‘If I tell people about what happened, I honor my ancestors.’ How the Pandemic is Helping a Slavery Historian Develop a K-12 Lesson Plan on African-American HistoryHistorians in the News
tags: education, African American history, teaching history, COVID-19
When COVID-19 stormed America in March, Christine King Mitchell took a break from her job as a docent at the Old Slave Mart Museum in Charleston, S.C.
Mitchell, 64, is an historian who has made education and research on the enslavement of African-Americans from 1619 to 1865 her life’s work. But how to keep going during a global pandemic, in a moment when the May 25 police killing of George Floyd and subsequent anti-racism protests have triggered a broad cultural push to acknowledge the longstanding oppression of Black Americans more fully?
Like millions of others in the time of coronavirus, Mitchell is working from home. And like many others, she’s moved her work online — and the shift could be a positive one that helps this self-taught historian bring her passion to a wider audience. She’s now focused on designing online lesson plans to educate American children about slavery when they go back to school in August, and building a website that will serve as a portal for slavery education. She’s also writing a book about the business of slavery.
In Black communities, which have long faced discrimination in higher education, non-academic historians like Mitchell are important keepers of memory, said Guy Emerson Mount, an assistant professor of African-American history at Auburn University in Alabama. “There are tons of historians without degrees doing Black history because it’s been a matter of life and death for them,” he said, noting that it’s a tradition that dates back to griot storytellers in Africa. “They know that if no one is talking about the past, it makes African-American communities vulnerable.”
PBS, National Geographic, and universities, among others, have published educational content about slavery online, but where Mitchell can help is by offering smart, succinct curriculums for K-12 schools, Mount said. In many places, school boards or state curriculums “can mandate a course on slavery, but it won’t get done unless an activist pushes it,” he said. “So you need activists doing this kind of work.”
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