From kindergarten to 12th grade, black history was taught in February.  I went to Catholic school and was taught by strict nuns who spent a lot of time making sure we knew the Bible, saints, prayers, rosaries, and Commandments.  When it came to Black History, we learned about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Harriet Tubman, and Rosa Parks.  If a student didn’t seek information on Black History, they would think these three individuals were the only ones that mattered.  When Stevie Wonder released Songs in the Key of Life in September of 1976, my young mind was blown when I heard the song Black Man.  I remember reading the lyrics to this song and feeling my mind open to an education that transcended all I knew. Names like Dr.Charles Drew, Crispus Attucks, and Benjamin Bannekar dropped like jewels into my lap. Wonder’s song, Black Man, also named prominent men and women of other races, and my mind soaked it all up.  My favorite part of the song is toward the end when there is a traditional African call and response between the adults and children of notable individuals and their achievements.

My thirst for knowledge grew in leaps and bounds.  I read biographies, poured over encyclopedias, and had conversations with my elders about the Black History that was not taught in the books.  In college, my self-studies increased and expanded to Africa.  Apartheid was the tragedy of the time and I marched against my well-heeled private liberal arts colllege and local businesses demanding these institutions divest from South Africa.  I demonstrated and protested for what was right while being armed with the knowledge of a rich history that laid the foundation for me to move forward  and continue to build for the next generation.

Black history is American History.  No one should limit themselves to text books and teachers because the history will remain two dimensional.  Here is a list of some notable Black men and women I taught to my children who have changed, challenged, and enriched the world:

  • Sojourner Truth – abolitionist,women’s rights activist
  • Dred Scott – reformer (sued for his freedom Dred Scott case)
  • Maya Angelou – poet
  • Colin Powell -four star general
  • Harriet Tubman – abolitionist
  • Dr. Martin Luther King Jr – activist.
  • Malcolm X – activist
  • Josiah Henson – abolitionist
  • Marcus Garvey – political leader
  • Harriet Ann Jacobs – abolistionist, writer
  • Garrett Morgan – inventor
  • Rosa Parks – activist
  • Mae Jemison – astronaut
  • Jackie Robinson – athlete
  • Muhammad Ali – athlete, activist
  • Dorothy Dandridge – actress
  • Thurgood Marshall – US Supreme Court Justice
  • Frederick Douglass – abolistionist
  • George Washington Carver – botanist, inventor
  • Oprah Winfrey – philanthropist, entrepreneur
  • Madam C J Walker – enterpreneur
  • Ida B. Wells  – activist
  • Stevie Wonder – singer, songwriter
  • Quincy Jones – music producer
  • Jesse Owens – athlete
  • Marvin Gaye – singer, songwriter
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4 thoughts on “Black History is American History

  1. I went to a Catholic high school too! They’re doing a much better job educating about black achievements than you described, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep researching on our own. It was great to read about your experience with music, especially now that rappers like J. Cole are doing the same for people of my generation, just as Wonder did for you! It’s heartbreaking to think that those same problems of recognition are still there.

  2. I’m happy to see things are changing. It’s folly to believe schools should teach everything. People should educate themselves. Good music is everything to me. I should check out J. Cole.

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