When we originally developed the Ancestors unKnown curriculum, we imagined it could grow organically, adapting to the unique histories and cultural identities of our partner school communities. In 2016, the City of Amsterdam awarded Ancestors unKnown and Stichting Zieraad a grant to bring Ancestors unKnown Nederland to Amsterdam schools. This gave us the opportunity to put the plan for global reach in motion.
This got us thinking about Ida B. Wells, a fierce freedom fighter who wrote, spoke and organized at the forefront of the Black liberation movement of her time. If she was around today, she’d be educating folks on all platforms, for sure. And we suspect Twitter would be her favorite. But that’s just a hunch.
We spotted Carver in the archives. First in 1870, when he was still living in Missouri with Moses and Susan Carver, along with his brother, James. Later, in 1920, he was in his privileged accommodations at the Tuskegee Institute, listed alongside a number of other faculty members. By the 1930s, he was mentioned in countless newspaper articles. It’s remarkable to observe his documented progression from slavery to an esteemed and well-recognized scientist, having accomplished more than most, regardless of race.
As educators, we must be careful about how we teach history. We should know what our students care about and if/how they connect with the subject. We can tell great stories, talk about famous people, show a movie or two, and connect it all to dates and maps; but if there’s no special connection made, or no fun involved, the information might not be retained.
In 1894, Frederick Douglass made a powerful speech that eerily resonates today. "Strange things have happened of late and are still happening. Some of these tend to dim the lustre of the American name, and chill the hopes once entertained for the cause of American liberty. "
When genealogy research and other untold histories are incorporated into history classes, students see themselves and their own stories represented in their education. They learn about the heroes in their communities and the heroism of their ancestors.
"17 million Negroes cannot do as you suggest and wait for the hearts of men to change. We want to enjoy now the rights that we feel we are entitled to as Americans. This we cannot do unless we pursue aggressively goals which all other Americans achieved over 150 years ago."