A study of American history is essential to the survival of the nation. History teaches us how we became a nation, how the nation grew, and how it became the most prosperous country in the world. Black Americans contributed a great deal toward each of these, and their contributions need to be told. However, the idea that there should be an entire month devoted to “African-American” history or singling out “African-American achievements” is divisive and does not help the nation understand that the history of the United States is shared by everyone, not just certain groups.
First, the hyphenating of Americans must come to a halt. It singles out people as different and ensures that they remember that they are different than “White America”. Everyone gets a hyphen who did not come from Western Europe. Well, Americans with family who came from Ireland and Italy get one too. After all, they were pretty discriminated against in the country’s early history. You tell someone they cannot just be an American without a special qualifier and they can never really be a part of the group.
That being said, it is important that the story of the black man and woman be told right along with the rest of American history. We need to teach how most came as slaves and how they built America while in chains. We need to educate our young people how the black man who volunteered for the Union Army was discriminated against by white officers, just as the Irish regiments fighting for the North did. It is also important to teach how black men also served honorably wearing Confederate uniforms, and usually received better treatment than their Northern counterparts did.
Maybe if we did this then the population of the United States (especially the Northern states, but many Southerners are turning their back on their own past) would not have quite as hateful view of the Confederate States of America. After all, the South was just about to deploy black combat regiments instead of simply using black soldiers as construction workers and in other non-combat roles. The South had lost much of its fighting men young and old in the war. Had black soldiers been able to keep them fighting and finally turn Northern sentiment against continued fighting then Southern leaders may have been more willing to accept Robert E. Lee’s notion about freeing slaves.
George Washington Carver made great advances agriculture and is credited with inventing peanut butter. This certainly needs to be talked about, as he was a great American inventor. It does not need to be mentioned in a special section of history that he was a black man. His advances could be taught right along with the discoveries of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, with a little biography about each of them. Simply mentioning that he was born a slave and putting a picture of him in textbooks would be sufficient for school kids to figure out that he was black. Mentioning him right along with white inventors shows that they all did great things, instead of giving him a special mention in history that basically says “Hey, he was black and still did all this stuff!”
The role of the black American soldier in the 20th Century needs to be told as well, right along with the rest of 20th Century U.S. military history. It needs to be told how they went from being able to serve in segregated units to being a very substantial portion of the US military. It should be told how lower and middle class young men from every race were sent to Vietnam to fight and win the war only to have their politicians cave at the peace table.
The story of Martin Luther King Jr. needs to be told, as his work with other civil rights leaders helped make this country more equal for everyone. It should also be taught how LBJ’s Civil Rights bill was signed in very close proximity to his “Great Society” reforms that have essentially taught the lower class (many of whom are black) that it is perfectly acceptable to be trapped in the confines of poverty because the government will still give you a hand when you ask.
Combining the current school curriculum on black history with the current curriculum of American history of a whole would go great lengths in helping to end the racial division lines that exist in United States society. Morgan Freeman puts it best in a 60 Minutes interview. “You’re going to relegate my history to a month?” “I don’t want a black history month. Black history is American history.” Mike Wallace then asks the question “How are we going to get rid of racism?” Morgan Freeman quickly replied, “You stop talking about it. I’m going to stop calling you a white man. And I’m going to ask you to stop calling me a black man.”