In two recent interviews, I spoke with high school teacher Dexter Britt and Facing History Program Associate Rose Sadler about the challenges and opportunities inherent in teaching black history in the middle and high school setting. Speaking from black and white racial backgrounds, they discuss some of the complexities inherent in teaching black history and strategies that teachers can use to promote meaningful learning on the subject all year long.
The year is 1987. In Monroeville, Alabama, Walter “Johnny D” McMillian is driving home from work. It had been a day like any other, but as night begins its descent over Monroe County, McMillian’s journey home to his family—and the course of his very life—is forced to a halt. On a quiet Alabama road, McMillian, a black man, is ambushed by an all-white police unit. He is arrested, tried, and sentenced to death for a crime he did not commit. So begins Just Mercy, the new film based on Bryan Stevenson’s best-selling memoir of the same title. What follows is the true story of Stevenson, a young public interest lawyer, and his tireless quest to exonerate McMillian and achieve justice.
In addition to using Facing History’s teaching resources on black history, we invite you to deepen your own learning about black history with these 6 brand new titles released this month by scholars of black history and art. These books connect past to present in a number of contexts including #drivingwhileblack, mass incarceration, the racial politics of Chicago, and the way we remember and represent political icons including Julian Bond and the Obamas.
Writer and director Kasi Lemmons’ film Harriet debuted in theaters in November, and is the first feature-length biopic on Harriet Tubman. And in an exciting recent development, lead actress Cynthia Erivo was nominated for Best Actress at the Academy Awards for her portrayal of the titular character. Yet for all of Erivo’s skill as an actress, the film and its nomination raise messy questions about how black women’s agency and roles in American society are imagined, depicted, and enforced.
February 3, 2020 marks the 150th anniversary of the passage of the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. When passed in 1870, the 15th Amendment extended voting rights to all American men “regardless of race, color, or previous condition of servitude”—a move that initiated an experiment in interracial democracy that continues into the present. Yet the voting rights that were formally extended to black men were quickly curtailed by interests that opposed black enfranchisement, setting the stage for an ongoing battle to ensure that all Americans can participate in the political process regardless of race, gender, and other dimensions of identity. This 150th anniversary is an occasion to assess the continuing threats to voting rights today, the stakes of those threats, and how we can challenge them.
This February, Facing History and Ourselves is honored to celebrate Black History Month by highlighting resources new and old that capture key moments in black history, contemporary developments that have grown out of this past, and the challenges and opportunities faced by teachers of black history. We know that time is always at a premium this time of year, so we have a wealth of content planned to help you, your colleagues, and students connect past to present, and self to community.
As we observe Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the midst of our present climate of hate, we are inevitably asked to consider how far we have come in realizing the visions of justice and equality that King articulated a half century ago. Though King has been memorialized in many places around the country and world, how we represent his legacy remains contested and points to divisions in our thinking about what it actually means to promote racial justice. Cultural artifacts like monuments present rich opportunities to examine the narratives we choose to uphold and sideline in the public sphere, and the forthcoming Boston-based memorial to the Kings is no exception.
The news cycles of the last few years have captured countless instances of racist violence perpetrated by white people against black people—a continuation of a long history of antiblack violence in the United States. And amid this legacy of violence, a number of black figures have done the unimaginable: they have publicly expressed forgiveness to avowedly racist white people who murdered their relatives and community members.
This National Hispanic Heritage Month, we find an opportunity to explore histories, contributions, and experiences of Hispanic and Latinx people in our communities and classrooms that are often left out of the news and history books. One such story is that of Dolores Huerta—a Chicana activist whose contributions rival those of the most renowned civil rights leaders in U.S. history, but whose legacy is significantly less known. Awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012 and nine honorary doctorates, Huerta is a living legend in the labor movement and has been a tireless advocate for social justice for over 50 years.
Today marks the 56th anniversary of the March on Washington—the historic 1963 protest in which as many as 500,000 people marched to demand jobs and freedom for Americans of all racial backgrounds. Though many of us remember this as the day that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech, it is easy to forget that he was not the only civil rights leader to address the crowd. One of the leaders who joined him was movement veteran Daisy Bates—the only woman permitted to speak, though not in her own words.