We can’t get to equality if we don’t teach Black history | Article by George O’Connor

Founded in 1906, the Greenwood District of Tulsa, Oklahoma was one of the most prosperous African-American communities in the United States, and was nicknamed “Black Wall Street.” However, on May 31, 1921, the community became the target of two days of racial violence, resulting in 300 deaths, 800 injuries, and the destruction of 35 city blocks, leaving 9,000 homeless. The community never recovered, and the survivors and their families never received reparations. Despite the devastating effects, the event was largely unknown to white Americans and even many Black Americans until it was portrayed in the first episode of the HBO series Watchmen, premiering nearly a century later. Even showrunner Damon Lindelof did not learn about it until a few years before writing the series.

Ashley Rogers Berner, director of the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy, said that the teachers of these courses lack the resources to adequately cover these topics, often resorting to using Google, Pinterest, and the online marketplace Teachers Pay Teachers. The institute evaluated the English curriculum of various schools in Baltimore the population of which is 62.4% black and reported “36% of your secondary school texts are about the African-American experience, but the majority of them are about police brutality and incarceration… You’ve got representation; that’s not the problem. The problem is the tone and the quality and the omissions.”

Educators like Berry have also criticized the lack of coverage of the Jim Crow laws passed by white politicians that created a racial apartheid from 1877 to the civil rights movement in the 1960s, banning African Americans from voting, attending the same schools as whites, and buying real estate in white neighborhoods. Courses also don’t cover the racial violence inflicted on prospering Black communities during Jim Crow, such as Tulsa or a similar attack waged in Ocoee, Florida the prior year. Florida schools were not required to teach the Ocoee massacre until 2020.

Professor LaGarrett King said it was important to teach about June 19, 1865, called Juneteenth, the day slaves in Texas were first informed they were freed, over two years after the Emancipation Proclamation. He said “What is historically important to white people is not historically important to Black people. July 4, 1776, means nothing historically to Black people.” However, Juneteenth is not widely taught in schools, and in 2020, the Harris Poll found that 48% of Americans were mostly or completely unaware of the holiday.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is among the most vocal and active opponents of teaching Black history in schools. In 2022, DeSantis signed into law the Stop WOKE Act, which, among other things, restricted how racism could be taught in the state’s schools. That same year, the College Board introduced its first Advanced Placement course on African-American studies that was set to be implemented in about 60 high schools beginning that fall. Historian Henry Louis Gates Jr., who served as a consultant for the project, said “These are milestones which signify the acceptance of a field as being quote-unquote ‘academic’ and quote-unquote ‘legitimate.’” The Florida Department of Education rejected the new AP course in early 2023, and shortly after, the College Board significantly reduced the course’s content, including removing “the names of many Black writers and scholars associated with critical race theory, the queer experience and Black feminism.”

DeSantis was himself a history teacher at the private Darlington School in Rome, Georgia for one year, after he graduated from Yale but before he attended Harvard Law School. In 2022, a black former student of his alleged that “in history class, he was trying to play devil’s advocate that the South had good reason to fight [the Civil War], to kill other people, over owning people Black people. He was trying to say, ‘It’s not OK to own people, but they had property, businesses.’” Another student claimed that DeSantis’ defense of the Confederacy was so widely known among students that he became the subject of satirical videos.

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