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Black history is American history that needs to be taught to the next generation 

Emmitt Glynn teaches AP African American studies to a group of Baton Rouge Magnet High School students
AP Photo/Stephen Smith
Emmitt Glynn teaches AP African American studies to a group of Baton Rouge Magnet High School students on Monday, Jan. 30.

During the 28 days of Black History month, we take time to reflect and honor the great Black men and women who not only contributed to the advancement of America through the Civil Rights Movement but the contributions that our people have made in all aspects of this country. I feel that when most people think of this month they turn to great leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr., Frederick Douglass, or James Baldwin. These Americans were pivotal in advancing the rights of all people in this country, but there are so many others whose stories go untold. 

This month, I  introduced the Black History Matters Act which would direct the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) to conduct a study on Black history education efforts in public elementary and secondary schools. As we have seen in Florida and school districts around the country, efforts to erase Black history from our education system have started to escalate. The notion that a student learning about slavery, reconstruction, Jim Crow, and the Civil Rights movement is inappropriate expresses the wish to close our eyes to history that may make us “uncomfortable.” 

In 2021, I submitted an opinion piece in the Washington Post, highlighting how freed and enslaved Black soldiers of the Continental Army were essential to ensuring our country’s victory in its battle for independence from the British; a fact that seems to be forgotten by most U.S. History classes. The Black story is America’s story. Since the first slave ship in 1619, Black Americans have played a crucial part in the foundational, governmental, philosophical, cultural, and scientific aspects of what makes this country what it is today.  

During my time in Congress, I have been privileged to stand on the shoulders of those who came before me. In 2014, I may have been the first Black woman to be elected to Congress from the state of New Jersey, but my ability to serve my constituents was only made possible by Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman to be elected to Congress back in 1968. The history of those like Chisholm and the brave African American Revolutionary War veterans must also be as well known to every American as King, Douglass, or Baldwin.  

I have had the honor of helping to pass legislation that will advance this goal. Also in early 2021, along with my colleague, California Rep. Barbara Lee, I helped to pass the Circulating Commemorative Coin Act which created the Women Quarter Program. This quarter series has already profiled prominent Black women such as the celebrated writer, performer, and social activist Maya Angelou, and this year will highlight Bessie Coleman (no relation) — the first Black and Indigenous woman pilot in history. These coins don’t only preserve their place in history, they introduce a new generation to truly amazing historical figures that they can learn from and be inspired by.  

In the Omnibus legislation that became law at the end of 2022 was a provision I introduced that extended the authorization for the creation of the National Liberty Memorial on the National Mall. With the completion of this memorial, the stories of the some 5,000 freed and enslaved Black soldiers who fought for our nation’s independence will be preserved and celebrated with a prominent place in our nation’s capital. 

Black history is American history — the good, the bad, and the discomforting — and it is important that that history be taught to the next generation just as my generation learned about George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.  

Watson Coleman represents New Jersey’s 12th District and is the co-founder and co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls. 

Tags Black history Education

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