I consider my knowledge of American history to be above average. In high school I scored a 99 on the American history Regents exam, perfection eluding me because I included in my essay a fact unfamiliar to my teacher, so he deducted one point.
And yet, Juneteenth, the Tulsa massacre of 1921, the abduction, torture and lynching of Emmet Till, the legacy of Sojourner Truth, the heritage of Buffalo Soldiers, and other facts and figures of the Afro-American experience in America were not part of my education.
As for Hispanic Americans, my learning was limited to the names of conquistadors and explorers—Cortez, Pizarro, Ponce de Leon, de Soto, Coronado. Of course we learned about the Alamo and the evil General Santa Anna who, in reality, only tried to thwart an illegal usurpation of Mexican territory by Americans who wanted Texas to become a slave state.
I am not suggesting my schooling was subpar. On the contrary. I attended top rated schools.
It was just a manifestation of our country’s historic legacy of downplaying the contributions and humanity of the non white portion of our population, whether they came here voluntarily or in chains in the holds of slave ships.
Did we learn of the cruelty of forcibly breaking up slave families by selling off members to other plantations, often in distant states?
Did we learn that the struggling colony of South Carolina became profitable only because West African slaves taught their masters how to successfully plant and harvest rice, what became known as Carolina Gold, which contributed to the financial growth of Charleston as an exporter of rice and, sadly, a major importer of slaves required to work in swampy, malarial, alligator-infested rice fields?
Did we learn the White House was built with slave labor?
Did we learn about the indigenous cultures of Africa, Central and South America and Native Americans?
Not really. While we learned about the Apian Way the Romans built to ease transportation in their realm, we heard nothing of the Incan empire highway system of at least 24,000 miles along the Pacific coast of South America.
Did we learn that as part of a compromise to secure the presidency in 1876, Rutherford B. Hayes agreed to the dismantling of federal oversight of Reconstruction, leading to the subsequent adoption of Jim Crow laws throughout the South?
Did we learn that Woodrow Wilson, the global thinker who championed the League of Nations, was a Southern-born racist who re-segregated the federal government bureaucracy, thus emasculating a burgeoning Afro-American middle class?
June 19, 1865, is recognized as the day Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, to enforce the end of slavery, the abolishment of human bondage.
Juneteenth is now a federal holiday, signed into law last June by President Biden. Every state recognizes or observes the day, with Texas fittingly being the first to do so, back in 1980.
Nearly 160 years after the end of the Civil War our nation is still enslaved through ignorance and bigotry. Large swaths of our populace throughout every region resist attempts to learn our history beyond the sanitized version fed to elementary and most high school students.
Until we are freed from the shackles of stilted education the prospects of racial equality appear constrained.