This site is an essential tool when trying to untangle the complex history of race in America.
No matter what, the lessons that seem to shock my students the most center on the Black Panther Party and COINTELPRO. Even though I’m providing the materials to students, they still come up to me aghast and say, “Did you know about this?” The demonization still present when speaking about the Black Panther Party in this country is astounding. Even students who grew up in predominately black communities have only learned about the black freedom movement as one of violence and hatred. When they learn of the murder of Fred Hampton, there is nearly palpable anger.
The last time I taught with these materials, I had a student who almost never did his work. He was trying to graduate and had to do one final project and chose this time period. When he realized no one had taught him this history in his 12 years of school, he was astounded. He put in more effort on that project than any of the 60 other students with similar projects. The idea that he had been manipulated and taught to hate people who were trying to help their own community resonated as a reflection of what is happening with the Black Lives Matter movement and the classification of that group as a hate group.
As a teacher of African American history, my class generally centers on how the shaping of narratives changes the way that history is interpreted. Students come to my class used to talking about slavery and black struggle, but also having a limited understanding of the overall scope of the African American experience. They presume history goes like this: Slavery was bad, then it ended, things got a little better but not enough, so MLK came along and everything was good, until some people turned their back on his peaceful mission and ruined it for everyone. This is the traditional narrative that I get when I ask students to write out what they know about black history.
Once we start to delve into the stories, the students start to see how much manipulation is built into the U.S. education system.