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On Teaching Children Black History

There are many people who struggle with teaching their children some of the elements of Black History because they feel that it may make the child struggle with feelings of hate and resentment toward the white people. And not wanting them to grow up with those difficult-to-process feelings, they keep such components away from their child. Some parents even add GOD to the reasons, surmising that GOD would rather us focus on what unites us and not that which divides us.

I decided to post on this topic after viewing a 1990 episode of The Phil Donahue Show where Louis Farrakhan was the guest (watch here). The audience was diametrically divided and the pass-the-mic segment of the show got really heated. I concluded that the white people in the audience were so oblivious to the reality of how Black people lived in America because their parents had the same difficulty teaching their children the truth about history that some of us are faced with today.

I am an advocate of teaching children history, especially Black History. As a matter of fact, I have always searched for creative ways to introduce children to Black History that will be seeds for future exploration. I was introduced to exploring Black History on my own as a result of an experience I had when I was in the third grade. I talk about the experience in part 1 of A Time to Speak, my virtual production for children!

But before YouTube and the internet, I used to teach by way of T-shirts. Instead of showing a picture of the shirt, I'd rather paint the picture with my words.

“Never forgive. Never forget. Never again.”

I bought a shirt with these words on it many years ago. It was a brown shirt with short-sleeves. For fear that it would shrink after I washed it, I bought it a little larger, 2XL. At the top of the shirt the words, “US History 101” serve as the title. Underneath this title are four lessons in the form of four unforgettably dreadful pictures.

The top left picture is a picture of a Black man tied to a stake. He is unable to defend himself as an angry white man raised his whip to give him another lash. On the side, there is a woman on her knees who has her hands lifted and her mouth open. She looks like she is screaming at the top of her lungs pleading to the overseer to stop the beating—but her efforts are in vain. Behind her, there is another Black man looking on with what appears to be a paralyzing fear. He is hiding in the background looking, but not wanting to look. Learning what the consequences of disobedience are. If he had any plans to run away, I’m sure he abandoned them. If he was a part of a conspiracy to revolt, I’m sure, just by the look on his face—that he aborted them. Underneath this picture is a caption, “The Making of a Negro.”

To the right of this picture is another picture—a photograph, a snapshot of one moment, frozen in time for the rest of all time. There are a number of well-dressed white men in this photograph. Most of them are wearing neckties and caps. Many of them are smiling, posing behind the bond fire they created for what appears to be a very special occasion. Wood boards and other debris are visible in the fire. Upon closer examination, there appears to be a manikin in the fire—a lifeless doll burning with the wood. But after reading the caption, “Original Picnic (Pick-a-nigger)” it becomes clear that there is no life-sized doll in the fire, but the remains of a real life man, William Brown. He was accused of molesting a white girl in September of 1919. After he was arrested, a mob burned down the Omaha, NE jail, hung him to a lamppost, mutilated his corpse, shot him full of bullets and burned him.

The next picture, the one beneath the picture of the slave being beaten, is a photograph at which no one was ever supposed to look. JET Magazine published it for the world to see what was happening to Black people in the South. Looking at it for the first time, unless someone tells you what it is, it’s hard to say what it even looks like. It looks nothing like the corpse of a 14-year-old boy lying in a coffin. Two white men beat him unconscious and shot him dead for allegedly whistling at a white woman. Then they tied his corpse to a fan and threw it (and him) into the Mississippi River. His face was five times bigger than it’s normal size and is so disfigured, the only way his mother was able to identify him was from the ring he was earing. The funeral home recommended the boy’s mother to keep the coffin closed, but she insisted that it remain open. She wanted to send a message to the world. And she did. The caption below this picture reads, “The murder of Emmett Till 1955.”

The last picture is a photograph of a Black man being strapped to a chair by three white men. One is kneeling, fastening his legs, and the other two are leaning forward securing his arms. The Black man has a blank look on his face. He looks as if he is staring into another dimension—having come to terms with the reality that, guilty or innocent, deserving or undeserving, he is going to be killed. No one will be arrested for his murder. In fact, it’s legal. Once the men successfully secure the Black man in the chair, they will step back and watch him die as volts of electricity are pumped into his body. He will let out a ghastly sound as the bolts of electricity jerk his body until it is nearly out of the char. Smoke will not fill the room, but the stench of burning flesh will. A lifeless body will indicate that justice has been served. The caption under the photo reads, “Convict Leasing – Prison Industrial Complex.”

Underneath the four pictures, are the three phrases that opened this description. Each letter is made from the outline of slaves lying down in chains—an enlarged figure from the diagram of the slave ship. Two of these phrases are side by side, and the last one is larger and centered beneath the others to show emphasis:

Never Forgive Never Forget

Never Again

I still have this shirt, even though I don't wear it as much these days. But I will never forget its impact on me and the impact it's had on the people who asked about it and listened to me talk about each picture on it. No these are not pleasant experiences, and sometimes it is painful remembering them. But is is far more detrimental to forget them-- as we see, even in 2021, that things like this are still happening.

In summary, I am fully confident that, though GOD may not want people harboring feelings of hatred towards each other, GOD certainly does not want people harboring hate for themselves and ignorance about themselves because they don't know history. And for this reason (and the 10 reasons below) Black History should be taught to children (and not just in February.)

  1. People are manipulated when they don’t know their history.

  2. Personal and racial insecurity develops when people don’t know their history.

  3. People who don’t know are searching for knowledge.

  4. Education and Religion, alleged sources of knowledge, are used against people who don’t know their history.

  5. History teaches patterns and people who know it are more prepared for the future

  6. The past has a continuous influence upon the present.

  7. We are a culmination of the events that have happened to us, both good and bad; and cannot limit our understanding of ourselves to only the good or only the bad.

  8. One cannot know him or herself without knowing their personal and racial history.

  9. If you don't know who you are, you will be whoever someone tells you you are.

  10. If you don't know history, you are doomed to repeat it.

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