One of the best books I read in the past year was “The Help,” by Kathryn Stockett. The book details the lives of several black women who served as housekeepers and childcare workers during the volatile Civil Rights era of the 1950s and ‘60s. I laughed and cried as I read of their fictional struggle.
It’s hard to believe that just one generation ago, real, flesh-and-blood African Americans were fighting battles to sit wherever they wanted on public buses or in restaurants or even to use the same restrooms as white people. They also were fighting to gain admittance to white’s-only schools and universities. Too often these battles turned deadly, as in the case of the horrific Tulsa Race Riot of 1921, in which estimates of death range from 50 to 300 and thousands of homes and businesses were destroyed.
We owe a debt of gratitude to professors of history, such as John Hope Franklin for chronicling this important chapter in our past. As a young boy, Franklin witnessed his father’s law office burn down in the Tulsa Race Riot. He went on to report decades of abuse suffered by African Americans. Today, it’s easy to think we’ve come so far, but many in the African American community would say we still have much work to do.
As we celebrate Black History Month in February, and all of the triumphs of our many black heroes, we must commit to remain vigilant to build on their hard-won successes.
As state superintendent of public instruction, it’s my job to take a close look at the progress of African American Students in our schools and make sure that our academic standards are meeting their needs. National reports for tests such as ACT, SAT, AP and NAEP show that we are doing a better job of testing more African American students, but there are still achievement gaps in test scores. As educators we must make sure that children in our state are receiving the best education based on their individual need.
I would like to commend the many educators in our state who work tirelessly every day to make sure this happens. I also would like to commend schools that have helped celebrate Black History Month with special assemblies or by offering selections of black literature in their libraries or through classroom lessons.
By studying these lessons from our past, we can build a brighter future for every student.