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Now browsing: Hometown News > News > Volusia County

African American history is celebrated with education, events
Rating: 2.75 / 5 (20 votes)  
Posted: 2013 Feb 08 - 06:15

By Erika Webb

Back in the 1970s DeLand's African American Museum of the Arts director, Mary Allen, was teaching in an inner city school in New Jersey. She remembers when February was designated as Black History Month.

It was in conjunction with the nation's bicentennial celebration in 1976. President Gerald R. Ford urged Americans to "seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history."

That year the first African American History Month was celebrated by the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History.

Fifty one years earlier, in 1925, the association's founder and Harvard-trained historian Carter G. Woodson, announced the first "Negro History Week," which was first celebrated in February 1926, encompassing the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, according to the African American History Month website.

"The response was overwhelming: Black history clubs sprang up; teachers demanded materials to instruct their pupils; and progressive whites, not simply white scholars and philanthropists, stepped forward to endorse the effort," the website reported.

Ms. Allen said prior to that time in the 70s "nothing was being taught in the schools as far as the contributions of African Americans."

She embraced the opportunity.

"Actually, it should be part of history itself," Ms. Allen said. "It's part of American history."

She said she's not sure whether or not today's textbooks contain African American history along with American history.

Almost 20 years ago in Florida, Gov. Lawton Chiles established a law mandating black history be taught in the state's schools.

Many, including Mary Fears, a retired Volusia County schools media specialist and co-producer of "Filling The Gap," a black-history docudrama, are critical of textbook depictions of African Americans as cotton-picking slaves, with a select-few heroes thrown in.

Ms. Fears said she has examined textbooks being used in Volusia County schools and has found them lacking in content when it comes to the slavery era.

"I observed that each of the books being used has an emphasis on slaves in cotton fields. There were no illustrations, that I saw, of black people during the slavery era that showed they were skilled in any way," Ms. Fears said.

Ms. Fears conducts lectures to educate people about the accomplishments of African Americans during that time, the skills of inventors, artisans and craftsmen, because, she said, "everybody already knows about the cruelty."

"There was a slave who was a builder of bridges named Horace King," she added. "That's not in the school books."

Ms. Fears said using the same pictures of slaves in fields or of "a soldier in a troop, Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass" over and over in the books is not enough to describe real life before and during the Civil War.

"It gives children a distorted view of people of color during the slavery era," Ms. Fears said. "Students should not go away with the impression that all they did was pick cotton."

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