Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Sunday Salon: How Do You See Black History Month?

Hello all and welcome back to our weekly salon. Before we get to our query, I want to share that in order to keep our book discussion on the front page a bit longer (some of you don't read the sidebars), I'm not posting New Crayons until Monday.

This week's query: During BHM are slave narratives and Civil Rights enough? Can you readily recall lesser known African American historical figures? How do you feel about the standard iconic figures that are promoted and celebrated every year? Do you think the standard figures are enough study for our children? Who do you think deserves a nod that most or many folks don't know about?

This week's query is inspired by my reader's response to a review of The Listeners at Rhapsody In Books. If you've wondered if we were going to run special Black History Month features at Color Online. We're not. Personally, I'm black 365 days a year. This community is committed to people of color, 365 days a year. I figured I'd enjoy other folks' fussing over us this month. Of course, it's hard for me to keep my mouth shut so despite what I said, I am going to be speaking about matters related to Black History Month.


SmallWorld at Home said...

I'm co-teaching a middle-school literature circle focusing on black literature this semester. One of our projects--besides reading--is to have each of the kids do a poster on a black American. We debated about the 18 people (we have 18 students) to choose from and ended up with a mix of standard iconic figures (Martin Luther King Jr, for example) and some that we thought would be less familiar to the kids (like Gwendolyn Brooks). We gave them a quiz before assigning biographies, matching names with brief description of who they were. I think the highest score was a 13 out of 18. Most kids got about 5 right, including MLK, Michael Jordan, Harriet Tubman, and George Washington Carver.

Color Online said...

5 out of 18. Have any of the students begun their projects? Have any shown interest in the subjects beyond having to get it done?

Argument for a need to still the standards. Who were the lesser knowns that they didn't know?

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I love that list of great black Americans in history that includes Michael Jordan! I saw a similar list of great Jews in history that included Adam Sandler!

Well, at least they're not the "standard iconic figures!" LOL. I wonder if teachers don't even stray from the old teacher guidebooks that were probably prepared in 1970 or something. Any teachers out there that know why there is no "diversity" so to speak in black history month?

MotherReader said...

I wish that you had asked a less leading question as it leaves a lot less room for discussion and more for agreement with your points.

So, do I think that Black History Month should focus on slavery and civil rights and the "old standards" of African-American History? Well, I guess that depends on what is meant by "history."

Because I'd argue - devil's advocate - that many of the "lesser known African American historical figures" are historical for being the first person of color to... play professional baseball, sing opera, be on the Supreme Court, etc. Did they break barriers? Of course. But it's not like students are studying other baseball players or opera singers or Supreme Court Justices.

I'm not trying to discount their stories, or their struggles for that matter. But I think it becomes about what "Black History" means. Is it within the context of contributions to the larger American story or about the accomplishments of African Americans as a continuum of advancements as a people?

Color Online said...


Well, I have a lousy habit of writing off the cuff and if I feel strongly about a topic, I'm even more likely to muddle it up.

We're grownups. Who needs agreement? A better question is what does Black History mean? Is it limited to firsts? Who decides what it means?

Does it have to mean the same in and out of the classrooms? Am I the only one who thinks ads and commercials from businesses celebrating BHM all sound and look the same? Am I the only one who thinks BHM has been reduced to iconic figures and this concentration falls short of exploring contributions of African Americans?

How far back do we have go to call a figure historical?

Doret said...

The other day, a mother and daughter came in looking for a children's biography of Dionne Warwick for Black History Month.

susan said...

Did you have anything? Doret, could you rattle off a few books you think worth checking out that readers wouldn't think to pick up or ask for?

Doret said...

As far as I know there are no children's biographies on Dionne Warwick.

There is a Black History Month display in the children's section.

Yes, I will make suggestions

wdjenkins1 said...

A book that I especially enjoyed sharing with my grandson's second grade class was "Yours for Justice, Ida B. Wells: The Daring Life of a Crusading Journalist" by Philip Dray. In my opinion, Ida B. should be well known by all young people. Her courage and intelligence are inspiring.

Ali said...

