a photo montage of Black families and moments from Black history.
Advocacy & News

Black History Month: A Greater Truth About American Society

There are many notable figures and achievements to study during February’s Black History Month. But with no federal standards or requirements to teach Black history in the U.S. (only a small number of states mandate it) is America’s reconciliation with its past actively progressive or performative?

If teaching Black American history is typically confined to a specific number of days a year, their significance and contributions to this nation’s story get buried. By not making it a rigorous, all-year-round, central part of the curriculum, it devalues the impact that Black Americans have had — and continue to have. Omittance creates invisibility, and perhaps that’s the point because if something is unseen it becomes unknown, and if it is unknown it can be rewritten.

graphic link to an advocacy and news post on transatlantic notes called 'Black History Month: A Greater Truth About American Society

And this is not a tactic relegated to the past. The previous administration released a deeply disturbing ‘1776 Report’ in January this year to try and replace how U.S. history is taught with what it called a “patriotic education”. Its aim was to corrupt and suppress all that nourish progress, including the truth about systemic racism, critical race theory, slavery and colonialism. The report, compiled by conservative educators loyal to Trump (none of whom were historians) wanted this to be a rebuke of social justice activism, such as Black Lives Matter, and recast any challenges to White supremacy or any movement toward equity as fascism. Thankfully, this report was revoked by the Biden administration, but this doesn’t lessen the fact that there are enough people within the political arena, and beyond, who want America to be reimagined in this way.

We may think of history as fixed and immovable, a factual documentation of our past. But history is only as accurate as the people who write it. And one of Trump’s last actions in office was an attempt to rewrite American history, focusing on our founding ideologies and mythologizing a very specific version of our origin story. | Trump Tried To Rewrite U.S. History – NBC News

A photo of a 1963 Civil Rights march in Washington D.C of a procession of African Americans carrying signs for equal rights, integrated schools, decent housing, and an end to bias.
A Civil Rights march in Washington D.C., 1963 — original black & white photo by Warren K. Leffler via the Library of Congress, colourized by Jordan J. Lloyd

The origins of Black History Month started with the founding of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) in 1915 by distinguished historian Carter G. Woodson. The ASALH’s aim was to expand the understanding of history to include education and celebration of the achievements of Black American men and women — and for their significance not be regarded as an outlier. In 1926, the ASALH sponsored an annual national Negro History Week in February to further encourage commemoration of Black contributions and excellence all with the hope of advancing a time when a designated period of celebration would no longer be needed. The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s witnessed a resurgence of Black activism among college campuses that then championed the observance of a Black History Month. It wasn’t until 1976, that it was officially recognized (by President Gerald Ford) and came to be what we observe today.

Supporting Black History Month should motivate us all to work every other day of the year to expand our knowledge and champion Black (and Indigenous) studies becoming part of the core curriculum — White people in particular need to do this as we have the most to learn. We should recognize and applaud Black firsts within American society, like Shirley Chisholm (the first Black woman elected to Congress in 1969) or Lonnie Bristow (the first Black president of the American Medical Association in 1995) or Rev. Raphael Warnock (Georgia’s first Black Senator in 2020), for example. But we must also take an honest look at why these kinds of accolades are still the exception rather than the rule. Diversity is America’s strength but it isn’t reflected within the structures of power or the systems that fuel them — and that is by design.

A Black father lovingly holds his baby close to his face.
Black History Month’s 2021 theme is ‘The Black Family: Representation, Identity, and Diversity’ — photo via Larry Crayton

Many of the disparities between Black and White communities in the United States are an outgrowth of a long history of discriminatory and dehumanizing laws and policies that have created and exacerbated inequality in almost every sphere of life. These laws and policies are built into the fundamental structures of our societies—our systems of labor, housing, education, voting, healthcare, and justice. They are deeply entrenched, intertwined, and insidious, and they form the foundation for structural racism. | The Impact of Structural Racism on Black Americans – Catalyst Research

Black History Month provides us so much opportunity to immerse ourselves in the astounding lives, work and words of Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglas, Martin Luther King Jr, Ida B. Wells, Rosa Parks, James Baldwin, Ernestine Eckstein, Marsha P. Johnson, John Lewis, Tarana Burke, to name a few, but it must come with actionable steps to end systemic racism and its deliberate destabilization of Black communities. There must be a reckoning with how it impacts American life today. And we must ultimately fulfil Carter G. Woodson‘s dream of Black history being taught and celebrated as part of a greater truth about American society.

