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This Juneteenth

By Lydia Holt 

You can’t talk about Juneteenth without first talking about the Emancipation Proclamation. Abraham Lincoln was primarily looking to “stick it” to the South by signing this document. It proclaimed all slaves in the rebelling states free. Read more...

Bradley Manning, WikiLeaks, and the Government's Response

By Sheryl Wright

Bradley Manning, the army private accused of releasing government documents to WikiLeaks, is facing 22 additional charges, including "aiding the enemy...through indirect means.” I agree with those quoted in the article who believe that this particular charge is setting up a dangerous precedent.

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Roundtable: America—Sweden’s Sweatshop

Sheryl: In a bit of irony, the U.S. is developing an unexpected reputation within the corporate world. Recent stories about an Ikea plant in Virginia indicate the United States—much like Bangladesh, Vietnam, China, and Honduras—is now seen as a preferred destination for corporations in search of lower production costs. Read more...

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Entries in parenting (1)

Tuesday
Feb072012

Black History: It’s About More Than a Few Notable Negroes

Graphic by NewsOne.com
By Lucinda Holt

Recently I received a letter from my daughter’s teacher explaining that her class would be “introduced to all of the famous African Americans who have shaped our lives and country.” I bristled at “all of the famous African Americans” and resisted the urge to write an indignant “Dear Well-Meaning-First-Grade-Teacher” letter where I explained that history can’t be reduced to a list of famous people—no matter how comprehensive you imagine it is.

History isn’t a simple thing. What was once Negro History Week (Thank you, Carter G. Woodson) has been Black History Month for the past 36 years, but even in a leap year, February doesn’t have enough days to amply teach the complex history of people of African descent in the Americas. The focus on a few notable African Americans seems like a good place to start, but isn’t that where educating American children about black people has been stuck since the 1980s? Am I expecting too much of history lessons in first grade? So maybe six-and seven-year-olds aren’t ready to learn about the complexities of the relationship between Sally Hemmings and Thomas Jefferson or the ethically questionable actions that led to the use of Henrietta Lacks’s cells in so many medical breakthroughs over the past 60 years. But they can handle more than Martin Luther King, Jr. and his dream.

Instead of complaining about what Black History Month at my daughter’s school could be, here’s what I plan to do:
  1. Thank my daughter’s teacher. I have to give my daughter’s teacher—who is of European descent—some credit. She is having each student do a report on an African American of note. The students will then dress up as their historical or notable figure and present their report to the class on a special day when all families are invited to attend. (There are six children of African descent in my daughter’s class of 19 students. The thought of having the other 13 dress up as black people makes me nervous. But, these kids are too young to know Al Jolson, so I’ll let that go. And truth be told, what my daughter’s teacher has them doing is a lot better than the Martin Luther King, Jr., Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglas posters that got trotted out in February when I was in elementary school.)
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  3. Read two books selected by my daughter to her class: Henry’s Freedom Box by Ellen Levine (with amazing illustrations by Kadir Nelson) and The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles. (My daughter also loves Kadir Nelson’s Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans, but one of her classmates has already shared this book with the class.)
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  5. Bring a picture of my great-grandmother Lucinda Amelia Baker to share with my daughter’s class. This picture of my great-grandmother, after whom I’m named, was taken at the turn of the 20th century and features her standing tall and looking straight into the camera. I want them to see a beautiful black woman in a gorgeous dress, hat and gloves. I want them to know that she was a teacher who traveled around teaching in “colored schools.” I want them to know that she traveled around because black people were desperate for teachers then, because so many black people wanted to learn.

I’ll probably be on the verge of tears at that point, because 110 years after my great-grandmother started teaching, all of that self-determination and passion for learning during Jim Crow has been reduced to apathy for far too many black people, and I find that heartbreaking. But just maybe sharing my great-grandmother’s story will fan the flames of that love of learning in some child in my daughter’s class, and if I’m lucky they’ll at least have a sense that black history is so much more than learning about a few notable negroes.