Why Study Black History?

Instructor: Nicky Davis
There is much debate over the necessity of studying African American history, particularly as a separate subject. Keep reading to learn more about why black history is studied, and where to find resources to advance your own knowledge.

The Importance of Black History

African American, or black, history is a subject that has been largely repressed, rewritten, and condensed in the cataloging of American history. The colonization of Africa, the centuries of slavery, and the subsequent discrimination and marginalization of people of African descent have all contributed to an under-representation of black voices in the mainstream historical record. It is for these reasons that students are encouraged to study black history in its own right, as opposed to accepting the fragmented account provided in textbooks and broader overviews of American and world history.

History as recounted by those in the majority will often miss important happenings in minority communities, or will focus on these communities through the lens of their relationship to the majority. This potential for bias in history helps to explain the need for not only Black History Month, but also dedicated periods of recognition and acknowledgment for other marginalized groups, such as women, Asian Americans, Native Americans, and Hispanic Americans.

Some feel that designating specific courses, majors, or periods of time to the study of African American history only serves to further separate black history from being incorporated more thoroughly into the mainstream. Rather than segregating cultural histories into their own courses and curricula, some argue for a more well-rounded and multidimensional approach to history that would include a diverse array of perspectives and experiences from the beginning. However, such an extensive overhaul of the current educational system and materials is a major undertaking with numerous obstacles. Continuing to study black history in specialized courses and/or during Black History Month helps to ensure that this information is incorporated into students' education.

Black History Month

Created in 1926 by African American scholar Carter G. Woodson, what is now known as Black History Month began as a 'Negro History Week'; a single week in February set aside to acknowledge the achievements and goings on, both past and present, in the African American community. Woodson was interested in documenting and sharing the black experience; what people in the black community were doing and thinking themselves, and not merely what was being done to them or for them. This distinction served to prevent the issues of bias that dominated current understandings of African American history. Fifty years after the celebration of the first 'Negro History Week', February officially became Black History Month in 1976.

African American History Electives

Primarily at colleges and universities, courses in African American history are offered as electives, and at many institutions, students can choose to major in African American Studies. The first Black Studies program was founded in 1968, at San Francisco State University, and by 1973 close to 600 programs had developed nationwide. Through these programs and courses, students can focus specifically on African-American cultural history and its intersections with the movements of other minorities groups, mainstream American history, and contemporary current events.

Study.com has a number of history courses with lessons in African American history and politics. The chapters and courses listed below offer video lessons, articles and quizzes to help students navigate through important eras in the complex history of Black America.

  • The Civil War and Reconstruction course: In this course, students can find lessons on the institution of slavery, the rise of abolitionism, landmark cases, such as Dred Scott V. Sanford, the Emancipation Proclamation, and the reconstruction era amendments.
  • The Progressive Era chapter: Students can find lessons on important African American leaders and racial tensions at the forefront of society around the turn of the century.
  • The Roaring 20's chapter: In this chapter, students will find lessons on the artists and cultural movement of the Harlem Renaissance, as well as the Scottsboro Trials.
  • The Great Depression chapter: In these lessons, students can find information on the cultural economic repercussions of the Great Depression on African American communities.
  • Protests, Activism and Civil Disobedience chapter: This chapter includes lessons on the civil rights movement during the 1950's and 60's, from important leaders to landmark cases and events.
  • Contemporary America chapter: This chapter includes a lesson on the election of Barack Obama, the first African American president.
  • Race and Ethnicity in Society chapter: In this chapter, students can find lessons on sociological theories involving race in American society, as well as a lesson on African American history.

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