A Celebration of Black History
“and what of history are they going to be taught factual history or progressive woke history, as to be politically correct to protect the snowflakes and and all the other bleeding heart loves of our society as not to offend them”. So roared a comment on my Facebook page as one red faced, angry, middle aged white male took to his keyboard to blame me for the current social movements which challenge traditional thinking, such as Black Lives Matter.
And yet, he has a fair point, historical interpretation is all about how we all describe, analyse, evaluate and try to create an explanation of past events. Students of history have the opportunity to look through the evidence, which may include written sources, verbal accounts, points of view and visual primary or secondary sources and then reach an evaluation based on the facts and their own interpretation of these facts. However, it is how these facts are presented that can cause misinterpretation.
October is ‘Black History Month’ a highlight in the History teacher’s diary as it presents an chance to teach a counter narrative to traditional thinking, is this a woke approach? no of course not, it is a chance for all members of society to re-evaluate the facts and perhaps come to different conclusions. It is also a chance to celebrate those people who made a series impact on the lives of others, Mary Seacole, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King to name just a few.
Mary Seacole 1805-1881 We have all heard of Florence Nightingale, yet few have heard of Mary Seacole. Mary Seacole rose to prominence during the Crimean War when she funded her own journey to Turkey after British authorities refused her offers of help. There she opened a hospital, and became a popular figure in Britain, receiving various awards for bravery. The Mary Seacole Trust has been created to highlight Mary’s work.
Rosa Parks 1913-2005 Her story is interesting as it was completely accidental.Parks’s refusal to give up her seat on an Alabama bus in 1955 became a symbolic moment in the American civil rights movement. The fallout launched Martin Luther King Jr to fame. The incident sparked a mass boycott of the transport system by the black community.
Trevor McDonald – Journalist, born 1939
A familiar face on our TV screens, The first black news anchor in the UK, Trinidad-born McDonald is one of the most popular figures on TV. Starting his career on the BBC World Service, in 1999 he was given the Bafta Richard Dimbleby Award for Outstanding Contribution to Television.
Maya Angelou – Author, poet, playwright, born 1928
Missouri has always been a hotbed of talent, she was a great voice of black literature. Angelou’s memoirs expose the difficulties of growing up as a black woman in St Louis. Her achievements are many and varied, and she was the first African-American woman admitted to the Directors Guild of America.
Kofi Annan – Diplomat, born 1938
Annan was the seventh Secretary-General of the United Nations. His role in working for global peace was recognised when he and the UN were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2001. He helped to reform the UN and strengthen its peacekeeping abilities.
Lewis Howard Latimer – Inventor, 1848-1928
History does not record the work of black inventors and yet there are scores of examples, the most famous perhaps is this son of escaped slaves, Latimer is considered one of the greatest black inventors, notably due to his improvement of carbon filaments in light bulbs. He worked with Thomas Edison and Alexander Bell and secured many different patents.
Jesse Owens – Athlete, 1913-80
If there was an individual who was born to re-write a narrative then Owens is the perfect example. At the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Owens defied Nazi propaganda and won four gold medals on the track. When he died, the US President Jimmy Carter said: “Perhaps no athlete better symbolised the human struggle against tyranny, poverty and racial bigotry.”
Martin Luther King – Civil rights activist, 1929-68
The figurehead of the American Civil Rights Movement, King became a national hero after leading the successful Montgomery bus boycott. In 1964 he received the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of his work. He was assassinated on 4 April 1968
Nelson Mandela – Political activist, born 1918
A key anti-apartheid figure in South Africa, Mandela spent 27 years in prison for the cause. After his release, he became the country’s first fully democratically elected president and leader of the African National Congress. In 1993 he won the Nobel Peace Prize.
Pelé – Footballer, born 1940
Growing up he was one of my heroes, christened Edson Arantes do Nascimento Pelé, he is regarded as the world’s greatest footballer. Playing for his native Brazil, Pelé won the World Cup three times. In 1999 the BBC named him the second greatest sportsperson of the millennium.
Haile Selassie – World leader, 1892-1975
Researching the Italian invasion of Abyssinia in 1935 I was astonished by the leadership of Haile Selassie, not to be confused with the marathon runner. Accepted by Rastafarians as a symbol of God incarnate, the former emperor of Ethiopia became a worldwide anti-Fascist figure after appealing to the United Nations for help against Mussolini’s invading armies. An ally of the west and opponent of colonisation.
Oprah Winfrey – Media tycoon, born 1954
A living American institution, she is seen by some as the most influential woman in the world. At the centre of her various projects is her TV chat show which is syndicated around the world. In 2006 Winfrey became the world’s first black woman billionaire.
The effects of the slave trade are always going to cause huge arguments on both sides, along with the apartheid movement in South Africa and the civil rights movement in the USA. What cannot be denied though is that these events occurred and it is how we learn from history to correct perceived injustice and build a more tolerant and inclusive society. it should not be black history month, but a year round celebration of how people have contributed to society regardless of their background. History is continually evolving and new interpretations are continually developed, this is why it is the greatest subject on the curriculum.