Books Offer Look at Black Heroes
Black Heroes of the American Revolution
By Burke Davis
Black Pioneers of Science and Invention
By Dr. Louis Haber
By Carole Boston Weatherford
Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press, $17.95
When I had the privilege of teaching public school, Moore County Schools did an admirable job of diversity training, including lesson analysis based on questions such as: How are you working to include minority students in the academically gifted program? Do your visual aids represent all races? Is the literature you choose inclusive of minorities?
I admit to inwardly grousing about how, in an already tight teaching schedule, I was expected to work in four focused weeks of minority appreciation during February, Black History Month. Added to this is the conundrum of the unspoken tensions that lie beneath well-meant presentations on black history.
Feeling like a sex ed teacher, an educator has to finesse introductions of racial issues. Students squirm when you present them with literature that peels the veneer off racial bia.
There's lots of stuttering and "you knows" in responses, and well-rehearsed straight faces from the minority students in the room. There's high emotion involved in truth, and Black History Month is designed to throw that truth into the open for us on at least a yearly basis.
These three books, two reprints from the 1970s, are out and doing their part in the truth telling. "Black Heroes of the American Revolution," by Burke Davis, is a thin book filled with sketches of almost-forgotten black heroes of the American Revolution.
Particularly fascinating is the art included in the book, which depicts black soldiers fighting alongside white soldiers as they battle the British.
The author notes that a young black private once saved Washington's life, though his name is unknown, and that these men fought not for freedom, but for the hope of freedom.
The book ends with the powerful words of Harriet Beecher Stowe: "We are to reflect upon them as far more magnanimousIt was not for their own land they fought,but for a land which had enslaved themBravery, under such circumstances, has a peculiar beauty and merit."
"Black Pioneers of Science and Invention" is the type of book you're endlessly seeking for the classroom to inspire and educate. Author Dr. Louis Haber gives mini-biographies on inventors from Benjamin Banneker to Lewis Howard Latimer, and scientists from the much-talked-about George Washington Carver to the sometimes science-text-excluded Charles Richard Drew.
Readers will be surprised to learn that though Charles Drew developed and headed the blood transfusion work for the Red Cross, his own blood was not allowed to be given to a white man -- black and white blood were kept and administered separately. Ignorance is clearly profiled.
"Birmingham, 1963" is a touching book that meshes a fictional character with the history of the Birmingham bombings.
Told through the eyes of a 10-year-old girl, the simple text and black-and-white historical photos are heart-wrenching. Especially poignant are the poems about and photos of the four girls killed in the bombings.
The great question that these books all pose that was never asked in diversity training: How do we get past the hurt of history and move on to the dream of tomorrow?
I once had a student respond that we just shouldn't talk about it. She was black, and obviously uncomfortable. From across the room, an Asian student objected, saying that we can't change if we don't know. "Yeah, I get that," she replied.
And maybe that's what these books are all about -- that we get that.
Southern Pines writer Charlene Vermeulen can be contacted by e-mail at email@example.com.
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