Race and the Re-Education of America: Transforming U.S. History Classes

The way African-Americans are represented in U.S. History books has evolved from stereotypes and omissions to “Black History Month” lessons and to today’s more accurate and inclusive perspectives and narratives throughout the school year. However, since standardized tests that measure proficiency are mostly limited to English and Math, our American history knowledge varies substantially, influenced by political leanings from state to state. Additionally, textbook manufacturers and teachers often play it “safe” with history and spend less time on topics of slavery and Civil Rights. However, as our 21st century history unfolds, anyone with a smartphone can record and document marches, protests, boycotts and a wave of hashtag social justice activism. “Real time” history provides current events topics for classrooms and helps connect past and present.

Ownership of history is an eternal tug of war. Re-examining our legacy allows us to have uncomfortable, yet necessary conversations about race. Otherwise, violence, disenfranchisement, oppression, and socioeconomic effects of discrimination continue to shackle people. This modern slavery exists in employment, voter suppression, education, court/judicial system, and mass incarceration.

If history repeats itself, it comes in familiar forms. From slavery’s abolishment to the Civil Rights movement, Brown vs. Board of Education, and the Voting Rights Act, the fight for equality and addressing institutional racism continues. In the past, the Black Panthers protected black voters from intimidation. Today, Black Lives Matter fights against police killings of unarmed African-Americans.

Presently our nation is divided between revisionist history patriots and progressives, using flags and statues as symbols of nationalism or oppression. Some kneel during the National Anthem in silent protest. Others embrace a history of the Confederacy as one of “Southern pride.” Alabama recently declared Confederate National Day a state holiday. Around the same time, the National Memorial for Peace and Justice– a memorial dedicated to the thousands of African-Americans who were lynched from 1877 through 1950 – was installed in the state. At a “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017, a neo-Nazi plowed through a group of counter protestors after clashes over the removal of a Gen. Robert E. Lee statue from a city park.