How we got here

By Reginald K. Ellis and Larry E. Rivers

Since before 1619, African Americans have played a vital role in developing the United States of America. From artisans, craftsmen, scholars, scientists, political, religious, and business figures, Black Americans have pushed this nation closer to the ideals outlined in the United States Constitution.

The history of Blacks in America should not be viewed as linear — in that there is no straight line from the institution of slavery to the election of the first Black president of this nation, Barack Obama. 

African American history, as pronounced by Carter G. Woodson, Leon Litwack, and James N. Eaton, is, indeed, the history of America. From the very foundation of the United States of America, black folks have yearned and struggled for the same basic rights that most Americans take for granted — freedom, justice and equality.

From the American Revolution to the Civil War to the Spanish-American War to WWI, WWII, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and finally, the twenty-first-century battle against terrorism, Black folks — men and women willingly laid their lives down to ensure their children and grandchildren lived in a nation governed by the principles of democracy for all people, regardless of race, color, or creed. 

Thus, this curriculum was designed for learners of all ages. The authors of this work sought to demystify the role that Black Americans played and continue to play in the making of America. Moving beyond the historical contributions’ traditional telling of African American History — a type of history that only highlights key Black figures, movements, and inventions offered by Black folks, this study attempts to provide a more holistic understanding of the role, trials, tribulations, and victories that Black people had in the creation of America as we see it today. 

Inasmuch, the authors of this curriculum wisely began at the beginning — a time before Black people populated the Americas. From the great West African empires of Mali, Ghana, and Songhay, this curriculum takes our learners from the shores of West Africa, across the dangers of the Atlantic Ocean via the Middle Passage, through the Caribbean, and finally to America. Every place their involuntary migration led them to during the 15th century helped to develop the Diaspora that we now consider in the United States of America to be the African American experience.

Nonetheless, there has been a cultural war to exclude the experiences of African Americans in the making of America. This is not new. The aforementioned historian, Carter G. Woodson, became, primarily, the first scholar to fight for the inclusion of African American history into the curricula at the primary, secondary, and collegiate levels during the early twentieth century. 

From the days of Woodson to the Civil Rights movement of the late 1950s and early 1960s, African American history courses have sprung up across the country to fill the shortage in telling the story of African Americans in the United States. These programs had one thing in common. They sought to include the experiences of African Americans in America’s history. 

Yet, efforts still abound today that seek to omit the experiences of African Americans from the curricula of American history. To deal with this blatant omission, this curriculum offers a structure for doing an objective, well-balanced study of the meaning of the Black experience in America from Ancient Africa to the present. It will prepare both Black and White students to relate better to a multicultural society by confronting the many racial challenges in American society today. This curriculum will also assist White students with understanding themselves and their culture better, both in its negative and positive aspects. 

First and foremost, this study will start with Ancient Africa, the involuntary uprooting of millions of Africans and their migration to the Americas during the 15th century. Succeeding chapters will focus on the struggle of essentially enslaved Africans during the slave trade, the colonial period, the American Revolution, the antebellum period, the anti-slavery movement, and the Civil War. As newly freed Black Americans, this curriculum will explore the post-bellum period, specifically the Reconstruction Period, and the overall plight of African Americans during the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries up to the present. 

More specifically, the curriculum will also explore the role enslaved Blacks and later African Americans played in building the Southern agricultural system in education, religion, sports, entertainment and in the struggle for fundamental human rights.

Unlike most primary and secondary history curricula, this curriculum will assist students in their efforts to recall, translate, extrapolate, compare, contrast and interpret what they have read while logically moving to higher cognitive levels. Students will, therefore, develop skills that can be transferred to other subjects and be used throughout their lives. While including various cognitive skills, the curriculum views the African American experience through a prism for understanding the total American experience, especially the constant search for complete freedom, justice, and equality in American society.

By the end of this curriculum, a balanced story of the resourceful perseverance of African Americans in curving out viable lives in a society hostile to their presence will be told. Students will leave this curriculum appreciating the complex and complicated lives that African Americans have lived since their involuntary arrival to America and their many accomplishments over harsh conditions and adversity. 


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