Black History & The Education Of Hidden Figures

Brandon Caldwell | 2/3/2017, 8:15 a.m.
At schools across the country, the vibrancy of February is all the same. There are the morning announcements, with school ...

I conducted a recent social media poll, asking what did schools decide to cover in regards to Black History education outside of every February. If you were in public school, the general consensus was “the bare minimum”. For some students born in Oklahoma, the history and legacy of Black Wall Street wasn’t covered until they were in their 20s. Some gained an appreciation for their history via their parents. Some even admitted that their course work growing up dealt with only King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, a biography on one famous black person and then nothing for years after. Educators over time have been grilled to give students a bare bones brief into the world of their history, their culture. If not for the famous figures, the walk towards learning more stories that fill in the blanks? A task to be undertaken by ones lonesome.

The history of minorities is an elective in some parts. Other teachers, such as my AP History teacher went above and beyond to educate us on the differences between W.E.B. DuBois & Booker T. Washington. As the school board breathes a sigh of relief over current studies being deemed benign and safe, it came under fire last yea. A textbook titled “Mexican American Heritage” was the lone book the board received when it called for new textbooks for high school social studies classes, including Mexican-American heritage. The book however is rife with errors and was ultimately voted down 14-0 by the state board of education. An Ad Hoc Committee determined more than 140 incorrect incidents in the book from gross inaccuracies to racial generalizations. Even in some cases, those who decide to tell the story can bury the hidden figures of your history without one even realizing it.

Rep. John Lewis of Georgia is a hidden figure. Over the past two years however, he’s found his prominence after being spotlighted in Ava DuVernay’s “Selma” and entering a very publicized feud with President Donald Trump. Trump’s decree that Lewis was “all talk, no action” forced many to research Lewis’ name, his constant presence in the Civil Rights Movement and his refusal to back down despite being jailed, assaulted and more in the name of civil rights.

Diane Nash is a hidden figure. Reduced to a minor role in “Selma”, Nash’s legacy within the Civil Rights Movement is quite large. As students and older figures clashed on the direction of the movement (an irony given today’s fight with Black Lives Matter being as generational), Nash strategy for students in regards to lunch counter sit-ins, the Freedom Riders as well as co-founding the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee make her a hero. Then President John F. Kennedy appointed Nash to a committee in regards to civil rights legislation, leading to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. As often as the Movement derided the work of women and homosexual men, Nash remains a champion of civil rights.

The same goes for Bayard Rustin who was the chief organizer of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Detailed oriented and brilliant, Rustin made it clear that everything had to coalesce in order for the movement to work. According to a 2011 Washington Post article, the reason why Rustin’s name isn’t more prominently featured amongst civil rights leaders and champions is due to his position and sexuality. The movement, heavily mandated to have figures both seen as morally upstanding and believers of the faith couldn’t have Rustin in the foreground. So his organizational work, from the movement to the Social Democrats was viewed as monumental behind the scenes, never up close and personal. His partner, Walter Naegle said of him, “Bayard had a lot of baggage — communist youth member, conscientious objector. But being gay was the one thing that was still unforgivable to a lot of civil rights leaders.”