On "Black Histories Matter"
To the editor:
Iread the article “Black Histories Matter” (Perspectives on History, September 2015) with interest. Unfortunately, the marginalization of the black experience in the teaching and depiction of American history is neither new nor isolated. There is no time or critical event in the history of this country that does not have its African American component. However, the racial exclusivity of American history in books, film, and academia is the norm, not the exception. Recently, such a “historical” film series (The Roosevelts: An Intimate History) contained a segment covering the late 19th and early 20th centuries that pretended that the establishment of Jim Crow in the federal government and navy, the revival of the KKK, and the authorization of “separate but equal” in Plessy v. Ferguson by the Supreme Court never happened. Also absent were the accomplishments of George Washington Carver and the bravery of the all-black regiments at San Juan Hill during the Spanish-American War, an event that was instrumental in the making of Theodore Roosevelt’s reputation. These pivotal events were ignored, just like the missing slave quarters on the recreated Monticello Plantation.
The danger of not including all races in the depiction and teaching of history— not just relegating them to a “Black (etc.) History Month”—is that people develop a skewed view of present conditions and people in this country. There are influential people who have a very limited knowledge of the history of this country making decisions that affect us all. The tragedy in South Carolina resulting in the uproar over flying the Confederate flag on public grounds is only the most recent example of this phenomenon. The teaching and depiction of inclusive American history is as important to the future of this country as anything else.
W.E.B. Du Bois’s seminal work Black Reconstruction in America should be required reading in any reputable collegiate American history curriculum. Portions of it should be taught at the high school level. Any documentary, monument, or event purporting to be an authentic depiction of events or eras in American history should include the roles all people played, including those who were affected by those events.
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