Racism Then and Now

People of African descent in the U.S. have a very rich and complicated history, and teaching it in public school has proven to be an issue. When slavery, Jim Crow, and the civil rights movement are brought up in the classroom, they are never discussed within current contexts. The truth that black people in the U.S. are incarcerated at alarming rates, impoverished, and grappling with decades of hereditary trauma is not apparent with the current material being taught. It's made clear that during the time of slavery, Jim Crow, and the civil rights movement, black people were treated as subhuman and reduced to the color of their skin. The way that this history is taught, it's also made clear that influential people like Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. fixed the entirety of this problem. As we know, this is a false and unjust portrayal of history, which is what this lesson aims to combat. The black history that's being talked about is isolated, and taught in a way that makes it seem distant and a thing of the past. Obviously that's not the case.

We decided to make a timeline that shows how long slavery, segregation, and the civil rights movement went on in the U.S., beginning with the first enslaved Africans being brought to Virginia in 1816 and ending at present day. The timeline itself spans across three poster boards, with mere inches on the right side showing just how long people of African ancestry in the U.S. have been completely “free”. We included important dates, like the invention of the camera and electricity, to put this timeline in perspective. These also help to show how times were steadily changing, but the treatment of black people in the U.S. was only gradually beginning to improve.

In the classroom, presenters set up the timeline on the board and go through every event, explaining what happened and answering questions. Then they discuss with the students as a whole group what was learned and what emotions were brought up. The kids are always engaged; their hands raised with curiosity. Naturally they are intrigued by a timeline that provides a counter narrative and a visual representation they have never seen before.  This was our goal, we wanted them to understand how recent the history of racism in the U.S. actually is, and how it still impacts us today.