comments_image Comments

Why Black History is not taught as part of American History

It is impossible to examine one era of the founding and growth of the U.S. that did not involve African Americans. From the battle for independence, to the Civil War, to the women’s rights and suffrage movements, to the Vietnam War and Civil Rights Movement to the progressive movement, African Americans have played critical roles in shaping U.S. history.

Yet Black history remains separate from American History. On college campuses it's often an elective course. In primary and secondary schools, many instructors try to cram it all into the month of February. The integration of Black history into school curriculums might not be perfect but it's better than being ignored all together as it was in the past.

“The role of Black people in the history of the U.S. is central... Black history is all around us. It impacts everybody,” said Quintard Taylor, a history professor at the University of Washington who also operates a website called, a digital reference center for anyone interested in learning more about Black history.

The Web site is a supplemental resource for many teachers who during Black History Month are in search of more detailed and thorough discussions of the Black contribution to American history. More than 200 contributors, largely academics from around the country, add their own accounts of the thousands of overlooked African Americans who have helped shape this country whose contributions may be lost in the annals of history.

“Black history is separate because black people are separate. Black people have never been fully integrated into American society, so why should we expect Black history to be fully integrated?” Taylor said. “But I think this whole argument that if we integrate it then it won’t be needed is ridiculous. It’s a false construct.”

Over the years, American schools have gotten better at integrating Black history into the “mainstream” curriculum but there remains a deficit in understanding and awareness. Some of that is due to the way Black history has been handled which as Taylor explains, reflects society's general disregard of history.

“The level of historical ignorance in this country is profound, and every generation believes that what happens in their lifetime is the most important of all,” Taylor said. “We are trying to do some things to stop the blatant ignorance, but that’s always an uphill battle.”

History is one of the few entirely organic subject matters. It changes every day as more is known and as history continues to be made. The collective examination of that history allows us to accurately measure our progress. Blacks and whites, for instance, have hugely different perspectives about Black progress. Whites may see Black progress in an overwhelmingly positive light, while many Blacks regard it as excrutiatingly slow, according to a study by the Pew Research Center.

Most Blacks, according to the Pew study, believe racial discrimination is pervasive when applying for a job (67 percent), renting an apartment or buying a house (65 percent), eating at restaurants and shopping (50 percent) or applying to a college or university (43 percent). That's compared with whites who, by majorities of 2 to 1 or more, said Blacks rarely face bias in such situations. But even these numbers have changed drastically in one year -- pre and post presidential election cycle in 2008 -- after having been stagnant for years.

"In absolute numbers, whites are more upbeat about the progress of Blacks than Blacks themselves,” said Paul Taylor, author of the study. "By a very large majority, Blacks feel they face discrimination in everyday life. Whites think this is not a common occurrence.”

These divergent perspectives are, of course, only natural. But without a good understanding of Black history, the perspectives are somewhat irrelevant. Ron Walter, University of Maryland political scientist, said one important thing to note when examining how we teach Black History and how we view the progress of Black people is that it is a measure of American progress and evolution.

"Historically speaking, Blacks are the canaries in that coal mine,” he said.

In examining every facet of the American condition, the African American condition is an undeniable gauge for both failure and success.

“It reminds me of something my mother use to tell me: 'Don’t wait for someone else to teach you about history. You don’t wait for teachers',” Quintard Taylor said. “And Black history is still relevant, simply because there are people around who don’t know about it.”

See's comprehensive Black History coverage