Further Info:

There’s a Movement to Get More Schools to Teach Black History and It’s Being Led By Teens – CNN

Contact the Department of Education (US) or find your Representatives to call for Black History to be taught nationwide at all educational levels as an evidence-based, robust, nuanced and well-resourced year-round core curriculum subject.

Black History Month 2021 – The Oprah Magazine

Digital Black History Events – Smithsonian Magazine (several events available throughout February that are admission free but may require registration)

The 2021 Black History Month Virtual Festival – ASALH (many free events available and open to the public)

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46 thoughts on “Black History Month: A Greater Truth About American Society”

  1. As always beautifully written✨🙌🏽

    Here in the UK when I was studying other than Rosa Perks, I didn’t know much about black history as if we are not part of it. If school curriculum don’t teach younger generation of history and our role into —we are never going to tackle systemic racism. I always presumed before this year Black Lives Matter movement, this is the way west is (white people are supreme because it’s their country) This was always projected to us and by turn making us believe this is the truth. It’s only in 2020 by educating myself further about minority people’s role in history did it completely changed my view.

    This is why it’s so important to know more about black/Asians and other minority groups contribution to our history so we are never made to feel inferior or lesser than.

    Thank you Molly for your insightful, full of In-depth articles about issues that shapes our society. xx

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    1. Exactly right. The historical narrative is most often controlled through White washed education (at all levels) to maintain White supremacy. It must be dismantled and the greater truth reconciled with. American history must include Black, Native, Asian and all other groups who have long been left to the sidelines of this nation’s story. Thank you so much for reading and sharing your valued thoughts on this.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you so much for sharing such a fantastic, well-written and informative post! Education is so important for Black History Month and I learned a lot from this post. I’m trying to engage in more content to help me learn about Black History and read content / consume media from Black voices too x

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    1. I hope that there are actual moves towards getting Black history, Indigenous history and all other groups often left out of the White washed controlled narrative that is taught in education (at all levels). Black voices are centre to all that happens with this so amplifying anything you can is helpful. I’ve learned a lot from reading ‘The New Jim Crow’ by Michelle Alexander and anything by Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, Ijeoma Olou and James Baldwin … there are so many more I could add. Their tireless work is incredible! Thank you for reading!

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  3. As a former history teacher, I can say with all honesty that I never taught Black History just in February. History classes should always be taught with a people-centered approach no matter what time frame you are discussing and going in-depth into the life experiences and perspectives of people from all races, genders, and socio-economic backgrounds is an important part of that.

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    1. There are many good teachers who this (I always made sure of this too in my classroom) and I applaud you for it. It would be great if the U.S. had a federal standard that didn’t allow for a range of inaccuracies and Whitewashing in textbooks or teaching to occur. I’d like to see something nationwide that threads through the whole acedemic year that includes Black and Native history and how it’s reach is felt today in those communities. Thanks for reading and for sharing your experiences!

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  4. It is really sad that important parts of history are ommited from the educational system. I believe that what you are doing is incredible. We need to use social media as much as we can to spread awareness and fight discrimination.

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    1. It is truly sad and awful that vast elements of history are silenced and deliberately misrepresented. The harm this does today is right in our faces and it’s beyond time to acknowledge and dismantle anything that tries to whitewash or exclude history. Thank you so much for reading!

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  5. When I was studying at school, we actually did a whole year on Black American history and I devoted my time to learning and understanding about it and writing an essay for it. But I do agree that in the UK (where I am from) and I guess other places around the world it is just not taught enough. I think that history should never be something that is “one or the other” it should be we are taught everything regardless and I think it is useful for us all to be educated about all parts of our history. Brilliant read and post thank you xx

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    1. I am happy to hear that you received this at school and had that opportunity, it would be so encouraging if this was a UK-wide rollout that came from a centralized curriculum (that also looks at how/why some history is excluded and who gets to write it). It would be wonderful if this was the case here in the U.S. too but sadly there is such a lack of truth even in the history textbooks here. Thank you so much for reading and for being willing to take the time yourself to learn and understand.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. It’s the same problems in the UK with the government trying to make black history disappear. There were thousands of us who petitioned for black history to be added to school curriculum’s but the government then denied that it was needed! Makes me so angry. If everyone was educated from a young age with a diverse history we wouldn’t have such huge systematic racism problems.

