A Note From the Guest Editor
Another February means another Black History Month, a celebration that educator Carter G. Woodson started 96 years ago as Negro History Week. Most histories indicate that Woodson selected the month of February because Black communities already had a tradition of celebrating the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass—both of whom were born this month.
We’ve come a long way since 1926, as Negro History Week evolved into Black History Month. But we still have a lot of work to do to improve how Black history is taught and learned in schools, especially given the widespread backlash against critical race theory and other forms of racially conscious instruction.
The average K-12 history curriculum presents Black history in abbreviated jumps from slavery and European colonization to the Civil War and Reconstruction to the civil rights movement. This approach ignores thousands of years of African history, presents significant gaps in Black history, and paints Black Americans as the passive recipients of freedom and U.S. democracy. Only a few charismatic and respectable Black messiahs—usually Christian, middle-class, able-bodied, and heterosexual men—are named, and instruction focuses on the “historical firsts” of Black people who have broken down barriers into white society, giving the impression that this is the standard for historical significance.
When translating Black history content knowledge into teaching practices that love and honor the humanity of Black people, we need also to rethink how we celebrate Black History Month. The original intent was less about creating space for Black history learning than enhancing already established Black history spaces.
Black History Month was never intended to be the only time to teach Black history, but rather a time to reflect and demonstrate the Black history that students learned all year. Think of Black History Month as an assessment or, even better, a showcase, where we take our Black history knowledge and transform it into actionable and practical ways to enhance our democracy.
This year, the Center for K-12 Black History and Racial Literacy Education at the University at Buffalo in partnership with Education Week presents five essays written by educators, students, and scholars. They provide diverse perspectives on the teaching, learning, and purpose of Black history education. We hope your Black History Month is full of reflection and learning.
—LaGarrett J. King
LaGarrett J. King is the director and founder of the Center for K-12 Black History and Racial Literacy Education at the University at Buffalo.
Coverage of race and opportunity is supported in part by a grant from Spencer Foundation, at www.spencer.org. Education Week retains sole editorial control over the content of this coverage.