Slavery is a touchy subject and it makes a lot of people uncomfortable and defensive. A video posted to social media of a Civil War reenactment highlighted two Black men dressed up in tattered clothing and chains. Other attendees saw their attire and believed they were not taking the event seriously and their apparel was not historically accurate. They received comments from attendees about their attire.
“We don’t represent this part of history,” one woman said.
What did she mean with this quote? As a Black woman, it feels as though she was trying to deny that slavery had anything to do with the Civil War, that it was a myth and that the only part of the war worth acknowledging was the bloodshed between gray and blue. The cause and reason for fighting did not matter.
Slavery does not deserve to be ignored, parodied or whitewashed. History, the good and the bad, should be taught the way it happened. Slavery should not be called anything other than what it is.
In 2015, textbooks still referred to slaves as “workers” and “immigrants.” The definitions of those words are not synonymous with what enslaved people had to deal with during the United States’ history. Slaves were taken from their homeland, auctioned as property and worked until death. Workers are people who receive compensation for their efforts and immigrants willfully move from one country to another. Immigrants and workers are not tortured or killed for being defiant or underworking. They are not forced to reproduce or submit to violence and rape. Above all, they are not killed for attempting to escape.
An article in the Texas Tribune from June 2022 reports a decision made by the Texas State Board of Education.
“A group of Texas educators have proposed to the Texas State Board of Education that slavery should be taught as ‘involuntary relocation’ during second grade social studies instruction,” the article said.
In 2020, Senator Tom Cotton made a controversial statement regarding slavery.
“[Slavery is] the necessary evil upon which the union was built,” Cotton said.
Yes, slavery was necessary for economic growth in the United States, and therefore its effects are still representative in our economy now. But the term “necessary” implies that despite what these people had to go through, all of the pain and trauma had to happen for this country to prosper. According to History.com, slavery started in 1619 and was abolished in 1865 after the Civil War through the passing of the 13th Amendment. For a system to have thrived for that long, it’s inevitable that there would be repercussions.
Despite the existence of the 13th Amendment, most states have found ways around it. This past midterm election cycle, the issue of slavery was on the ballot for some states. According to CBS News, Tennessee has only just now banned all forms of slavery.
“Slavery and involuntary servitude are forever prohibited. Nothing in this section shall prohibit an inmate from working when the inmate has been duly convicted of a crime,” the new legislation reads.
According to the Rolling Stone, four states — Tennessee, Alabama, Vermont and Oregon — completely outlawed slavery as punishment. For some unforeseen reason, Louisiana voters decided that slavery still remains legal in the state.
It feels like African Americans are always waiting for freedom and justice when it is long past due. When we talk of our struggles and our history, it is immediately minimized. People try to argue that racism does not exist or that slavery was a long time ago. Even when African Americans were declared free, it took two years for the word to fully get out to the public. This is why African Americans celebrate Juneteenth. It is a celebration that commemorates the freedom of all slaves.
In 2019, Nikole Hannah-Jones created the 1619 Project in collaboration with the New York Times. The New York Times describes the project and its goals with a simple statement.
“The 1619 Project is an ongoing initiative from The New York Times Magazine that began in August 2019, the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery. It aims to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative,” the article said.
It does this in a way that many textbooks have failed to explain. The 1619 Project is a collection of essays that dissects different areas of American history. The project is now a published book and a podcast.
The same history should be taught in all states. There are points of history and important people that deserve more of a spotlight. There has been a lot of controversy about teaching children the full extent of American history. People don’t want their children to feel villainized or guilty because of the actions of their ancestors. Despite this concern, I don’t believe that history deserves to be sugar coated, because the actions of our ancestors do not reflect our individual worth and integrity. No one should hold any guilt for the actions of their ancestors, but they should know that those actions have an impact on others.
There are good and bad sides of people today, and I believe that it is important to showcase that this has not changed. If we are to grow as a society, we must learn from the mistakes of our past, no matter how ugly it might have been. History has the answers.
For me, there is no such thing as Black history. I believe this terminology is another way in which we separate and divide ourselves. I believe that Black history is American history. America is the land of the free and home of the brave. African Americans have fought for freedom for a long time, and in many ways we are still fighting. From Nat Turner and his rebellion, to Reverend Martin Luther King and his movement to George Floyd and his memory — African.
One of the best things about being an adult is that even though I do not have to take required history classes anymore, I still enjoy learning. I can still add more knowledge to my arsenal. History has the ability to light a fire within you and inspire you to fight for tomorrow. Stories are now being told and people whose stories once lived in the shadows are getting their credit and recognition.
It is important for us to know who Emmett Till was and how he was lynched for looking at a white woman. A movie is now being released about the aftermath of his death.
It is important for us to know about the Black female scientists who helped a man get to the moon, whose story was told in the movie “Hidden Figures.”
It is important to understand the deep significance of Barack Obama becoming the first African American President of the United States, as seen in Lee Daniels’ “The Butler.”
It is important to understand that our actions now will soon be reflected in the history books.
If we continue to deny our history, we will never know unity and peace. If anything, we should be able to look back upon our history and triumph over how far we have collectively come. United we stand, divided we fall.