Guest post by Sandra K. Yocum
As educators, we must be committed to sharing leadership examples that enlighten students to discover that what is achievable is repeatable. Thousands of black leaders have embodied the most exemplary examples for children to emulate in every vocation imaginable. These leaders were successful despite segregation, Jim Crow Laws, and discrimination. Our children must know this history to understand who they are, what their ancestors have accomplished, and where they are going.
Why Black History Needs More Than One Month
The public’s ignorance of the importance of black history is often the root cause of the lack of pressure on public schools to teach black history throughout the year in American history. Teaching black history in one single month of February is a travesty against all students. It denies the in-depth knowledge needed to inspire, and it leaves much history undiscovered.
Subsequently, many people are unaware of the significant contributions that black inventors made to America. For example, simple everyday practical innovations such as the mop, dustpan, fountain pen, pencil sharpener, eggbeater, tricycle, ironing board, portable fire escape, the golf tee, potato chips, or the bread making machine made our daily lives better.
Black History is American History
One of the earliest inventors was Benjamin Banneker (1731-1806), an astronomer and almanac creator responsible for recreating the city street plan in Washington D.C. Banneker’s pioneer work in the agricultural economy helped with water irrigation and crop rotation techniques. He was also the scientist that discovered space and time. Other black pioneers secured patents for their inventions in diverse fields, like physics, biology, math, industry, and medical science. For example, Elijah McCoy (1843-1929) obtained fifty patents. However, the most well-known was the graphite lubricator cup that could drip oil when needed on moving parts of steam engines. Other inventors tried to copy his invention, but legend says customers said no, they wanted the “real McCoy.”
James Forten (1766-1842) made his fortune by revolutionizing the sail-making business and became an African American leader in the abolitionist movement. Two of his daughters married the Purvis brothers, Robert and Joseph, also wealthy black abolitionist leaders in Philadelphia. Additionally, Lewis Latimer (1848-1928) perfected the lightbulb with the carbon filament while working with Thomas Edison; Garrett Morgan (1877-1963) created the traffic signal and the first effective gas mask. In the 20th and 21st centuries, black inventors such as Otis Boykin (1920-1982) created resistors for pacemakers; Dr. George Carruthers (1939-2020) measured and detected ultraviolet rays; Patricia Bath (1942-2019) created a laser surgical device, and Charles Drew (1904-1950) was the pioneer of the blood bank.
We make a more robust, enlightened American society by sharing black history with all students. We must be diligent that current agendas do not distort the understanding of the past. We must teach that black history is American history.
Dr. Lonnie Bunch, the Secretary of the Smithsonian, remarked, “It is very easy to be written out of history when you are not present…the erasure of our history and that erasure of that history creates the sense that for many African Americans that they have not done anything, they have not accomplished much, they have not transformed America.”
Yocum African American History Association was founded in 2015 by Sandra K. Yocum and Frances Presley Rice. They shared a belief that Americans knowing more about each other is the surest path to unity. The two ladies forged a partnership and began their journey to uncover hidden black history. Their quest is to demonstrate that black history is American history and foster racial harmony.