I'm a black eighth-grader, and I'm learning about slavery and stuff. But it hit me, in all of the time I've been learning history, I have only seen my people talked about (just in the book) if the topic is slavery, the teacher may talk about segregation and try to connect it with the history book somehow but that was in elementary. I guess you can't get too in-depth with the whole racism thing for 4th graders.

When it's black history month the school, both past, and present, does an attempt at representing my people, but each year I only learn about Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., George Washington Carver, and that's it (I learned about Harriet Tubman from a TikTok video so she was excluded). We have to write an essay about one of these people and blah blah blah, rinse-wash-repeat every year.

I don't know my heritage (knowing it won't do anything with me) so I'm focusing on American history.

My question is, did black American history only have like 3 people, 4 if I'm generous, that were notable? And is black history only about slavery and segregation? Or is it my school that isn't teaching me about my culture.

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    Welcome to History:SE. As it stands, this is probably way too broad for the SE format. In short, "did black history only have like 3 people, 4 if I'm generous, that were notable?" No, there were many, many more. "is black history only about slavery and segregation?" No, there is much more to it than that. "is it my school that isn't teaching me about my culture" Without knowing the details of your school's curriculum, there is no way I (or anyone else) can answer that. Commented Oct 25, 2020 at 22:09
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    I'm surprised Fredrick Douglass wasn't mentioned on that list. He's definitely an interesting person to read about if you don't already know his story.
    – Chipster
    Commented Oct 25, 2020 at 22:13
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    American school curriculum could stand to improve representation. I think we're getting better, but we're not there yet; sounds like your school trails a bit behind the average. Is this report an opportunity for you to change that? To write something that will improve representation?
    – MCW
    Commented Oct 25, 2020 at 22:57
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    In addition to the fine comments above I'd also suggest that you study local and family heroes. We don't all get a chance to make a national impact but each of us will be presented in our lives with a chance to make differences in our communities and our families. These don't generally get written about in academic literature but to the few folks involved may be more "historic" than the folks you read about in text books. Who is /your/ local hero?
    – AllInOne
    Commented Oct 26, 2020 at 0:54
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    Haha this isn't just a Black American thing. I am from a White, Western country and it's a cliche that history in our schools is taught exclusively in terms of two events in our history - our war of independence and World War 2 - with all of the rest of our fascinating 2000-year-long history left out. Read, and read widely. And don't take anyone's opinion at face value - think critically and form your own opinions. Commented Oct 28, 2020 at 8:42

5 Answers 5


I wonder if it might not be useful to collate a set of links that could be provided to augment the school's curriculum.

Significant individuals in Black history

18th Century and before

  • Crispus Attucks and other African American notables from the Revolution

  • Billy Lee - George Washington's valet. Arguably not the most significant individual in history, but he intrigues me because he broke up a fight between two white soldiers in New England; this meant that a black man laid hands on a white man and was not punished. This is an interesting example of the status of a black man and the meaning of enslavement.

  • Jean Baptiste Point du Sable - pioneer and entrepreneur

  • Toussaint Louverture. Led the revolt of the Haitian slaves against France. Captured by treachery and died in captivity. In effect, he was the first Black statesman in the Western hemisphere.

19th Century

Born into slavery in Beaufort, South Carolina, he freed himself, his crew, and their families during the American Civil War by commandeering a Confederate transport ship, CSS Planter, in Charleston harbor, on May 13, 1862, and sailing it from Confederate-controlled waters of the harbor to the U.S. blockade that surrounded it. He then piloted the ship to the Union-controlled enclave in Beaufort-Port Royal-Hilton Head area, where it became a Union warship. His example and persuasion helped convince President Abraham Lincoln to accept African-American soldiers into the Union Army.

