Learn Your History… Or Relive it


Black History

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Growing up I wasn’t very interested in history, it was boring, uneventful and seemingly had no place in my current reality. In fact, I hated it; the repetition, key terms and the prerequisite of unimaginative thought seemed almost intrusive to my educational goals. And I am sure I wasn’t alone. In class, when I chose to go, most of the students were asleep or doing something more interesting, few were paying attention. So why would I be such a hypocrite to say that history is the most important subject a child can learn?

Well, as an adult, my hindsight has become 20/20, not because of the undescriptive and often inaccurate stories in our academic history books, but rather because I have learned about the true history of our African American and Native American ancestors. History books tell us that blacks were slaves, were freed, and eventually gained Civil Rights. Prior to this, blacks were completely written out of history or negatively depicted as ignorant hypersexual savages. What they fail to tell us is that blacks were amongst the first to colonize America, that we patented many inventions and were the first female millionaires. The do not tell us of Oklahoma’s Black Wall Street where blacks businesses thrived so greatly they became the envy of whites. They do not tell us that some former slaves taught themselves English and went to college to become famed doctors and lawyers. They do not talk about the race riots and how one mourning mother fought the KKK and won an enormous financial victory in Mobile, Alabama. They even forget to tell us that the mother of all civilization was an African woman.

Perhaps it’s because they don’t have enough room to cram in the depth of our history, or maybe it’s because minute details about African Americans do not affect the totality of America, but more likely it is because some of these stories show America as it really is and not as the morally optimistic place society wants it to be viewed. In fact history books, all but outright lie to you about history. In many states history has been white washed as to not offend white students and make them embarrassed of their ancestors, yet black students are simultaneously robbed of learning about theirs.

They want all of our presidents to be seen as moral leaders even when many of them owned slaves and exhibited blatantly racist behavior (I’m looking at you George Washington and Woodrow Wilson). They want us to believe that Indians were savages and that the first time they came in contact with another race is when Columbus entered the picture. They want us to believe that Columbus civilized Indians instead of brutalized them. They want us to believe that slavery was more like volunteer service rather than constant instances of isolation, degradation and abuse. Sadly this becomes another example of why you cannot depend on the education system to properly educate your child.

When I started learning our real history I was so intrigued that I felt almost inadequate in my accomplishments looking at what our predecessors had achieved. Our ancestors were not merely slaves, they were inventors, scientists, way-makers, educators, and self-made millionaires. Sharing these stories with my son are amongst the greatest lessons I could share. You could easily scour the internet for numerous sources in which to teach from but, few are adequate for children. Below are a few child friendly books that I have used to impart upon my son the significance and contributions of blacks in history.

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1001 Things Everyone Should Know About African American History

I recently purchased this book and my only disappointment is that I waited so long. I love reading about black history and consider myself an eternal student, but this book made me feel like I knew nothing. It is honestly a must have. It covers many subjects related to black history in a comprehensive and easy to read manner. With over 400 pages of texts on different subjects, you will be able to use this as a learning tool for years to come.

One-Hundred-and-One African-American Read-Aloud Stories
This book provides a great deal of short stories not only on slavery and black history but also songs, poetry, myths, fables and biographies. Most stories range between 2- 3 pages and provide context for deeper thinking and research.

March: Book One and March: Book Two
These comic styled books written about the life and civil rights challenges of now Congressman John Lewis is an exceptional book to teach about the Civil Rights Movement. It emphasizes major historical events (Selma, 4 Little Girls, Emmitt Till etc) while also remaining child friendly in its depiction of horrible incidents. In the end kids are left with an understanding the sacrifices made during the civil rights movement without the harmful depictions of death and brutality

Light in the Darkness: A Story about How Slaves Learned in Secret

If you want your child to understand how much children valued learning during the time of slavery this book is for you.  This is a simple but very good book which teaches how slaves would sneak off in the wee hours of the night to learn to read, something they could have easily gotten killed for. The book and information is short and age appropriate for youth under 10.

The Civil Rights Movement for Kids: A History with 21 Activities (For Kids series)
I love this book. Not only does it teach lessons about the Civil Rights movement but it provides lessons that kids can act out such as sit-ins at lunch counters. It discusses bus boycotts, voting rights act, school segregation and various other issues faced by blacks in the mid-20th century, again without excessive visual depictions.

There are numerous black history websites available, but only a few offer substance that has not been white washed and even fewer find ways to keep content regularly updated. Below are a few of my favorites.

Great Black Heroes depicts African Americans in their roles in Education, Entertainment, Government, Science, and Sports. Additionally, they have podcasts to discuss the roles of various historical figures.

Because of Them We Can. doesn’t necessarily ‘teach’ a great deal of black history, is specifically aimed at kids and features kids as various historical African American men and women while simultaneously teaching children of the roles of these individuals in history.

Black Then This site not only offers insight on individuals but also provides perspectives on significant little known black history facts or events, such as little known black inventions, black firsts, and similarities with current events.

Atlanta Black Star is not solely a black history website, it provides other information on current events and news affecting African Americans, but it tends to offer a great deal of useful black history knowledge and facts.

While this is an obvious one, I don’t want to be so dismissive as to not include it. Selma provides great context into the ongoing situation in the 1960s that history books do not really emphasize, and while its harsh reality may be too much for some, I think it is vital that children know exactly what it took to get the right to vote, the right to education, the right to ride buses and sit where we choose, and even the right to read. There are many movies that provide the harsh realities of what happened during the Civil Rights era and even during Reconstruction and Slavery to cause dissention in America, and it is vital that children are wary of it. Because the determinations of what a child may be ready to view are so varied, I do not want to make explicit recommendations, but encourage you to see the list of movies depicted here and here  .



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