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Week 1: Teaching African American History, Whilst in Two Pandemics- COVID-19 + Anti-Black Violence

Updated: Sep 24, 2020


Last week I shared a bit about my role on a panel entitled, "Unspoken Truths: Being Black in Education." The program was pretty invigorating and I went into this week with some serious goals for my students as well as myself.


This week I started the on-line class by asking students how/where/what they first learned about African American History. The most pervasive answer was that most learned about the civil rights movement or had one chapter in a school textbook that summarized black life from slavery to civil rights. I assigned Allison Dorsey's "Black History Is American History: Teaching African American History In The Twenty-First Century," for both surveys (African American History to 1865 and African American History Since 1865). It was published in 2001 and also provides a great opportunity to ask, "What major events in African American History have occurred since 2001? How might those events frame Allison Dorsey's current project?"


The student journal assignment was to summarize Dorsey's article and to write at least one lingering question after reading. Lastly, I closed out the week with a brief discussion after sharing this short clip, "No Justice, No Democracy: American History & Pursuit of Freedom with Allison Dorsey." 


My lecture included an overview of what John Hope Franklin called the "generations" of scholarship on African American History. His work is how I introduce students to the term historiography, or the history of a history. In one of the essay by Franklin he states, “Afro-American History: State of the Art,” Franklin shares: “…Afro-American history, almost from the beginning, was an enterprise promoted jointly by those who wrote history and those who viewed the study of history as a way to raise the level of Negroes in American life.”


"The field [of African American History] expanded, as it had come into being, in connection with efforts to protect the rights and to improve the lives of American blacks. Civil rights advocates in the fifties and sixties enlisted history to support their cause. On the basis of history alone, they argued that black people deserved equal consideration with others in the enjoyment of economic, social, and political justice." --John Hope Franklin


A few Images from Lecture:


This suite of images from the lecture are important signifier. Just last week tens of thousands of people convened on the National Mall to commemorate the fifty seventh anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The theme for this anniversary was "Get Your Knee Off Our Necks," and hosts in the National Action Network (NAN) called the event, "an inter-generational inclusive day of action will demonstrate our advocacy for comprehensive police accountability reform, the Census, and mobilizing voters for the November elections."


Last week also their was considerable unrest in the country over the murder of Jacob Blake as well as the rise in white vigilante violence in Kenosha, Wisconsin. A 17-year-old Illinois resident, Kyle Rittenhouse, was charged with first-degree intentional homicide after murdering two protestors and injuring a third.



Julius Constantine Motal / NBC News



I used these images to "show, not say" Black Studies is a transcendent interdisciplinary framework with methods that have enhanced historians' ability to do our work.

  1. March on Washington, August 28, 1963 (US Government Photo)


2. March on Washington Button (gift to the National Museum of American History from Virginia Beets, Robert N. Ferrell, Jack S. Goodwin and Sam Steinhart).



3. Getting on the Bus in Madison, Wisconsin

"Wisconsin to Washington: Rights--150 Years Overdue"

Courtesy of the UW-Madison Archives, #S00650




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