We ended last school year in a time of unraveling. On May 25th, 2020, George Floyd was murdered under the knee of Derek Chauvin while three other police officers stood by as accomplices. We as educators rose to support and hold space for our students to process and situate this moment in its larger movement, in defense of Black lives, and in the mourning of so many others. A reckoning took hold on the conscience of the nation, and James Baldwin’s words rang loud and clear: “History is literally present in all that we do.” We each were personally called to face our own positionality, our own biases, and our own complicity in sustaining systemic oppression—a call that is and will be ongoing.
Tuesday, August 18, 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. This amendment established women's suffrage for the first time, granting white women across the country the right to vote to the exclusion of non-white women. Yet the women's suffrage movement contained many more key players than this outcome suggests. Among them were African American luminaries like Mary Church Terrell and the scores of Black women who joined with her to demand equal rights.
In this interview, I had an opportunity to speak with Dr. Tara White, public historian and Professor of History at Wallace Community College in Selma, Alabama about 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
The Black Lives Matter movement is working to create a more just and equitable society by pushing for systemic reforms and raising awareness of violence and racism against African Americans and other Black people worldwide. The name of the movement, Black Lives Matter, is simple and direct, yet radical in asserting that Black people, and their history and lived experiences past and present, be seen, heard and known. One way to learn more is to read broadly about Black lives. This list brings together a varied group of memoirs by African American and Black authors, each of which shares their unique journey and perspectives, and illustrates some of the diversity of the Black experience. Although many of the authors describe experiences with personal or systemic racism, it is important to note that all of the authors also touch upon their full range of human experiences, including joy, humor and fun.
In a recent interview, I spoke with Dr. Karlos Hill concerning the life and legacy of educator-activist Clara Luper. Dr. Hill is Associate Professor and Chair of the Clara Luper Department of African and African American Studies at the University of Oklahoma where he teaches the history of racial violence in the U.S. He serves on the Facing History and Ourselves Board of Scholars. He is the author of Beyond the Rope: The Impact of Lynching on Black Culture and Memory, The Murder of Emmett Till: A Graphic History, as well as a forthcoming book entitled The Tulsa Race Massacre: A Photographic History. In 2023, Dr. Hill plans to publish a new edition of Clara Luper’s memoir Behold the Walls that chronicles the Oklahoma City Sit-In Movement. In this interview, we discuss the history of the Oklahoma City Sit-Ins and Clara Luper’s approach to teaching as an educator-activist. Luper was a history teacher at Dunjee High School in 1957 when she became an adviser to the Oklahoma City NAACP’s Youth Council. In that role, she helped to spark a desegregation movement that would sweep the country.
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 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.