North Carolina schools must teach students the full story of Black history

February 24, 2021 6:00 am
Photo: Adobe Stock

In 1787, a deal was struck whereby enslaved Africans in America would be counted as three-fifths of a person for purposes of a state’s population. Hence, the origin of the “three-fifths of a man adage.” Although this step was taken largely for the purpose of determining how much a state would contribute in taxes (as well as its representation in the U.S. House of Representatives), in 2021 the “three-fifths compromise” is still in effect when it comes to Black history education.

Recently, controversy has swirled in North Carolina because the history of the nation’s oppressed people isn’t being adequately taught in schools. Everyone, it seems, has weighed in, from Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson to high school students.

Of course, the issue is not whether Black history is currently taught in the school system. Who doesn’t know about Frederick Douglass or Harriet Tubman? The issue is the degree to which Black history is taught.

It seems administrators are leaving out a lot more than they are putting in when it comes to Black history.

The State Board of Education recently agreed that social studies courses should be more inclusive of the histories of oppressed people. However, the issues of where and how much remain gray areas.

Here’s one way to send a message about the importance telling our children the full story:

Last year, you might remember that a bill requiring students to receive instruction regarding the Holocaust (House Bill 437) was introduced into the legislature. The measure was ultimately attached by proponents to the $24 billion budget bill passed by both houses, but because Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed that bill and a final compromise was never achieved, the Holocaust education requirement never became law.

On Feb. 10 of this year, the bill was reintroduced as House Bill 69, and Gov. Roy Cooper’s office has expressed its support. Just like the previous bill, HB 69, the “Education on the Holocaust and Genocide Bill (Gizella Abramson Holocaust Education Act),” requires that Holocaust education be included in the state’s Standard Course of Study.

That means instruction regarding the Holocaust would also be included in English classes and other subjects where Holocaust education could be utilized. The bill also invites the North Carolina Council on the Holocaust to help with implementing the curriculum.

I propose that we take advantage of the fact that there’s a bill in motion to make Holocaust education law. Why not pull out the old ballpoint pen and add in the words “Black History” and allow everyone to go home happy?

Unfortunately, we have now entered the hallowed ground of social equality where angels fear to tread.

It’s OK for Black folk to fight for their rights, but equal rights are a whole other ball of wax.

Historically, African Americans have been expected to be satisfied with partial equality. During slavery times we were conditioned to accept the “scraps from massa’s table.” While whites were eating high on the hog, Blacks made do with the feet, ears and guts (chitterlings) of pigs, and were thankful for it. At least, their growling bellies wouldn’t keep them awake that night.

That same mentality has trickled down to today’s educational system where Black children are given a chittlin’ curriculum and are expected to be happy.

As much as people say Black Lives Matter, when it comes to complete social equality, the phrase becomes empty and void of substantive meaning.

At what point do African Americans ask in unison: “Do the lives of my ancestors who perished in the transatlantic slave trade matter?” Or, “what about the lives of those who were lynched by white supremacists?”

When will white America acknowledge that Black people led great civilizations in Africa long before the first European set foot on the continent?

Do not misconstrue this as an exercise in comparative suffering. All human tragedy – including the horrors of the Holocaust – must be remembered and condemned. But we cannot ignore the fact that, despite the recent national conversations about race, the full extent of the suffering inflicted upon and endured by Black people never seems to find its way into the public conversation in modern America.

Though they were obviously very different in their particulars, I submit that it is just as important that our children learn the complete story of the African Holocaust, known in Swahili as the “Maafa,” as it is for them to learn of the ghastly abuse and murder perpetrated by the Nazis on the Jewish people. Both histories should be fully and accurately taught in our schools.

We owe our ancestors to make sure that the world understands that fact. For too long, Black folk have been satisfied by a semblance of equity. Total equality in education must be a priority this year.

So, I urge all African American parents, students and educators to email their local representative to demand that Black history be included in HB 69. If they refuse, it is a betrayal that must be addressed at the ballot box.

This is a new day. Blacks must no longer settle for crumbs. We demand an equal share of the loaf.

Min. Paul Scott is an activist and founder of the Durham NC-based Black Messiah Movement, which combines community activism with Black Liberation Theology.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.