six through twelve, will reveal that the teaching of black history is, indeed, broken. Excluded are most of the exceptional accomplishments of blacks throughout American history. History textbooks are the dominant educational tool that shapes students’ views. Our children are missing some of the greatest inspirational stories ever told when American history books are inadequately represented and devoid of black history.

In recounting the history of the 1619 arrival of the first blacks, history books do not share that some were treated as indentured servants, as was Anthony Johnson. Anthony arrived on the English ship, White Lion, eventually became a landowner through the “headright system” and a slave owner. Anthony, a black man, won a court case in Northampton County Court on March 8, 1655, to keep his slave, John Casor. It was the case that changed the American landscape, for it was the first legal sanction of slavery in the Virginia Colony.

How many students know about the black heroes of the Revolutionary War? Thousands of free and enslaved blacks fought in every major battle from Lexington and Concord to Yorktown and served in an integrated army. Some blacks were fighting for the promise of freedom, while others were fighting for their country’s independence. By 1779, fifteen percent of the Continental Army was black. Peter Salem was born a slave and joined the Massachusetts Minutemen, and was a sharpshooter who played a vital role in the Battle of Bunker Hill. Salem was honored in John Trumbull’s painting, “Battle of Bunker Hill.” James Armistead posed as a runaway slave and gained the trust of the British and gave strategic information of troop movements to the Continental Army resulting in success at the Battle of Yorktown in 1781.

Students learn about the Abolitionist movement and Harriet Tubman, but what about Levi and Catherine Coffin, who helped more than 3,000 slaves escape to freedom? Or what about the escaped slaves Ellen and William Craft, who became active in the Abolitionist movement? Or the wealthy free black James Forten family of Philadelphia, who were instrumental in the fighting for slave freedom.

By the time the American Civil War commenced, more than 488,000 free blacks were in the North and South. Thousands of free and enslaved blacks fought in every major campaign in the last two years of the Civil War. Twenty-six blacks were Medal of Honor recipients. Landsman Aaron Anderson (U.S.S. Wyandank), enlisted at the age of 52, was singled out for courage under heavy fire; Sergeant William H. Carney (54th Massachusetts Infantry) received his award for the Battle of Fort Wagner; and Sergeant Christian A. Fleetwood (4th U.S.C.T.), a graduate of Ashmun Institute, said he enlisted “to save the country from ruin.”

Frederick Douglass was a great well-known orator, but what about Robert B. Elliott?  Robert B. Elliott was a U.S. Congressman whose speech “The Shackle is Broken” addressed the Civil Rights Bill of 1875, which enriched the meanings of liberty and citizenship. Elliott’s speech was so brilliant that some doubted if he wrote it.  Additionally, more than 2,000 black leaders during Reconstruction at the local, state, and national levels contributed invaluable leadership to America.

There are thousands of stories about inspirational leaders: inventors such as Granville T. Woods, called the black Thomas Edison, was awarded more than forty-five patents for his inventions, or the first black woman physician, Dr. Rebecca Crumpler, who graduated from medical school in 1864, or people in business such as the “Potato King” Junius G. Groves who produced more white potatoes than anyone in the world, or explorers such as the first black woman astronaut Mae Jemison, or the NASA pioneer mathematician Katherine Johnson of Hidden Figures fame, and the gifted surgical teacher, Vivien Thomas who never went to college, but was awarded an honorary doctorate from Johns Hopkins University in 1976.

Yocum African American History Association (YAAHA) was founded by two women, one black and one white, who forged a partnership and began their journey to uncover hidden black history. These two women, Frances Presley Rice who is black and the undersigned, created YAAHA, a non-profit organization, to provide educational resources that celebrate black history and prove that black history is American history.

The founders of YAAHA co-authored “Black History 1619-2019: An Illustrated and Documented African-American History” that is an in-depth look at the events which shaped the lives and contributions of the African American community in the United States of America. Now in its third printing, the book is available at Amazon.com and through bookstores nationwide. Proceeds from book sales are donated to YAAHA.

The Headmaster of Bridgeport International Academy wrote:

“Our Academy refers to this excellent and objective review of Black History that sheds light on many chapters of American history in clear, objective, and precise language backed up by thorough research and many compelling photos and individual stories. It enables real conversation and constructive thinking about race in this country instead of the propaganda that seeks racial division for economic and political gain. I encourage other schools to use it when developing their American History courses, particularly during Black History month, as it is a wealth of resources for lesson planning.”  – Frank LaGtotteria, D.Min.,Headmaster, Bridgeport International Academy

The article “Let’s Celebrate America’s Black Patriots” by Burgess Owens, the U.S. Representative for Utah’s Fourth district, that was published in the Newsweek online magazine includes a reference to the book, plus information extracted from it.

For more information about the YAAHA educational resources, visit: www.YocumBlackHistory.org.

©Sandra K. Yocum. All rights reserved.