Knowledge is power!
The US has a sordid history of teaching African American history in schools in a way that is both inadequate and often times misleading.
According to a 2015 study by the National Museum of African American History and Culture and Oberg Research, while most instructors agree that teaching Black history is important, just 8% to 9% of history classes in US schools actually cover the topic.
With well-respected institutions such as the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, we can fully learn about the entire African diaspora to our full advantage!
We recently spoke with Manager of Education Programs and Outreach at the Schomburg Center, Kadiatou Tubman to discuss not only what’s not being taught in schools, but why institutions like the Schomburg Center are vital to the Black community.
Started as a special collection of the 135th Street Branch Library, the Division of Negro Literature, History, and Prints—the precursor of today’s Schomburg Center—opened in 1925 to address the needs of a developing neighborhood.
“Arturo Schomburg [who] was a very huge figure in Black History. He believed in collecting everything relating to the African diaspora, making sure that future generations and the present have access to their history, and learn that history and build a better future from it,” Tubman said.
When the personal library of eminent Black scholar and bibliophile Arturo Alfonso Schomburg, who was born in Puerto Rico, was added, The Division first attracted attention on a global scale.
More than 5,000 books, 3,000 manuscripts, 2,000 etchings and paintings, and several thousand pamphlets made up Schomburg’s collection. The Division’s curator collected various manuscripts, archives, etc. from 1932 until Schomburg’s passing in 1938.
When sharing why the beloved Schomburg Center is so vitally important to the Black community, the late figure’s life experiences play a role.
“I think about Arturo Schomburg’s mission, and a lot of it stems from his experiences as a young child, living in Puerto Rico as an Afro-Borican, and his experiences not learning much about Black people and their history also being told that Black people didn’t have a lot of contributions to history and culture. And we live in a world rot with racism, still under the imperials of oppression and white supremacy and often times the stories that we tell about Black people is very much told in a negative light. Someone like Arturo growing up in the late 19th century, and the 20th century understood that wasn’t the summation of our story and that those myths being perpetuated does more harm to us, but it’s incredibly vital that there are institutions, and organizations that are dedicated to undoing those myths and also highlighting incredible history of Black people,” she explained.
Ensuring that future generations learn about the full scope of the African diaspora, Tubman’s and the Schomburg Center’s mission is to have access to institutions like the Harlem landmark.
“For me as an educator I prioritize programs at the Schomburg Center. My goal is to make sure that those young kids growing up in middle school, elementary school, pre-k, how young they are never leave the city not knowing that an institution like the Schomburg Center exists. So, a lot of my focus is working with educators, working with schools with students just to make sure that they have access.”
The Schomburg Center houses important manuscripts such as the Black Panther Party’s Ten-Point Program, which highlights the beliefs that the political party demanded in an educational system that would give Black people a knowledge of self.
“Some artifacts that’s at the Schomburg Center that folks don’t know about is the Black Panther Party recruitment [documents], a lot of the Black Panther organizing, not only did the organizing take place in the South, and in California, it also took place in New York City. In 1964, there was a huge organizing effort to get schools to really recognize the Ten-Point Program to really think about how to make schools more equitable. They were rallying, and protests for schools to teach Black history, for there to be Black principals, and administrators so that young kids can learn in a safe environment.”
When instructing weekly Saturday Junior Scholars Program, Tubman expressed that she loves to educate the youth on the Black Power movement, due to the fact the Black community has been demanding more Black representation amongst the workers, and the demand of having AP African American history courses.
In celebration of Black History Month, here are five Black facts that aren’t taught in school!
Colored School No. 1
The region that is today known as Fort Greene, Brooklyn, became the first district on the island to establish a school for the formal instruction of African Americans in 1827, some seventy years before Brooklyn would be acquired by New York City.
A free school for the education of African children, Colored School No. 1 was established in a clapboard house in the area that is now known as Fort Greene, Brooklyn.
Black Economic Research Center
In order to better understand the economic dynamics of Black America, come up with alternative strategies that might be successful in enhancing the economic circumstances of African Americans, and offer technical assistance to community, private, and governmental agencies interested in Black economic development, economist Robert S. Browne founded and directed the Black Economic Research Center (BERC) in 1969.
Because there was a dearth of information and analysis on economic issues affecting the Black community, Browne attempted to establish such a group.
National Council for Black Studies
The National Council for Black Studies (NCBS) was formally founded in July 1976 with the goal of serving as a clearinghouse for information and promoting and strengthening community and academic programs in the area of Black studies.
The NCBS, which is made up of educators, students, and other interested parties dedicated to the growth of Black studies, thinks that all subject areas in which the phrase “Black experience” serves as the primary goal and substance of study should be included in Black academic programs.
Black Academy of Arts and Letters
On March 27, 1969, a group called the Black Academy of Arts and Letters was established in Boston. The group was ” “dedicated to the defining and promoting cultural achievement of black people.”
The Black Academy of Arts and Letters, according to its creator Dr. C. Eric Lincoln, is “one way of coming to terms with a society that has not yet made up its mind about the role of color.”
Charles White, Robert Hooks, Julian “Cannonball” Adderley, Alvin Ailey, Sidney Poitier, and Duke Ellington were among the notable founders.
Black Panther Party Harlem Branch
There is evidence of Black Panther Party activity in Harlem as early as the fall of 1966, even though the majority of Black Panther Party chapters and branches were established after January 1968.
The Harlem Branch, which is located at Seventh Avenue and 141st Street, called for a closure of all Harlem schools on September 12th and demanded the construction of two high schools in Central Harlem, a community college, African language and arts and sciences courses in elementary and junior high schools, as well as the hiring of more black principals, assistant principals, and superintendents.
The Harlem Branch was governed by a constitution with 47 articles that provided comprehensive explanations of all the guidelines and rules controlling membership, organizational structure, and Party values.
Tell us what some of your favorite Black History facts are down below!
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