The Urgency of Black History: A Collection
A Note From the Guest Editor, LaGarrett J. King
The initial point of the commemoration of Black History Month was to be a stopgap until Black history was fully infused within curricula. Black History Month was always to be temporary. Yet, many schools and school districts struggle to build quality Black history programs outside of Black History Month. The idea is not to wait until high school to include Black histories in the curriculum but to have plans for each level of schooling with complexity, criticality, and nuance.
I recognize that some schools and school districts cannot even consider building Black history programs because of bad-faith political leaders and uninformed parent groups stifling their efforts. This resistance is unfortunate. Through Black history instruction, these opponents would not only gain knowledge about Black people but knowledge about themselves. When done with thought and patience, Black history programs will add valuable education to families, students, and communities.
Black history is not just about white oppressors and Black victims. When taught from Black people’s perspectives, white folks are not centered but supporting actors when and if they are historically significant. Yes, Black history exposes the ugly truth about us. No matter what we say, Black histories expose what we do. Studying Black History excavates our morality and exposes our cowardice. Maybe the truth will hurt, but I challenge resisters to look beyond themselves and recognize the value of different perspectives on our shared history.
History is not about patriotism or feeling a certain way. History is about helping us understand our shared humanity and the decisions people make in the context of their time. Learning history makes you feel good, angry, sad, frustrated, joyous, and guilty. It is OK for school children—and their teachers—to experience those emotions, too. Emotions inspire action, both productive and questionable. Building Black history programs is more than building a curriculum. It is about building citizens.
We are not a historically mature society until we acknowledge that everyone’s history matters. If we continue to teach history uncritically, we will remain a historically immature society that repeats our past transgressions.
Black History Month is as essential today as it was in 1926 and 1976. The partnership between the University at Buffalo’s Center for K-12 Black History and Racial Literacy Education and Education Week continues because of that recognition. For the third year, I have invited a slate of Black history researchers and educators to help lead us down that road to historical maturity.
LaGarrett J. King is an associate professor at the University at Buffalo and the founding director of the university’s Center for K-12 Black History and Racial Literacy Education.
Illustrations by Xia Gordon for Education Week.