We're on the same wavelength: I was thinking about posting a question much like this for the C.O.R.A. Roll Call. Guess I'll have to come up with something else. ;-) (Did you get my email on that, by the way? It was a few weeks ago.)

I don't like that there is a Black History Month, because it implies that the other 11 are somehow exempt from including African Americans when studying history. Right now I'm reading a book by a Hispanic author, should I have saved it for another month? I don't think so. Should I make a special effort to focus on African American authors this month and then call it good for the rest of the year? No way.

On the other hand, some of my cohorts may be inclined to view the world from their little white seats of complacency 12 months of the year if they don't get a kick in the seat of the pants. So, do we omit the kick in the pants because we shouldn't have to do it? Or try to spice up the kick in the pants? I don't know.

Anonymous said...

Hi,I have a few suggestions for young children, Dinner at Aunt Connie's by Faith Ringgold, and for everyone else, reading and looking at the wonderful art of Faith Ringgold. Also, I am not sure if anyone talks about Harriet Powers, who in 1886 created a real African-American story quilt (299 appliqued pieces) that is in the Smithsonian and a second quilt that is in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.(Side note - most quilt historians feel that the book Hidden in Plain View is inacurate.)

wdjenkins1 said...

The question of discontinuing Black History Month has gone on for a long time, but I think that I would have to see more inclusiveness all year long to be convinced. One thing that I would like to see is a more local approach to BHM. Instead of pulling out the same old national figures, give Martin and Rosa a rest and talk about the contributions that Black people have made in your own community. There is living history all around us.

Colleen said...

Regarding Pam's comment - for sports figures anyway it is ALWAYS about the first who did something. It's about stats and figures and when and where (and asterisks for those who found chemical assistance). So Jackie Robinson should be remembered/studied for his amazing stats, impressive overall career AND because he did it all while being threatened with death on a daily basis.

I think Black History Month is the same as Women's History (is there a month for that?) - you acknowledge what the person accomplished, period - and then looked at how much harder it was for them to do it because of their race (or gender).

But then again my Daddy taught me to idolize Jackie Robinson because he was talented, brave and a gentleman - all reasons that make him worthy of notice by a kid of any race.

Color Online said...


Women's History Month is March. I celebrate every year and unlike Black History Month, many people don't know March is WHM.

"One thing that I would like to see is a more local approach to BHM. Instead of pulling out the same old national figures, give Martin and Rosa a rest and talk about the contributions that Black people have made in your own community. There is living history all around us."


Tere Kirkland said...

"I don't like that there is a Black History Month, because it implies that the other 11 are somehow exempt from including African Americans when studying history."

I have mixed feelings about BHM for this same reason, but also because there is obviously a need to have a month that puts a spotlight on practically unknown historical figures, like Francois-Dominique Toussaint L'Ouverture and his part in the Haitian (San Domingue at the time) Revolution, something I never learned about in elementary or HS.

It's a time in history that I think has been ignored because the idea scares many people, the idea that slaves could rise up and take control of their own country. The long-term effects of this fear are obvious if you know anything about Haiti, a country that has only recently--since the devastating earthquake last month--gotten the aid and attention it so desperately needs.

I'll stop lecturing now, but I wanted to add that I think art is just as important a part of history, and sometimes just as unacknowledged. I love Faith Ringgold's work, especially her picture books.

Thanks for such a thought-provoking post!

Anonymous said...

I think for younger children it should be a gateway of sorts because many kids aren't exposed to Black folks let alone their history outside of school. For older kids, it could be an opportunity for deeper exploration beyond the slave narratives unless there's just a genuine interest in that. Basically the schools could allow them to choose their own topic but find a Black figure who has impacted some area of that topic. Young people of all ages should be encouraged to further explore Black History and not just leave it in the classroom and only during February. So, yes I think BHM serves a purpose but, how it's executed could be more current and not so prescriptive.

Color Online said...

For those of you who have multiracial children or you have family members with multiracial children how do parents help their children form their own sense of racial identity and how do you help them with different responses from others to them because they are multiracial?

Color Online said...

Do Cecelia and Billie have anything in common?

Color Online said...

What about Will? What did Carleen get right? What about Will didn't work for you?