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    1. I agree — the UK has a real problem with acknowledging and reconciling its history of slavery and colonialism. There is a definite lack of a robust, centralized curriculum that teaches this history (also looking carefully at who gets to write this history). To deny that something such as this is not needed shows there is so much further for the UK to go with tackling its history and the present systemic racism it fuels. Thank you so much for sharing your perspective!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. While at school I don’t think that we ever studied anything apart from a quick overview of the social movement in the sixties. I think it’s been more for personal curiosity that I learned about it and I am currently reading ‘The New Jim Crow’ and I am learning a lot from it. If you have any other book recommendations to share, I would appreciate it. Thank you for sharing this!

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    1. As a student and when I was a teacher we didn’t ever cover anything in any great detail and while things have changed in the right direction so much more needs to be done if Black History is still not federally mandated (and Native history with a look at colonialism and its impacts today). ‘The New Jim Crow’ is a great book, very eye-opening and informative. I would definitely recommend ‘How To Be An Anti Racist’ and ‘Stamped From The Beginning’ by Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, ‘So You Want To Talk About Race’ by Ijeoma Olou and ‘An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States’ by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz. Thank you so much for reading!

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    1. There is such a long way to go in both the UK and the U.S. — I hope that with the increase in the ability of the public to hold accountable those who make decisions about education, etc will make further changes. It shouldn’t be a discussion in the 21st century but here we are … Thank you so much for reading!

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  8. This post was extremely informative and profound. It’s truly sad that even now in the 21st century, there are entities trying to hide facts about America’s past. I particularly loved this, ‘… if something is unseen it becomes unknown, and if it is unknown it can be rewritten.’

    Thank you for sharing. I’m a lover of history and so I really enjoyed reading this.

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    1. Exactly — there is a faction of America that would gladly bury Black history (and they’re not a fringe group if it comes from the top seat of power). There can be no reconciliation without facing what this nation was built on (and continues to benefit from). Thank you so much for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. This was so well written and informative. It’s a shame that we still need Black History Month in order to educate us and bring the discussion about certain issues back to the table, but I am glad that these are conversations we’re having. We learnt absolutely nothing about this in school (where I live at least) so I’m glad that the opportunities are there to learn so much more now.

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    1. I’m encouraged by the move towards more education (in schools, etc and just the general public). I hope this continues but. as you said, these conversations need to keep happening, and hopefully, action comes with that too. Thanks so much for reading!

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  10. I went to school in the UK and we were never really taught anything about Black History – since then I think the schooling system has improved somewhat but there’s still a long way to go. Thank you for sharing such an informative post!

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  11. hey Molly, thanks for this post 🙂 it helped me to know and understand more about the structural racism that unfortunately it’s possible to find in America! i am from Portugal and I have to be honest, here there’s also a racist culture so ingrained that people think are not racists but, in fact, their actions / thoughts and words confirm the opposite! cheers from Lisbon, PedroL ps: I just started to follow your blo, feel free to discover mine as well, thanks 🙂

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    1. I have read a little about the racism present in Portugal and the fight that continues to improve this. It is a shame that activism is still needed to education and change the structures that uphold racism. Thank you so much for reading and following my site (I’ve followed you back now too)!

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      1. It’s really sad what happens in Portugal, but I’m glad to live in the center of Lisbon, where there’s a rich diversity of cultures eheh thanks for your support 🙂 PedroL

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  12. I could not agree more with your assessment of history as a living creature, and it was a sentiment I expressed when I wrote about the issue of statues in the UK. Perhaps this is a selective example, but I remember Texas changing their school board curriculum in 2017 to stress that the US Civil War was primarily fought for state’s rights, patently untrue when all contemporary documentation demonstrations it was about slavery

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    1. There are so many attacks on teaching history and the often ugly truths it reveals about America as a nation. Schools get to pick and choose and curriculums often teach falsehoods or a picture of White America as all good. Nuance and real learning should be key but sadly even today teachers/schools/local governement entities are teaching inaccurate history. Just this week a Black student recoreded his teacher saying that slaves were never whipped or beaten and that the n-word doesn’t mean anything bad and historically was only used to mean ill-educated. The audacity of this, sadly, is no longer surprising. It’s right us there with some history textbooks describing slavery as immigration and the Trail of Tears as Natives just moving somewhere new. I’m encouraged to see some changes, we just have to keep working at it. Thank you so much for this comment!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That is genuinely awful. I’m so lucky for the teachers I had, and how dedicated they were towards history – who knows where I’d be if they’d lied to me like that

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