Have you ever wondered how history itself is made? Though we often talk about individuals and groups “making history” by making certain types of contributions to society, less frequently do we talk about the complex process through which historians construct their accounts of the past. During American Archives Month this October, we have a chance to explore the central role of archives in shaping our perceptions of the past, the various forces that determine the materials and voices included in a given archive, and how this insight can enrich the way we think about historical materials and even produce our own.
The desegregation of Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas exactly sixty-four years ago this weekend remains a flashpoint in American history, the history of the Civil Rights Movement, and the history of education in the United States. Following the Brown v. Board decision of 1954 which rendered racial segregation of schools unconstitutional, the NAACP devised a plan to desegregate Central High School as a test case within the new legal environment created by the Brown decision. A group of nine Black students were selected to integrate the school and, upon their arrival, faced immense violent opposition from white mobs and armed forces deployed by Arkansas’ governor. Historian Taylor Branch described the event as “the most severe test of the Constitution since the Civil War” and the level of conflict it engendered seems to lend further credence to this comparison.
This week, the world is watching a devastating humanitarian situation unfold in Haiti where a 7.2-magnitude earthquake struck the island and is thought to have killed at least 2,189 people, injured at least 12,000, and left tens of thousands homeless. This comes on the heels of the assassination of Haitian president Jovenel Moïse only a month ago which sparked considerable social unrest. In addition to these immense casualties and compounding traumas, the arrival of Tropical Storm Grace has complicated rescue efforts. Further, past political corruption and mishandling of relief funds by foreign NGOs have made many external actors reticent to issue monetary support, even in the face of widespread hunger and displacement. Despite these substantial barriers, a group of dedicated Haitians and Haitian Americans are rising to the challenge of delivering necessary aid to the Haitian people and inviting others to join them in their cause. As the news stories emerging from Haiti grow ever complex, a deeper exploration of the history of Haiti—including the resilience and resistance of its people—helps to illuminate how we got here and the broader significance of supporting Haitian-led relief efforts.
When Nina Simone sang the uplifting lyrics of her song “Young, Gifted and Black” in 1970, she invited her listeners into a powerful way of re-envisioning Black excellence in themselves and Black people around them. But even half a century later, there are a host of barriers that continue to undermine the flourishing of Black excellence in educational settings.
As we reflect upon various issues that figure in the lives of LGBTQIA+ people during Pride Month, it is also important to retain an understanding of the vastness and diversity of this community. Considering the impact of different dimensions of one’s identity—for example, sexual orientation, gender identity, racial identity, and class background—on one’s experience is crucial for gaining a meaningful understanding of one’s experiences. The complex connections between these various dimensions of identity is often described using the term “intersectionality.” Though it is not uncommon to encounter discussion of intersectionality in 2021, this was not always the case. One key figure who has left an indelible mark on intersectional thought and organizing is the Black lesbian scholar, feminist, mother, and poet Audre Lorde. Born in 1934, Lorde not only challenged her contemporaries to think about identity and politics intersectionally, but also challenged them to value the inner emotional landscape as a core resource in the work of liberation.
Described as a second independence day, June 19th or Juneteenth marks the day that emancipation reached enslaved people in the furthest reaches of the American South. Though the Emancipation Proclamation established that all enslaved people held within the rebellious states were freed, plantation life continued as though no change had occurred in many parts of the slaveholding South until this day. And just yesterday, the U.S. Senate unanimously approved a bill to make Juneteenth a legal public holiday. Juneteenth is a time to reflect upon this history, as well as the steps toward freedom that have been achieved and the forces that continue to undermine the freedom of African Americans.
On Tuesday evening, it was announced that former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin has been found guilty of all charges leveled against him in connection with the death of George Floyd in May 2020. The twelve-person jury reached the unanimous verdict that Chauvin committed second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter against Floyd nearly a year go. As we exhale in the wake of this decision, we must remain present to the unending stream of historical and contemporary violence that surrounds this guilty verdict.
It was on this day nine years ago that 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was shot by neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman. After spending the evening relaxing and playing video games with his brothers, Martin ventured out to a convenient store to purchase some snacks. He would not make it home after Zimmerman deemed him a suspicious presence and proceeded to shoot him dead, later claiming self-defense. The fact that we live in a society in which the worth and humanity of a young Black man is so quickly eclipsed and negated by his dark skin is a source of Black suffering that is difficult to soothe. When the jury refused to convict Zimmerman for killing Martin, outrage followed and would catalyze the development of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement in 2013. In the years that have elapsed since then, a growing number of people and organizations have become affiliated with the movement as Black people continue to be killed by law enforcement and vigilantes at disproportionate rates. As the movement expands, complex questions have emerged about what it means to assert that “Black Lives Matter” and to stand behind that claim in meaningful ways within our own spheres of influence.
Topics: Black History
As February and Black History Month draw to a close, educators’ opportunities to teach Black history will continue throughout the year. Below, a multiracial group of Facing History teachers from around the U.S. share their thoughts on Black History Month, weigh in on how they approach teaching Black history, and share some of their cherished classroom resources.
Topics: Black History
Before film director Ryan Coogler brought audiences the Black Panther film franchise, there was another Black Panther that loomed large in American culture. Director Shaka King’s new film Judas and the Black Messiah depicts the rise and fall of Fred Hampton, Chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party, and the role of Black FBI informant William O’Neal in those events. The film’s title is a reference to the biblical story in which the apostle Judas Iscariot betrays Jesus, leading to his execution. In addition to providing a primer on a rich chapter in American history, the film raises a number of questions for the viewer surrounding the richness and limits of Black political agency in the United States.
Topics: Black History