Lift Every Voice: Deepening the Teaching of Black History

Dieatra Howie Social Studies Content Director

Everyone has his or her own perspective.  Most individuals just want the opportunity to be heard. Have you ever listened  to someone else’s opinion and although you did not agree with it, you could understand it and even acknowledge the validity of his or her perspective? We are much better individuals when we can listen and learn from one another. It is essential that these voices are elevated in the classroom.  

In James Weldon Johnson’s “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” “stony the road we trod, bitter the chastening rod felt in days when hope unborn had died,” are words that I have proudly sung over the years. However, sometimes the way we teach Black history is limited to just that portion. 

If you continue to sing on, you will hear “out from the gloomy past til now we stand at last where the white gleam our bright star is cast.” I encourage educators not only to focus on the hardships endured by African Americans but their triumphs as well. 

During this one month every year, Black history is highlighted, but it should be integrated throughout the year. It is important to consider a more comprehensive view of Black history while acknowledging the atrocities that African Americans endured.  Black history is a rich history that extends beyond  enslavement and Jim Crow. Often, our students only learn of slavery and the Civil Rights Movement, but there is so much more.

Celebrate the history and achievements of African Americans. Celebrate and pay homage to Tulsa’s Oklahoma’s Green Wood District known as “Black Wall Street,” but also acknowledge the atrocity and injustice of the destruction of a prosperous African American enclave and the lives destroyed.  

Celebrate the countless inventions that African Americans have made that changed everyday life as we know it. Celebrate those not only that lifted their voice when there was an injustice,but also did something about it. Celebrate – and “let it resound loud as the rolling sea.”

Lastly, make it meaningful. Allow students to make connections that are meaningful to them. Encourage students to explore their local history and heroes. They may connect with their local history, or even individuals that facilitated change who were their own age. Highlight the sacrifices made by the Foot Soldiers for Justice and the Birmingham Children’s Crusade and other world-changing aspects of Alabama’s rich history.  

As an African American educator, I am proud of the rich heritage that we possess, and I encourage educators to embrace the opportunity afforded to them to make a difference in the lives of their students. The lessons that are taught this month and beyond can change the trajectory of an individual student’s life.  “Let us march on until victory is won.