During the first-ever Negro History Week, historian Carter G. Woodson said: "If a race has no history, if it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated."
Those words echo the problems we face today regarding the teaching of black history. And as bleak as they may sound, Woodson's words emphasize why he wanted people to learn it in the first place.
Newsy's Casey Mendoza: "What are the biggest benefits of having students understand this, or having teachers understand this?"
LaGarrett King: "A better society. And the reason why I said a better society is that a lot of people point to, kind of recently, the racial tensions, and they sort of kind of blame what's going on in the government, and ... not really realizing that these particular tensions have always been prevalent within society, right?
"I think learning the histories of black people will give other people an understanding of why these particular people are fighting for what they are fighting for."
Decades after Woodson, experts like Professor LaGarrett King can't stress enough how important history is when dealing with long-standing problems like police brutality, voter suppression and racial harassment. Oftentimes, when issues like these are discussed today, they're isolated from historical context and misunderstood as a result.
"I think one of the biggest problems is that we have structured this 'black as enslaved' paradigm in our society. And there are severe implications to understanding black people as only enslaved, right? And one of those implications is this notion that black people did nothing for democracy.
"So, if people feel that black people did nothing for democracy, and they were given their freedom, like a lot of historians wrote during the Progressive Era — if they were given their freedoms, those in the future that fight for rights, that fight for first-class citizenship, sometimes people would think that, 'Hey, they should be happy that they got their freedom, because we gave them their freedom, because they were slaves, right?' And that's a bit of a misnomer."
Other experts in the field agree that the "underacknowledgement" of black activists contributes to modern-day oppression. They say fixing those problematic narratives and recognizing the work of black leaders can empower black youth and ease the psychological impacts of present-day racial hostility.
Going back to the start of black history education's development, it's worth noting that supporting black students and teaching them their history was one of Carter G. Woodson's goals.
Emphasizing the need for black history education, the historian once said: "Those who have no record of what their forebears have accomplished lose the inspiration which comes from the teaching of biography and history."