IN THE ACADEMIC ARENA THERE IS A SAYING, “IF IT IS NOT WRITTEN DOWN, IT DID NOT HAPPEN,” AND BLACK HISTORY IS SELDOM WRITTEN ON THE PAGES OF AMERICAN HISTORY. Racism is also subject matter that does not make its way onto the pages of American history and is often treated as a taboo subject or a four-letter word. Author and Atlantic columnist Ta-Nehisi Coates has said that, for Black people in America, racism is a physical experience of fear and violence. WE simply cannot afford to ignore stories about the legacy of Black history, and the legacy of the Civil Rights Movement any more. Those who tire of hearing about racism should ask yourselves, what if you were Black and had to live through the daily vulgarity of racism?
My own understanding of Black history and the Civil Rights Movement began at age eleven in Mr. Rutledge Henry Pearson’s eighth-grade American history class at segregated Isaiah Blocker Junior High School in Jacksonville. Mr. Pearson, who was my mentor and the adviser of the Jacksonville Youth Council NAACP, would not teach his American history class from the textbook that during those days was approved for “Negro education.” He simply told us to leave our textbook at home—a textbook that included only Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver as Blacks who made a difference in the history of this country.
Note to American history teachers, white and Black: Do not expect your Black students to learn from your history class if you do not incorporate Black history. If I sit in a classroom and only read about the contributions made by white Americans and white Europeans, then the “learning field” is never level. It is downright dishonest that American history as portrayed in history textbooks essentially makes the statement that Blacks made no salient contributions to this country. My Black ancestors helped to develop this country before, during, and after slavery. You have to teach the truth without regard to what the textbooks proclaim. You are not teaching if you do otherwise.
Mr. Pearson wanted to arm us with the real truth, irrespective of what was “written down.” Black History is who WE are. Racism is why WE fight . . . and WHY the Struggle must continue. RLHSR.