When I attended last year’s White House Black History Month reception, it appeared few of us took note that it was the 50th anniversary of such observances. Then George Floyd and Black Lives Matter happened, seemingly changing things forever—particularly a reevaluation of the black experience.
Concerted efforts to commemorate black history go back almost a century. In 1926, black historian Carter G. Woodson designated the second week in February as “Negro History Week.” He selected the days between the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln on the 12th and Frederick Douglass on the 20th.
In 1970, the Black United Students group at Kent State University launched Black History Month. It gained momentum after President Gerald Ford recognized it during the nation’s bicentennial celebration in 1976.
Still, growing up in the ‘70s and early ‘80s, I don’t remember an emphasis on black history in the classroom, even in February, until Stevie Wonder helped campaign for a Martin Luther King national holiday with his hit song “Happy Birthday.”
Even then, Black History Month felt like a broken record. The curriculum was repetitious — focusing on the likes of Dr. King, Harriet Tubman, and George Washington Carver. There were no deep dives into educator Booker T. Washington, abolitionist Frederick Douglass, inventor Lewis Howard Latimer, or others.
Was I somehow shortchanged or diminished because I didn’t learn much about black history from my teachers? Not at all. My parents—especially my mother, an elementary school teacher—understood the times. They realized it was their responsibility to ensure their son knew the history and accomplishments of his people.
Before I fully comprehended and appreciated what they did for me, I happily played black history board games. They also got me a set of black history encyclopedias published by Johnson Publishing, then-publisher of the iconic Ebony and Jet magazines.
My formal education—and my fellow students’—would have been greatly enhanced by a better study of black history. Understanding the worthwhile contributions of one’s particular ethnic group toward the advancement of the nation and world is a good thing.
At the same time, the pedagogy of ethnic pride comes with responsibility currently being abdicated for radicalism. That’s why it’s a shame when contemporary Black History Month curricula simply revises history for political gain. A prime example is the “1619 Project” peddled by The New York Times.
At last year’s Times shareholder meeting, I questioned Chairman Arthur “Pinch” Sulzberger, Jr. about it, asking:
The New York Times has invested significant resources in its 1619 Project, built upon the premise that everything in American history is irrevocably built on and tainted by slavery. Many well-respected historians from a wide array of backgrounds have stepped forward to challenge the premises and factual assertions of the Project, particularly the claim that U.S. independence was motivated by a desire to break from an abolitionist Britain. The Times has finally admitted its error. Will it now go back to correct the record with the vigor with which it distorted it, and ensure that schools using 1619 Project materials are not teaching falsehoods?
Confronted about his paper’s failings, Sulzberger showed no remorse. He responded: “The 1619 Project… certainly has its critics, some of whom disagree with some of its conclusions. And one of the things that we’ve tried hard to do throughout the Project is simply to encourage dialogue between those with different perspectives. And we think that that debate has been of real value to the public.”
Despite egregious errors—acknowledged even by those who helped edit it—Sulzberger’s response to 1619 Project failings was that he was basically good with it as long as people talked about race. Really?
Is it healthy and uplifting to tell black students they are perpetual victims living in a racist country founded on preserving the intuition of slavery? Will this encourage them to strive for excellence and achievement to uplift fellow blacks?
This mindset does a disservice to Woodson’s aspiration. As they do with almost everything they touch, leftists turned something that’s potentially useful into just another vehicle for left-wing propaganda and proselytizing. My parents handled Black History Month much better.