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Why my Students Enrolled in a Course Entitled African American History Since 1865

Updated: Aug 25, 2022

Unidentified woman on postcard -Credit: NMAAHC

This semester, I am teaching an accelerated history course (7-weeks) in Early African American History; two accelerated history courses (7-weeks) in African American History since 1865; and one standard (15-week) course in U.S. History.

Here is the first assignment I gave the students in my African American History II course, including their responses:

For our first assignment of the course, I want you to read, "Black History Is American History: Teaching African American History in the Twenty-First Century," by Dr. Allison Dorsey.

In the article, Dr. Dorsey relays an interesting story about a group of women that she overheard calling African American history “hidden.” Do you agree or disagree with these women? Why? Also, why was it important for you to enroll in a course in African American History? Share at least one question that you have after reading the Dorsey article. Please make sure your post is no more than 500 words.

[This semester I have also started coupling the Dorsey reading with a debrief of Dr. Deborah Gray White's lecture on the history behind her first book project, Ar'n't I a Woman?: Female Slaves in the Plantation South. --08/25/2022]

Below is a sample of their responses:

  • "For years as an administrative secretary in a middle school, I was on the side-lines of the work being done in the classroom. After an administrator saw my potential and started including me in leadership meetings I was able to share my passion for equity and the need for more understanding of equitable practices in the classroom. As a leadership team, we read “Stamped from the Beginning” by Dr. Kendi. This book changed my life. It introduced me to the history of racism and the impact that it had and continues to have on our society. Last year I decided that I needed to take my experience and my passion and further my education. When choosing my classes for this spring I was excited to see a History course focused on African American history. I hope to deepen my knowledge and understanding and be able to retain what I learn when I become a teacher with my own students."

  • "After completing African American History section 235 [African American History before 1865], I gained a better understanding of the process my ancestors went through for me to be in this position that I, and other Black people, are in today. I look forward to taking this course because it will continue to my appreciation for and understanding of the struggles they endured for many centuries and how their persistence and perseverance for freedom and equality gave Black people a better life."

  • "I enjoyed taking the African American History 235 and wanted to continue the lesson. It is important that I enrolled in African American history because it is a part of my culture and identity. My ancestors on both my mother and father's side had ties to slavery, and it is important for me to understand and learn about what they went through."

  • "I also need this for credit. I took the first part of African American, so I am taking part 2 of African American. I hope to continue learning and being fascinated by what I learn from this class."

  • "I wanted to take a Black history course because I am already very interested and well versed on the subject, but given the plight of today’s society I feel that it is necessary to take this class in order to better understand and have a better functioning society as a black woman myself."

  • "It is important to me to be enrolled in a course specifically teaching African American History because I wish to learn as much as possible about the people who have had their voices silenced for so long. As a white woman, I will never fully understand how people of color feel when their history is not discussed, or the discrimination they face as a result of racism that is still very prevalent all across the world."

  • "I acknowledge that an expansive plethora of information can be found on the internet; however, I believe that this history is hidden as a result of white-washing. I cannot name a single instance where I was taught about an accomplishment of an African-American person during my many years of public education that was not during Black History Month or researched privately."

  • "Unlike Dorsey, I agree with the idea that African American history is “hidden”. Hidden might be a strong word, but the history is certainly omitted from and overlooked by mainstream society and education systems. The very fact that we need to have an African American history class that is separate from American history classes is indicative of this omission. Black narratives are stepped over in the classes that are generally mandated around the country--in order to learn about the Black experience, you need to really seek it out. This discourages many from sitting down and learning about the history of the African American community, thus effectively “hiding” it."

  • "...many times secondary education history classes give students the ability to access and learn about which resources are credible. Usually, the sources and resources that are presented are white centered ones, especially when it comes to primary sources. This makes it so that students have no place to start when they do decide they want to research and learn more about African American history."

  • "This class is important to me personally as I have the opportunity to gather a better understanding of how the social inequality in today’s society formed and what efforts Americans have taken throughout the years to end social inequality and hopefully, how we can improve upon these methods."

  • "There are thousands of books, movies, and stories that describe the history of African Americans from a first-hand account. In her article, Allison Dorsey talks about how every student that she teaches, no matter what race or who they are, has plenty of African American history to learn. African American history is not hidden, people just need to look for it in libraries or do some research."

  • "There is a lot of information that I had no knowledge of because of a lacking school curriculum, my parents being Caribbean immigrants that didn’t reach the US until the late 70’s/80’s, broken family structures that didn’t share their family histories, and for many other reasons including the whitewashing of black achievements. For example, I loved NASA and aero engineering as a young child, but had no idea there were black women involved in the first space flight until the film Hidden Figures that literally has “hidden” in the title. I also, did not comprehend the massive contributions that African American’s made to American Literature always the way back during the inception of the US until I recently took EN 226 – African American Literature this semester. I knew of some of the authors, but I did not know about Dialect poetry that was also problematically written by White authors for profit which reminded me of similar situations with Jazz and Rock n Roll in our more recent history."

  • "This a course that I take a lot of interest in compared to the other courses that I am required to take."

Questions from students:

  • "Why do many students come to the field with little knowledge about their history on research skills [especially] if it is something they want to focus on or pursue?"

  • "Why does the American school system refuse to incorporate African American history in the curriculum and instead teach the same kids the same things over each year until high school?

*Final thoughts on my question*

The history of African Americans is just as important as the stuff you would learn in everyday school and yet you often have to wait until college or enroll in special accelerated classes in high school in order to learn the truth. Instead of leaving everyone in the dark, the school system should make an effort to educate the youth about important historical events even if they do not go into detail as some of the information can get quite inappropriate for children."

  • "Dorsey talks about how important it is to her to create a place of discussion in her classroom. I agree that discussion is extremely important, and so I was wondering how does one create a safe place for all people that fosters discussion and disagreement, especially about more controversial topics?"

  • "A question that I have after reading the Dorsey article is, how do you encourage students to use what they have learned to make an impact on their lives?"

  • Do you agree with Dorsey's notions on authenticity regarding the instructor's phenotype especially teaching a class in African American history?

  • Do you think race will interfere with the classroom space, the scope of learning, and freedom of expression?

  • As a professor, do you believe there is anything more Dorsey could have done to make the classroom comfortable for her students of different phenotypes? Do you think these discussions should or can be comfortable?

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