History Should Include All Americans

By Henry Givens, Jr. | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), February 2, 1997 | Go to article overview

History Should Include All Americans


Henry Givens, Jr., St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


Every year, at just about this time, Americans from all walks of life are confronted with this question: "Is black history, as a separate study - whether for a week or an entire month - really necessary?"

The sad but correct answer is a resounding "yes" as long as the story of Americans, as told in history books and in news articles - both on the air and in print - continues to fail drastically to weave into its narrative the contributions of all Americans and to emphasize their fundamental oneness.

It is, indeed, disturbing that on the threshold of the 21st century, far too many Americans - from all racial and ethnic backgrounds - know little or nothing about African-Americans except the same old stereotypes. Far too many Americans are deeply convinced that African-Americans have made little or no contribution to the greatness of this country. As a result, far too many Americans - both black and white - are caught up in the trap of prejudice, hatred, intolerance and racial separatism. One might well ask why these socially divisive thoughts and beliefs still live and thrive among us. Very probably, the answer is ignorance of true human history, and of American history in particular. In this case, ignorance is anything but bliss. Rather, ignorance or distortion of the facts of history is a source of real fear, from which arises a multitude of social evils. On the other hand, knowledge of the truth is power because it frees the knower from unfounded notions, beliefs and prejudices. Such knowledge g ives rise to deep understandings, appreciations and a sense of fairness. Thus, it is for the dispensing of true knowledge about the sufferings, triumphs, contributions and, above all, the perseverance of African-Americans, that a study of black history is so important. If America did not devote a special month or several months to calling the attention of all Americans to this key force in our history, it is hardly likely that negative attitudes, hatred and feelings of superiority on the part of some members of our society toward black people would soon disappear. What if, from the earliest of school years, American history, social studies, science and math courses truly included the stories, discoveries and offerings of all Americans? Then, and only then, would there be no need for a Black History Month. All students, from all American backgrounds, would benefit from curriculum with the contributions of black Americans - their sufferings, their triumphs, their perseverance - woven into every area of study. When teaching the importance of mathematics, why not include with the basics of adding, subtracting, multiplying and problem solving, some of the interesting historical facts about Benjamin Banneker, an African-American inventor and mathematician, who was one of the surveyors and planners appointed by George Washington to design the nation's capital? All students - no matter what ethnic background - would appreciate knowing about the struggle of the great orator and statesman Frederick Douglass and would gain much from the reading thereof. Before the Civil War, when it was illegal to teach slaves to read, Douglass, a house slave in Baltimore, used pieces of bread to buy secret lessons from poor neighborhood white boys. …

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