"If ever patriotic heroism deserved to be honored in stately marble or in brass that of Captain Caillioux deserves to be, and the American people will have never redeemed their gratitude to genuine patriotism until that debt is paid." source

20th Century

Additional resources

Significant movements/events/groups in Black history

  • Reconstruction - the reference goes to one of the more complex events in reconstruction; it is a symbol of the difficulty of understanding the complex interactions that characterized the post Civil War USA. There is no simple way to tell this story, but it profoundly affected, and continues to affect, African American civil life.

  • Buffalo Soldiers

the "Buffalo Soldiers" were established by Congress as the first peacetime all-black regiments in the regular U.S. Army.

... in early 1918, the 369th United States Infantry, a regiment of African-American combat troops, arrived to help the French Army. Earning the reputation from the Germans as “Hell Fighters,” the 369th was nicknamed the “Harlem Hell Fighters” because the regiment “never lost a man through capture, lost a trench or a foot of ground to the enemy.” The 369th was also the first to reach the Rhine River and provided the longest service of any regiment in a foreign army. They fought in the trenches for 191 days and the entire regiment received the Croix de Guerre medal for their actions at Maison-en-Champagne.

Challenges in black historiography

Let's assume that the school's neglect of black history is due to resource constraints (not enough time to develop curriculum) and help out. Marking this community wiki so that folks can add others.

  • It's kinda bad how the only person on this list I know is George Washington Carver, but who knew that so many black people were influential like that?
    – Beef Boss
    Commented Oct 28, 2020 at 15:22
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    That is precisely why I think your question is important - we've only scratched the surface. Can you use any of this in the report you'll present?
    – MCW
    Commented Oct 28, 2020 at 17:03
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    Separate comment because I'm trying to figure out how to say this; while slavery remains a pervasive and possibly dominant feature in black history, wouldn't it be nice if black history included the entire scope of historical actions by African Americans? Still struggling how to say that.
    – MCW
    Commented Oct 28, 2020 at 17:55
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    I think that you could say it like this "Slavery is a very big feature in black history since it was a very important time in history altogether, but it would be great if that wasn't the only thing that people try to make black history about and looked at other brighter aspects of black people that made history." And I would say yes, it would be great if they went to other aspects of black history and focused on those as well.
    – Beef Boss
    Commented Oct 28, 2020 at 19:34
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    I had never heard of Robert Smalls, thank you for posting about him, what a fascinating story. if anyone deserves a movie made of their life it is him. I teared up a bit when his wife said to him, " “It is a risk, dear, but you and I, and our little ones must be free. I will go, for where you die, I will die"
    – ed.hank
    Commented Oct 29, 2020 at 13:56

Black history, sometimes known as "African Studies" or "Africana," has at least two distinct elements. An example comes from the course catalog of the University of Pitsburgh, the city where I grew up.

The first, and more common, element is close to what you said. That is, African-American history, which consists largely of America's shameful legacy of "segregation, slavery, and the 3 people you get taught about in school," and the aftereffects of those issues, the effects of which persist until today.

The second, more hopeful element, is African history. Yes, African history was also tied up in some ways to the slavery of black people from west Africa in the western hemisphere, or by Muslims in northeast Africa. But there is also the story of black people who were allowed to remain in Africa, and who got "some" benefits (as well as many harms), from their experience with European colonialism. These include "coming" countries like Algeria, Egypt, Nigeria, South Africa, and probably others that I haven't mentioned. Some of these countries are overcoming their earlier hardships, and are placing themselves in a position to become "the countries of tomorrow."

