Fixing History: Fighting For Black Inclusion in the Education System

Jacob Vaughn
Marvin Dulaney says the miseducation of Americans about the African-American experience is not an accident.
Marvin Dulaney says he came out of high school as one of the victims of the American education system. "It did not teach me one thing about any African or African-American person who had ever done anything in history," he says.

But Dulaney says the miseducation of Americans about the African-American experience is not an accident. He says it's the result of a deliberate attempt to suppress the history. Dulaney described African-American history as a wart, a lesion on the story of American exceptionalism. He says you can't teach the history of the people you've been abusing if you want to feel good about yourself.

Black history, as it is taught in public schools today, is largely underplayed and focuses on the struggles of slavery opposed to the accomplishments and contributions of African civilizations and African Americans in a variety of fields.

For decades, students from across the country have pushed schools, colleges and universities in particular to teach the African and African-American experience. These efforts are part of what has become known as the Black Studies Movement. Now a director at the African American History Museum, Dulaney says he has been involved in this movement since the late '60s.

Dulaney is the former chair of the University of Texas at Arlington history department and former 14-year executive director of the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture in Charleston, South Carolina. He also founded the W. Marvin Dulaney Dallas-Fort Worth Branch of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History.

He took his first Black history course in college, immersing him in the full range of the African-American experience. When he got to Ohio State University, however, Dulaney says he was taught the same "white supremacist history our country's been teaching for over 200 years." He says he had to press his professors to allow him to research the African-American experience.

He taught his first African-American history course in 1975. 

Three years later, he found himself trying to persuade a school board in Springfield, Ohio, to adopt an African-American history course of its own. "It was about a battle that we fought for about six months and guess what — we lost big time," he says. There was a lot of white backlash, he says. The opposition said the course was just meant to teach "feel-good history" and myths to Black students.

Dulaney has also been fighting to integrate Hispanic and Native-American history into the U.S. education system. Opponents usually says there's not enough time to teach it all. Dulaney counters that this history is so vital to the American experience that to leave it out is criminal.

Dulaney says he was taught the same "white supremacist history our country's been teaching for over 200 years."

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He started as a volunteer at the African American History Museum in 1985. Around the same time, he began working at The University of Texas at Arlington where he was teaching about 200 students about American and African-American history. Many of his students were white, and he wanted to take the knowledge to the people it mattered most to, so at the museum, he began teaching community African-American history courses.

He retired after about 42 years of teaching.

He says he was slowly making progress toward including Black history in the U.S. education system, but it didn't really take hold until after he retired and became a consultant for Fort Worth ISD. The district was trying to integrate African and African-American history in its social studies curriculum in 2017. Dulaney took the lead on this project.

After they saw what he was doing in Forth Worth, Aicha Davis, a Democrat on the State Board of Education who represents DFW, and Jamila Thomas, then director of DISD’s racial equity office with DISD, began working with Dulaney to develop an African-American history course for Dallas students. After doing workshops with teachers for months, the course was implemented last fall and has since been approved statewide.

When the course won approval for the whole state, as she teared up, Davis told The Dallas Morning News: “This course exceeded anything I ever thought it would. It’s something I wish I could have taken when I was young.”

But these are only elective courses. Davis says the next step is to make them required. But there are only a few states that require teaching African-American studies, including Florida, Illinois and New Jersey, according to CNN

Dulaney says the movement has made great strides in recent years. He thinks some of the progress can be attributed to protests, but the fight has been going on for a long time and there's still much left undone.

Over a century ago, the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History was founded in Chicago, according to the paper "The Status of Black History in U.S. Schools and Society." It was started by Carter Godwin Woodson, an American historian, and several of his colleagues.

From 1915-1950, the organization worked to institutionalize Black history in K-12 education. In that time, the organization created Black history textbooks, designed Black history home courses, established a K-12 Black history teacher journal and promoted Negro History Week in schools, which later became Black History Month.

These were meant to be the first steps toward fully integrating Black history into mainstream K-12 social studies education. Some would argue that not enough has changed since then.

In 2015, the National Museum of African American History and Culture conducted a study to understand how
social studies teachers conceptualized and implemented a K-12 Black history curriculum. The study included a nationwide survey of 525 elementary, middle and high school teachers, 72 in-depth personal interviews, five  focus groups and a review of social studies standards from all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

The study found that 8-9% of total class time is devoted to Black history in U.S. history classrooms. Additionally, the study concluded  that teachers covered Black history less because they lack content knowledge, confidence,
time and resources.

Dulaney says the hope is that all of this will one day be taught as one, all-encompassing telling of America's full  history.