What have our communities and nation chosen to memorialize and why? These are among the questions that Americans are grappling with in the midst of massive social upheaval and a growing list of instances in which protesters are removing or defacing monuments celebrating historical figures—monuments they feel celebrate racist legacies and signal an ongoing commitment to upholding racism. This wave of direct action has also spread to countries like England and Belgium as their populations reckon with the legacies of racism and colonialism in their own corners of the globe. Facing History invites educators to explore the following lessons on the contested meaning of monuments and historical symbols, as well as how new monuments and symbols have the potential to ground us in narratives that aid repair:
In collaboration with Facing History UK, educator Sanum Khan recently interviewed 18-year-old Kam Lambert about his experiences of growing up as a mixed-race young man in Britain, and how the events of recent months have impacted him. His insights and experiences send several powerful messages to us all within and beyond Britain. Facing History UK is an entity of Facing History and Ourselves, and Sanum Khan is a Facing History teacher and Specialist Leader of Education for Religious Studies and Personal, Social and Health Education in Buckinghamshire.
As the George Floyd protests continue in cities around the country, debate continues to mount about the future of policing. A wide network of activist groups have been calling for the nation’s police departments to be defunded, insisting that attempts at incremental reform have failed and alternative approaches to public safety must be implemented. Meanwhile on Capitol Hill, a coalition of House Democrats is advocating an alternative approach, asserting that we can reduce wrongful fatalities within existing systems of policing. As debate continues to rage, these efforts are provoking hard questions about the best possible outcomes of police reforms and whether they would be enough to protect black lives, if achieved.
Described as a second independence day, June 19th or Juneteenth marks the day that emancipation reached slaves in the furthest reaches of the South. While the Emancipation Proclamation proclaimed that all slaves 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. Juneteenth is a time to reflect upon this history, including the steps toward freedom that have been achieved and the forces that continue to undermine the freedom of African Americans. Juneteenth entered public consciousness recently when it was announced that the Trump campaign would hold a rally on that date in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the site of what is considered the worst race massacre in American history—one in which white mobs murdered over 300 African Americans. These plans were amended after provoking a wave of criticism about the insensitivity and even threat contained in such a decision in these times of ongoing unrest. These events provoke a number of questions but one thing is certain: finding the gumption to face our history, connect it to current events, and take action is perhaps more crucial now than ever before.
On May 25, 2020, a black Minnesota man, George Floyd, was killed after a white police officer suffocated him while a group of officers looked on. Floyd, like so many black people who have come before him, was stopped by the police while driving and would not make it home that night. Given the innate limitations of virtual instruction, we are currently examining what it would mean to create space for brave and supportive processing of events like this one in virtual classrooms. But even as we thoughtfully expand the tools we offer to meet this moment, we believe that learning, reflection, and action must begin immediately in our personal lives. Pausing to apprehend the gravity of Floyd’s death, the historical and contemporary political contexts in which it occurred, and the tools for self-care and resistance that are available to us is paramount.
In this recent interview, I had an opportunity to speak with Dr. Tara White, public historian and Professor of History at Wallace Community College in Selma, Alabama concerning the lesser-known role of black sororities in the women’s suffrage movement in the United States. Here we discuss the origins and significance of black sororities, as well as the continuing relevance of their struggles in the contemporary U.S.
Topics: black history
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.