  • Within the US context I would add that there is also plenty of interesting social history that is not entirely about dealing with oppression. I'm honestly not sure that you can do much of any US history without spending a lot of time dealing with white supremacy, but for example there is plenty of cultural history, intellectual history, place-based history, history of how people lived, biographical stuff, that is not directly about oppressive institutions. In a school context I tend to think that the oppression stuff is the most civically important, but it obscures the other stuff sometimes.
    – capet
    Commented Oct 26, 2020 at 4:48
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    @capet:The point I was trying to make was that even the positive aspects of Afro-American history, e.g. the Harlem Renaissance, was shaped by the culture of "slavery and segregation" (IMHO). That is less true (although not totally untrue) for much of Africa.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Oct 26, 2020 at 5:11
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    Good point! I just don't want to make it sound like all African-American history is only about dealing with oppression; there's a lot more going on, within that context. Of course it would be even worse to make it sound like an any African-American history doesn't involve dealing with oppression to some degree. Harlem Renaissance stuff is a great example; it was reacting to oppression, but also was expressing all kinds of other creativity that people had.
    – capet
    Commented Oct 26, 2020 at 5:25
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    What's the connection of Algeria or Egypt to Black history of the US? The majority population in both countries is Arab or Berber-Arab.Their experiences with slavery, historically often being slavers themselves (including the enslavement of Europeans ) and colonialism seem very different to sub-saharan Africa and have, as far as I know, little historical connection to the US.
    – R.K.
    Commented Oct 26, 2020 at 9:18
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    Also, I don't think that we should shy away from US history because things outside the US may be "more hopeful". IMHO, both understanding and changing the modern use experience requires a deep knowledge of how we got here.
    – user15620
    Commented Oct 26, 2020 at 20:31

The other answers have mentioned a lot of other people and events that your school should have told you about. I'm going to tackle this from a slightly different angle, and try to explain why you're experiencing this problem - and you are definitely not imagining it.

You summarised the curriculum as segregation, slavery and 3 civil rights icons. Believe it or not, the curriculum you're being provided represents an advance on what it was like before. It did not used to be a sympathetic portrayal, of civil rights heroes, and black people's defeat of de jure segregation. Not even a superficial one.

Until the 1930s, the Dunning school of post-Civil War American history was academically dominant. A summary of this school:

All agreed that black suffrage had been a political blunder and that the Republican state governments in the South that rested upon black votes had been corrupt, extravagant, unrepresentative, and oppressive. The sympathies of the "Dunningite" historians lay with the white Southerners who resisted Congressional Reconstruction: whites who, organizing under the banner of the Conservative or Democratic Party, used legal opposition and extralegal violence to oust the Republicans from state power. Although "Dunningite" historians did not necessarily endorse those extralegal methods, they did tend to palliate them. From start to finish, they argued, Congressional Reconstruction—often dubbed "Radical Reconstruction"—lacked political wisdom and legitimacy.

It wasn't until the 1960s that the Dunning school was discredited, and not until the 1970s that new interpretations emerged. The two interpretations now current are essentially a) that reconstruction was a good but failed attempt to remedy injustice, and that civil rights legislation has fulfilled its potential, or b) reconstruction failed because it was inadequate, and civil rights legislation still has not realised racial equality because it hasn't gone far enough.2 From the 1970s to the present day, a) was more influential in school because it was less controversial and more palatable ('it was bad but everything's fine now'), and that's essentially what the system is trying to sell you.

School history curricula are inevitably simplified versions of academic history's consensus, but they also tend to lag behind it. This might help to explain why people like Donald Trump, who went to school in the 50s and 60s, say things like the Civil War was a failure to compromise, as if Abraham Lincoln was somehow partly to blame for opposing slavery (I'm not making excuses for Trump -- most people of that era would think a bit more critically instead of repeating the propaganda of their youth). Likewise, the idea that the civil rights era made everything fine now is looking a bit ridiculous, but your curriculum has not yet caught up.

As you've noted, although shallow, the current history curriculum celebrates Martin Luther King and other civil rights heroes. Obviously the civil rights era led to this change -- the Dunning school was a tool for entrenching segregation. Most people would agree that a curriculum which celebrates MLK is less noxious than one that celebrates Robert E Lee. However, this leads to my next point: the study of history shouldn't be employed to celebrate a national story, however benign.

This article is a comparative study of history education in the USA and Northern Ireland. It's about primary school (elementary school), but the observations are still relevant.

The differing nature of historical representations in the two countries, however, leads students to contrasting conclusions about the purpose of learning about the past: in the USA, students emphasise that history is important so that they will know about the origin of their country and their own place within it, while in Northern Ireland students describe the purpose of history as being to learn about those who are different from themselves.

