Critical Importance of Learning Black History to Create Healthy Mindsets

“Because black students don’t know their history, it impacts their mental health and well-being. When white students don’t know black history, it leads to racism and white supremacist violence.” — Lillian Podlog, an organizer for Hate Out of Winston Salem, NC and a former teacher in Florida, in a statement to the Winston Salem-Forsyth County School Board. In 2019, she and more than two dozen others advocated for a mandatory African-American history course that all students would have to take to graduate. “When we look at what’s going on with Black children — lack of engagement and the achievement gap — nothing should be optional,” said Miranda Jones of a Local Organizing Committee. “We should do everything that we can to save this group of children.”

However, the proposal for the mandatory class was voted down by the school board. Only one board member voted in favor of it, while seven members voted against it.

The board did unanimously approve elective courses for every high school in the county: African American Studies; Latin American Studies; American Indian Studies; and Ethnic Literature. Each course is worth one full credit and have standard and honors course options.


“History lessons in our schools mostly tell the same narrative that racism used to be a thing, then Martin Luther King Jr. gave a speech, and now it isn’t. Obviously, this is not the case and this needs to be better addressed in our state’s curriculum,” editorialized the Daily Tar Heel at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. The editorial noted that a UNC initiative,  Reckoning: Race, Memory and Reimagining the Public University initiative,is a model for Winston-Salem and other school districts.

“It’s important for all students, regardless of their race, to acknowledge that race and racism played a role in shaping our country. Requiring an African-American history class would affirm the fact that Black students’ ancestors had just as much of a role in shaping our country as those of their white counterparts.”

The UNC initiative has a website, with a description of courses and shared readings, identifying three stated outcomes:

  • Practice difficult conversations: an ability to enter discussions about contentious topics in ways that lead to mutual understanding.
  • Gain a vocabulary for engaging this moment: a chance to study terms such as heritage, reparations, memory, story, racial justice, reckoning, truth and reconciliation, inclusion and other words that let us grapple with what this moment raises for us.
  • Connect diverse fields to current issues, learning how to provide new frames of understanding for contemporary concerns.

Glenn Hinson, associate professor of anthropology and folklore, described how students in his “Southern Legacies: The Descendants Project” class “interviewed nine descendants of 1921 Warren County (NC) lynching victim Plummer Bullock at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC. The family members represented three generations, with the oldest being 87. The mothers of the two oldest descendants were sisters of Plummer and Matthew Bullock, who were brothers. The oral histories of the two women, as well as their children, grandchildren and nieces, will be archived at the museum and at UNC’s Wilson Library, and copies will be given to the descendants.”

Hinson and students created a website on lynching sites and lynching victims in North Carolina.


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