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Black History Within Plain View

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By Ruth B. Love, NNPA Guest Commentary 

Black History Month is a specific time in the calendar year designated to pause and pay homage to the vast contributions of African-Americans in and for this country. When we stop to celebrate the struggles and achievements of Black people, we are reminded of the imperative of teaching and weaving these achievements into the fabric of school curriculum throughout the year. If the instructional information and program in all schools do not include more than a few smidgens about the contributions that are part of African-American history and culture, we are denying all children of valuable information necessary to become educated citizens. For Black children, we are denying them of their birthright.

Black history has been characterized by many African-Americans as “sacred narrative” because of its evolution, its vitality and significance. My position is that Black history is within our midst in plain view as Americans, young and old, go about their daily lives. But who know it when they see it?

A few examples in plain view: the 3- way stop signal, first invented by Garrett Morgan in 1923. As you stop to drop letters into a mailbox, think of P.B.

Downing, who invented and patented the street letterbox in 1891. When you buy a pair of shoes, a Black American, Jan Matzeliger, first developed shoe lasts for the right and left foot. As you watch a golf game, recall that George Grant, a Black American, invented the “golf tee.”

Omvtrfon;u, at a time when many African-Americans were not permitted to read, write or hold a book, an African- American invented the “pencil sharpener (J.L. Love, 1897) and the fountain pen (W.B. Purvis, 17890).

The vast contributions of African- Americans can be found in the field of music, science, technology, art, education, sports, poetry, fashion, literature, etc. Students may hear about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., but do they know about Dr. George Washington Carver, whose discoveries of products made from the yam and peanut are patented and in wide use today; or Carter G. Woodson, whose brilliant idea conceived of Black History Week?

Historically, African-Americans worked disproportionately in homes and in agricultural fields where they invented and devised devices to help in the arduous, hard work. Inventions such as the ironing board, curtain rod, hair brush, kitchen table, lemon squeezer, ice cream mold, law and water sprinkler, lawn mower, folding bed, window lock, are just a few of the practical outcomes of the creative and inventive minds of African- Americans.

Why study Black history? African history goes back to 400 B.C. Given the fact that Africa is the ancestral birthplace of African-Americans, education is incomplete without teaching and learning the history and culture of both the Continent of Africa and African Americans in the Diaspora. The critical question is not “Why study Black History”? Rather, the question should be “Why not study Black History?”

Dr. Ruth B. Love is former superintendent of schools in Oakland, Calif. and Chicago. Currently, she is professor of Educational Leadership in Equity Doctorate Program, Univ ersity of California - Berkeley and president of RBL Enterprises.

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