These students consistently used pronouns such as ‘ our’ and ‘ we’ in talking about history; for them, history was important because it helped them understand how their country began and how they should treat each other. Reflecting the family contexts in which they had learned about the past, students thought they would one day hand this information down to their own children. But these were not the reasons students in Northern Ireland gave for studying history…

[T]he most frequent reason students gave for learning history was nearly the opposite of US students’ rationale: history is important in order to learn about people who are different. Year 8 student Hamish put it succinctly— he said that history is important ‘to understand the way other people lived and went about their daily life’ . This theme ran throughout students’ explanations of the rationale for studying both particular topics in history and the subject in general; they consistently pointed to differences between past and present— the more differences the better— as the reason for their interest in history. …

In the USA, the history that students encounter in public forums (whether schools, museums or cartoons) is almost always a story of national development: students learn about the original inhabitants of the Americas, their conquest by European explorers, the colonisation of the Eastern seaboard, the fight for independence from Britain and the development of the new nation— increasing prosperity, industrialisation, geographic expansion and the extension of rights and opportunities to new sections of the population.

The historical figures children encounter from a young age are people who play a role (albeit sometimes mythical) in this story of progress and national development— Christopher Columbus, George Washington, Betsy Ross, Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King. Sometimes the nation’s past is presented in a positive light, and sometimes it is portrayed more critically— but whether positive or negative, history in the USA is invariably the history of us, the history of our nation. Learning about others— about medieval Europe or ancient China or the Malian empire or even the Aztecs— is rarely a part of young children’ s encounter with history; such peoples are not often represented in school. … At the same time, US educators must consider the limitations of history that focuses too exclusively on identity. Stories of who we are typically also become stories of who we aren’t: establishing loyalty to a community usually means denying others as lying outside that group. Such exclusiveness may be useful when trying to establish pride in the unique experiences of a particular community, but when the past of an entire nation is under consideration, narratives which focus only on limited sections of the population will exclude many whose experiences deserve to be recognised.

In the USA, the story of the nation’ s past has for too long ignored or minimised the role of women, minorities and working people, and as a result national history— and national identity— have been equated with the limited interests of a small segment of its citizens. In this study, students’ explanations that studying immigration and the Civil Rights movement teaches us how to treat them suggests the limited horizon of their sense of American identity.

Another article (same author and topic, but different article) shows the consequences of the US approach to history education:

Based on this research, students in Northern Ireland appear to have a more developed understanding ofthe role of historical evidence than do students in the US. Most of the US students in these studiesappeared to treat historical sources simply as information, a perspective also identified among some English children in the work of Shemilt (1987) and Lee, Ashby, and Dickinson (1996). US students thought that people in the past knew what was going on around them, and they passed that information along to us, either through oral transmission or through books. Even when students talked about the use of physical remains and artefacts, they treated such remnants of the past simply as sources of information. They thought that old uniforms or muskets would show what old uniforms or muskets were like, but there was no suggestion that these could be used inferentially as evidence for a historical account. Historical sources, then, were simply seen as a means of direct access to the past. Although many students in Northern Ireland also saw oral transmission (but not books) as a source of knowledge, they typically combined this with a recognition of the role of other sources. Moreover, the way they referred to these other artefacts and remains indicated at least an initial understanding that they could be used as evidence, not simply as sources of information.

I am not suggesting that history teachers or education officials in Northern Ireland are morally or intellectually superior. There is a reason they've focussed their curriculum on distant times and places, as these articles note, and it's not because they can do more intellectually sound history. It's because the history of Northern Ireland is literally explosive, and history educators understandably don't want to prod it. It's a happy (and surprising) coincidence that this unhappy situation leads to more robust history education. I'm from the UK and a former teacher - US educators certainly aren't alone facing pressure to shape history education to the requirements of exceptionalist propaganda. Things have got worse in England in that regard; it's a longstanding problem in [Japan].8

You've astutely spotted some of the holes in the history education you're being provided. My advice would be: try not to think of history as just a story of how things came to be as they are. Learn about the past for its own sake, and it will benefit you in ways you didn't expect. How are you supposed to know what you need to know, until you know it?


