Black History Is More Than The Civil Rights Movement

Isabella Chan, Assistant News Editor

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Black culture is powerful. For years, it has helped shape and form the mold of many countries by influencing their art, language and politics. But, as a child, none of this was taught to me- especially not during Black History Month.

Judging from my history classes, one would believe Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Rosa Parks changed history all by themselves. That information was normally rushed through within five days and included a movie at some point.

As much as I appreciate and respect the work of those three people, black history is bigger than them and began long before their time.

Students of all levels of education in the United States should be well-informed on the key aspects of black history because it is American history.

In 2015, the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) conducted a study into black history being taught in K-12 public schools. It showed only eight to nine percent of total class time is devoted to black history in U.S. history classrooms, most of which primarily focused on the African migration, Brown v. Board of Education and the impact of the 1960’s Civil Rights Acts.

It’s time to become comfortable with the uncomfortable and talk about the facts.

Yes, the Atlantic slave trade and Civil Rights movements happened, and although they are a fundamental part of our country’s history, there is so much more to divulge in.

The Harlem Renaissance in and of itself is the reason American culture is so diverse. Langston Hughes, Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday popularized and drew eyes to blues and jazz music, but also demanded that African-American talent be acknowledged.

They and other artists of the time paved the path that our current musicians and idols walk along today. Where would our music be without Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson and many other musical geniuses?

If that isn’t enough, then think about listening to the radio without Ariana Grande belting an unattainable high note or Post Malone rapping. Those artists would be nothing without the Harlem Renaissance. Yet, music classrooms rarely discuss the impact such legends have made.

The neglect continues with how significant the black community was in building the nation’s economy and government. Need I remind you who physically built the White House and U.S. Capitol Building?

“Slavery is the capital in Capitalism,” artist Paul Rucker stated during a TED talk. “These were the people who brought in $200 million worth of cotton in the year 1860, which is equal to $5 billion today.” 

Through his work, Rucker calls attention to the power and insecurities of systemic racism that existed in the past and lives on today. By recreating Ku Klux Klan robes and replacing the original design with non-traditional fabrics, such as Asian patterns and kente cloth, Rucker shows the intense level of racism the KKK showed to anyone who was not white and Protestant.  

When President Gerald Ford officially announced February to be known as Black History Month in 1976, it was meant to, as he stated, “Seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”

These “neglected accomplishments” are continuing to happen because there is an omission in what is being remembered.

Our country was built off of slaves, our culture was built from black people and our society is providing an injustice towards African-Americans by not recognizing their triumphs.

Carter G. Woodson, the founder of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, believed that without the full truth, there is no truth, and there is no denying that black history is only partially being examined in classrooms.

“If a race has no history, it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated,” Woodson said.

Woodson worked to bring “Negro History Week,” which became Black History Month over time, to public schools in order to talk about background and culture. I’m sure if Woodson was to see what little black history is actually being taught, then he’d be rolling in his grave. 

As American people, we have the obligation to teach our future generations the full history of our country, not just the bits and pieces that sparkle nicely.