Black people in history education


When I was at school, I was taught nothing about Black people in my history lessons. I heard about Florence Nightingale but nothing about Mary Seacole.

I listened to the story of inventor Thomas Edison, who we credit with the invention of the light bulb, but I was ignorant about Garrett A Morgan who invented the automatic traffic signal. I heard teachers wax lyrically about Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart but stayed silent on the subject of Chevalier Saint-Georges who is regarded as the first known classical composer of African heritage. In fact, the only time black history was even mentioned was when we looked at slavery. As a Black person, that can be so demeaning, so dehumanising.

So, when we had our children, I made it my goal to fill the manse with books that celebrated Black inventors, Black abolitionists, Black pioneers and Black African Kings and Queens. I wanted our children to recognise their history. To know that the contribution of Black people, to humanity's achievements, did not begin with a journey across the ocean in the belly of a slave ship. Back then, this was no easy task, but I was determined to give them heroes who were also people of colour.

This task was greatly enhanced when we went to serve in Jamaica as Mission Partners. When history is not taught from a Eurocentric point of view, it can be uplifting and inspiring for all of us. Black people are also people and therefore their achievements enrich us all. Which of us cannot fail to be inspired by Olaudah Equiano, who challenged the acceptance of slave practices with his autobiography published in 1789. It was read by millions of people and became a bestseller.

Black History Month is one attempt to change the narrative that so many young Black people hear. To remind them of the strong legacy that they can contribute to and stand on. One day, we will not need to celebrate Black History Month because the history of Black people in these nations will be part of the very fabric of our educational system. It will not be hidden but exist in plain sight.

A few years ago, my sisters and I went to St. Thomas’ Hospital in London. We went because a statue had been unveiled of Mary Seacole. It was amazing to stand there, three sisters of Jamaican heritage, and see a statue representing a Jamaican in London. It made us so proud, and we just marvelled that, at last, Britain was acknowledging the contribution of a woman who faced great opposition in her desire to help the soldiers at war in Crimea. As Black History Month is celebrated this month, may we seek to acknowledge the contribution that people of colour make in this society each and every day.

Rev. Sonia Hicks
President of the Methodist Conference
October 2021

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