As we begin the celebration of Black History Month in February, it’s the perfect time to think more deeply about Black history and what that means. There is, unfortunately, a great deal of untaught Black history, especially with critical race theory being attacked in the United States. Let’s review what we know, or should know, about world history and Black history and look at some untold Black history facts that are relevant today and should play a greater role in teaching world history.
What is the real definition of world history?
The world history definition has undergone racial and ethnic cleansing for centuries but particularly over the last 50 or 60 years. This should be alarming — at a time when we have the greatest access to knowledge ever, including online resources that were unavailable to previous generations, accurate world history has also been stripped of facts.
Although students are often taught that history began in the Fertile Crescent of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, it’s usually left out that humans originated in Africa roughly 200,000 years ago. Those early civilizations in the Middle East were built by the descendants of people who spread out from Africa across the globe following green corridors.
Therefore, world history should start with Black history, as the first people who populated the earth were Black people living in Africa. This fact is erased from many history curricula due to a variety of reasons, including ignorance, intentional racism, and the belief that evolution is false and contradicts the Bible.
What is Black history?
Given what we now know about world history, there is not one singular definition of Black history. Rather, Black history is:
1) a part of world history; and
2) the history of Black people.
Why is it important to talk about the history of Black people and not, say, white people? It’s because history, as described above, is already about white people, with much of the history of Black people removed. The Black history movement began as a way to correct that, in order to both better educate people of all races and give Black people the stories and facts they’ve been denied about their own race for so long.
Black History Month began in 1926 in the United States as “Negro History Week” during the second week of February. It was started by historian Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, the noted Black abolitionist, statesman, writer, and orator.
In 1969, the Black United Students at Kent State University proposed expanding Woodson’s week of recognition to a full month, and the celebration grew from there. It was made a more formal event when President Gerald Ford gave Black History Month official status in 1976 as part of the United States Bicentennial. It is now celebrated in the UK, Canada, and Ireland, among other places.
How is Black history taught in schools today?
Black history gets a wide range of approaches when it is taught to children today — if it’s covered at all. During Black History Month, the contributions and culture of African Americans and Black people around the world are given the spotlight. However, there are disagreements about how Black history should be taught.
Many Black educators and scholars feel there is too much emphasis on slavery and colonialism and not enough time spent discussing average Black people, modern-day Black heroes, or little known Black history facts. Black history facts not taught in school could include:
Annie Turnbo Malone was one of the first Black millionaires in the US. She started Poro Co., making beauty and hair products for Black consumers.
Lewis Howard Latimer improved on Edison’s light bulb by inventing the carbon filament to make them last longer.
In 1966, Marie Van Brittan Brown, a nurse in New York City, invented the first version of the home security system that millions use today.
Garrett Morgan, who also started the Cleveland Call Black newspaper, patented the first three-position traffic signal, with a yellow light that made transitions safer for drivers.
Sir Derek Walcott was the second Nobel laureate of the tiny Caribbean nation of St. Lucia. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature and was a Professor of Poetry at the University of Essex, England and a distinguished scholar at the University of Alberta, Canada.
Honourable Jean Augustine was the first Black Canadian woman to serve as a federal Minister of the Crown and Member of Parliament.
Want to go even further back in Black history? Yasuke was the first ever African samurai in the 16th century. In 1604, William Shakespeare wrote Othello, the first stage play to feature a well-rounded Black character — a villain, no less — in a lead role. That same year, the first person of African heritage to arrive in Canada was Mathieu Da Costa, not a slave but an interpreter for French explorers Pierre Du Gua De Monts and Samuel de Champlain. And, let’s not forget that many saints were Black, although many were wrongly depicted as white.
While it’s important to teach several aspects of Black history — not just about slavery — it is challenging to teach Black history without at least touching on slavery, racism, and other acts of oppression. Yet this is what opponents of critical race theory (CRT) want to do. They see discussions of how Black people have been oppressed as racism against white people, rather than an accurate representation of historical facts. Teaching CRT is now forbidden in multiple US states, putting Black history education back to where it was over 100 years ago and erasing progress gained by the creation of Black History Month and the civil rights movement.
It’s not just American students who aren’t getting their true history or accurate world history. Black history is given poor treatment in the UK as well. Canadians likewise don’t get an adequate education in many areas.
How do we ensure people everywhere are exposed to Black history the way it should be taught and integrated into regular curriculum, not just a bulletin-board-of-the-month project to be forgotten in March? How do we keep the banning of CRT from growing around the US or spreading to other nations?
The first step is to have conversations with people you know, like coworkers or fellow members of organizations you belong to. That’s why Tough Convos was created. We provide education, discussion facilitation, and similar services to get the talk going. Only when we see where we are starting from can we take a forward-thinking approach. To learn more or set up an event for your group, call us at 858-876-8176 or reach out online to let us know how we can help.