During the years that I worked as an elementary school counselor for a Mississippi school district, I attended many Black History Month programs. The community was 70% African-American. Year after year, the same handful of famous faces were highlighted in presentations, on bulletin boards, and for student writing assignments.
Don’t get me wrong, I learned a lot from this yearly focus. Some of the people on the annual list of historical figures were people I might never have heard of, had I stayed secluded in my lily-white world. But after a few years, I started thinking, “These can’t be the only important African-Americans who have made major contributions to this country.” If they are, then that reinforces many negative stereotypes. Black history deserves better.
When I was growing up in Montgomery, Alabama, we didn’t have Black History Month. First, because it wasn’t recognized until 1976, and I was in graduate school by that time. And in many ways I was living in the midst of African-American history being made all around me in the 1960s in the Cradle of the Confederacy. But that’s another story for another time.
Fast forward to the twenty-first century. I read Booker T. Washington’s autobiography, Up From Slavery. What an eye-opener that was! This educator and founder of Tuskegee Institute, was a wise Christian whose words are worthy to speak to our educational systems today. I underlined so much of what he said. It also shows that we need to find primary resources to balance what we think we know about our history, which is never a totally objective discipline.
Then I heard David Barton talk about many unknown black patriots who were instrumental in the American Revolution. Who knew? He referenced The Colored Patriots of the American Revolution written by abolitionist William Cooper Nell in 1855.
I know Mr. Barton has become a controversial figure, but he does have an extensive collection of primary historical sources and presents information that we would do well to consider. At least he is trying to develop a well-rounded picture of African-American history, showing the Godly heritage of respected, accomplished black men and women who made valuable contributions in many walks of life.
We may not have pre-made bulletin board kits for them, but I’m glad to learn about many forgotten African Americans who were considered important in their time. For many of them, faith and Christian character played a strong role in their lives. We should get to know them, what they did, and expand our knowledge beyond the two dozen we usually honor and remember each February.
All photos in this post were downloaded from Shutterstock.
Names you might like to look up:
Bishop Richard Allen (1760 – 1831)
Benjamin Banneker (1731 – 1806)
Mary McLeod Bethune (1875-1955)
Claudette Colvin (1939 – ) (age 81)
Ellen Elgin (1849 – 1890+)
Rev. Henry Highland Garnet (1815 – 1882)
Rev. Lemuel Haynes (1753-1833)
Thomas L. Jennings (1791 – 1859)
Horace King (1807-1885)
James Armistead Lafayette (1760 – 1832)
Phillis Wheatley (1753 – 1784)
Prince Whipple (1756 – 1797)
If you’re interested in digging deeper into this hidden history, you might start with this: https://wallbuilders.com/black-history-library-page/