Reflections on Teaching African History in America
Updated: Mar 7
By David Brandon Dennis, NEJH Digital Editor
March 2, 2021
Black History Month 2021 is in the books. This February tradition, founded by Carter G. Woodson in 1926 and nurtured ever since by the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), has increasingly entered the mainstream of American education and public commemoration. But as Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, Harvard Professor and ASALH President, reminded us this year, Black History is "All Year Long!" In that spirit, I asked NEJH Editor, Linda Morse, to reflect on her experience teaching African history at the high school level in the U.S.
Linda Morse: "I started teaching a year-long course on African history from 1885 to present at the request of my students at Foxborough Regional Charter School probably over a decade ago. The students were doing a fundraiser for Darfur and I asked several of them if they would like a course on African history and they were quite enthusiastic. Over that summer I read several large books about African history and have continued to learn about African history ever since. As African nations moved nearer to independence from their colonizers, I learned that some Africans who sought college educations in America or European nations wound up becoming leaders or presidents of their home countries as nations became independent. The more I explored, the more I realized that members of the African diaspora were creating their own version of the “triangular trade” taught in U.S. History I. However, this exchange of ideas and people focused on ending slavery, ending colonialism, spreading ideas of freedom and independence that were not taught in the history classroom. This “not knowing” led me to think that we need to teach history in a new way that does not leave out this empowering understanding of the actions of persons of color as the absence of this vision creates a false picture of white abilities to the detriment of all students. Had I not learned and taught about African history, then even I as a history educator would not have understood the impact of what we do not know and thus do not teach. This invisible information creates a vision of the world for our students that is inaccurate and harmful."
Morse has called elsewhere for a "new history education" that makes visible these invisibilities. To read more, please see her editorial published last summer by the History News Network. In addition, listen to Morse discuss teaching Decolonization in this podcast with Primary Source.