Don’t Know Much About {Black} History ...

When I first sat down to write a column about Black History Month I must admit all that immediately came to mind was slavery, Crispus Attucks, George Washington Carver, and Martin Luther King, Jr. And then I realized: I really don’t know anything about black history. And then I said, "Bingo! That’s the point."

When I was in school during the 60s, "black history" was pretty much about slavery. Granted, I learned enough about it to be thoroughly repulsed and convinced that slavery is a truly evil thing, but obviously there is more to being black in America than chains. In fact, when Martin Luther King, Jr. was delivering his "I Have a Dream" speech on the steps at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., on August 28, 1963, I was seven years old and blissfully unaware of differences between blacks and whites. (I learned about that as I grew up.)

The History of Black History Month

Americans have recognized black history annually since 1926 when Dr. Carter G. Woodson established Negro History Week (which became Black History Month in 1976). Woodson chose the second week of February for Negro History Week because it marks the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln - two individuals whom Dr. Woodson felt had dramatically affected the lives of African Americans. Black History Month is a good time for ME to become better educated and in the process, educate my kids.

Fear and Trembling!

I want you to know that I write this with quaking knees. One, because I know so little and two, because I don’t want to unintentionally offend anyone. Please accept this article in the spirit it is intended. I think most Americans need to learn more about black history so I offer these suggestions for doing so.

Read Up!
So many books ... so little time.

Black Heroes of the American Revolution
By Burke Davis
Elementary level
82 pages. Harcourt. ISBN: 0152085610
This one was an eye opener for me! I had never given thought to blacks being in the American Revolution before. Inspiring and poignant stories about often unrecognized heroic deeds. Inexpensive, informative, and available on-line.

The Last Safe House
By Barbara Greenwood
Paperback. 120 pages. Kids Can Press. ISBN: 1-55074-509-3
If you liked Pioneer Sampler by Barbara Greenwood, you’ll enjoy this book, too. Part fiction, part fact - includes lovely illustrations, fact boxes, and some hands-on activities. Studying the Underground Railroad with your elementary-aged children? Get this book.

Amos Fortune: Free Man
By Elizabeth Yates
This wonderful Newbery Medal Winner (1951) has been a favorite for many years. It begins in 1725 when Amos was born to an African king. When he was 15 years old, he was captured, brought to America, and sold. Amos Fortune worked as a slave and dreamed of freedom for 45 years. At 60, he began to see those dreams come true. Progeny Press publishes a Christian-based study guide for this book.

Ben Carson
by Ben Carson
Zondervan Publishing House. ISBN: 0310586410
The "Today's Heroes" series introduces readers ages 8-12 to modern, well-known Christians who have shown courage and persistence in the face of adversity. I read this aloud to my youngest son a few years ago before going to see a play about Dr. Carson. The book was very inspiring. When Dr. Carson came to town to speak, we were excited to go and listen to him.

Biographies and autobiographies provide excellent tools for digging deeper. Tip: While you are reading aloud, fidgety listeners may do better if they have crayons and a coloring book (about black Americans) available.

Make-Believe

Make-believe is a powerful, but often underutilized, tool. When teaching history in a co-op a few years back, I read aloud a first hand account of a young boy kidnapped from Africa and placed on a slave ship. Before I began reading, I had all the kids sit crammed together under our table and then covered it with a large blanket. I described conditions on slave ships and had them pretend for a few minutes they were on board. As I read the boy’s account they began to get hot and uncomfortable. The boy’s words alone were powerful, but coupled with the play-acting, a lasting impression was made!

Act Out

My friend Sharon Grimes, ever the creative "home-schooling wonder," organizes an annual "Great American Night" at her church. One year her family studied the lives of some great Christian black Americans, many of whom were home schooled because they were not allowed to attend the public schools. During the event her family portrayed Richard Allen, Harriet Tubman, Dr. Ben Carson, Sojourner Truth, George Washington Carver, and Amos Fortune. Sharon says, "Many of these people gave praise to God, that even though slavery was a wicked thing, it brought them to America where they could hear the Gospel and be saved. As part of our study we also read the biographies of five great missionaries to Africa, including Mary Slessor, Robert Moffat, and David Livingston, to give us that background as well."

Interview

Ask people you know and people you don’t know, questions about life as a black in America today. You might be surprised at some answers.

Observe

Do you keep your eyes open? At the museum, on the field trip, do you look for stories about black men and women? Watch the newspaper for guest speakers at nearby colleges or churches.

Talk!

Talk about what you do know and then discuss what you don’t know - and how you might become better informed. Don’t ignore the "R" word: racism. It’s easy to try to duck this ugly subject. But it is real. Education and prayer will do more towards resolving it than silence.

According to the Proclamation by President Bush on February 2, 2002: "The theme of National African American History Month this year is ‘The Color Line Revisited: Is Racism Dead?’ The observance calls our Nation's attention to the continued need to battle racism and to build a society that fully lives up to its democratic ideals."

In 1988 we moved to the D.C. area from Georgia. My oldest son quickly became best friends with a black boy named Brandon. I became good friends with his mom, Tira. (Even though we’ve all moved several times since then, we stay in close contact and visit when we can.) Tira had previously lived in South Carolina. Being brought up a southerner myself, I asked her if she was relieved to move north where racism wasn’t so prevalent. She looked at me and said, "It isn’t any less prevalent here. It’s just under the surface instead of sitting right out front in the open. I don’t know which is worse."

‘Fess Up

Admit to what you don’t know or to any sinful attitudes you may have towards blacks and make learning about black heritage a journey of growth for you and your kids.

Examine Your History Books!

Make an effort to learn about the contributions of blacks to America. Soldiers, writers, inventors, businessmen, etc. I maintain the reason there don’t seem to be many "famous Black Americans" is because text book writers were historically, predominantly white. Think about it.

Go Surfing

http://www.infoplease.com/spot/bhm1.html
This is the one site to use not only for its info - timelines, biographies, short articles, quizzes, etc. - but for its links to so many other sites. Well organized, a best pick.

http://www.teachervision.com/lesson-plans/lesson-6602.html
You’ll find interesting ideas and prepared lesson plans at this large site.


http://www.thekingcenter.org/
Established in 1968 by Coretta Scott King, The King Center is the official, living memorial dedicated to the advancement of the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

http://www.ket.org/Education/IN/blackhistory.html
A great list of Black History Month links, including links to primary source documents.

http://www.nationalgeographic.com/features/99/railroad/
Cool, interactive site about a journey on the Underground Railroad.

Pray

Lastly, pray for the day when we don’t need a Black History Month because we are all finally one in Christ. As Jesus said in John 17:20-23, "I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father are in me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me." (NKJ)

Maggie Hogan is a motivational speaker and co-author of The Ultimate Geography and Timeline Guide, Gifted Children at Home, and other resource books. She and her husband Bob have been home schooling their boys since 1991. Involved in local, state, and national home-schooling issues, they both serve on boards of home education organizations in Delaware. They are also owners of Bright Ideas Press (www.BrightIdeasPress.com), a home-school company dedicated to bringing the best practical, fun, and affordable materials to the home-school market.

Maggie's e-mail address is Hogan@BrightIdeasPress.com