Good question and it is regrettable that you have good cause to feel that way.

First, you're probably right, you are going to hear about those 3 or 4 people for a while. A big part of it is that, historically, the US, like most Western countries (and currently possibly quite a bit less than some) was run by white people. So, going in back in history, there are fewer influential black people to talk about (or other ethnic groups, for that matter). I'm sure that digging around others can and should be found - several good suggestions have been made. I'd add whoever can be considered most influential in the early evolution of jazz, blues and rock and roll - after all that completely changed music for pretty much everyone and it impacted segregation as well.

But you have good reasons to feel excluded. So, past history is kind of a loss there.

However, things are changing for the better. President #44, Obama, was black. President #47 might end up as Kamala Harris, if Biden wins but doesn't last the whole term.

When covering Obama in the future, should he be counted in Black History? What about all the elected politicians like mayors, congress folk and governors? They could. Or they could just be covered as capable politicians who happen to be black. Either way, I think your children will have a more inclusive history to study.

What about Africa? Well, first US high school teachings tend to be very US centric, with a bit of Europe dashed in, maybe. White preferences, again, to be honest. Second, if you go back further than say 400-500 years there is a lack of written records, just like there would be when studying Native American cultures, so there is only so much history to cover and individuals' names aren't going to be much of a part of it, with some notable exceptions. In any case, those would be more college-level courses.

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    Harris is more East Indian than Black, and graduated high school from Westmount in downtown Montreal, the very wealthiest bar none community in Canada at the time (though since eclipsed by the likes of Rosedale and Lawrence Park due to the post 1976 exodus of Anglos from Quebec). She is despised by most black not only for her pretenses at being black but also for her despicable record as a D.A. in California. What a terrible example to put up. Commented Oct 26, 2020 at 19:45
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    @PieterGeerkens BTW I know and don't approve of her tough-on-crime stint in California. But your claim that she is despised is your claim and not universally supported and cbc.ca/news/world/kamala-harris-dnc-1.5693168. And WTF does "more East Indian than Black" mean on someone with a parent of each race? That you have to be poor to be black? Commented Oct 26, 2020 at 19:56
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    @PieterGeerkens It's a bit odd to highlight a few years in Montreal for someone with deep roots in Oakland and Berkeley, and who went to Howard. From what I've seen, the groups in the SF Bay Area that dislike her record as D.A. are best described as "progressive", not as "black".
    – user15620
    Commented Oct 26, 2020 at 20:12
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    That said, there are far more interesting things to be studying under the rubric of "black history" than modern politicians. If I could mandate a book for a high school history class, it would be something like The Warmth of Other Suns.
    – user15620
    Commented Oct 26, 2020 at 20:23
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    @PieterGeerkens First, I wasn't merely referring to this. Rather, I've noticed a pattern where, when I interact with you in ways that do not suit you, downvotes mysteriously appear. If I noticed it, I'm sure others have too. Second, my answer to the OP was based on stating that future history books will have more black people in them, because black people are becoming more prominent in society. I cited Harris as an example, not as an endorsement. And frankly I am not interested in tracking whom you do/do not approve of and am doing my best to avoid you as much as possible. Commented Oct 26, 2020 at 23:07

My fifteen cents to black history:


maybe more...


There are bunch of theories, who was this peoples, however, we have many statues:

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You could read this page of wiki: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_pharaohs

  • The question is tagged {united-states}; these examples are quite good for global black history. I'll ask OP if the intent of the question is limited to USA. (You're right - I particularly like Septimus Severus as an example.
    – MCW
    Commented Nov 4, 2020 at 15:01
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    Oh, my bad. Sorry. But black Rome Emperor - is awesome, let it be? Commented Nov 4, 2020 at 15:04

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