We start this class one year after one of the largest eruptions of mass protest this country has ever seen. The gruesome video of a white police officer murdering George Floyd by kneeling on his neck for nearly nine minutes, set off a national rebellion that has forced this country to start reckoning with its racist past. What is becoming clear to many across the country is that to truly understand this Black Lives Matter moment, you need to go much deeper than investigating Floyd’s death, or even police brutality: You need to understand Black history.
In Philadelphia, for example, one of the main targets of the protests was the statue honoring former Philadelphia Mayor Frank Rizzo. Why did protestors target this statue?
To answer that question, you need to go back to November 17, 1967, when more than 3,500 Philadelphia high school students poured out of their school buildings and marched to the Board of Education building to protest conditions for Black students. Among their list of 25 demands was an infusion of Black history into the curriculum. The students were greeted by 350 police officers under the command of then Chief of Police Rizzo. As the number of demonstrators continued to grow, the police grew increasingly uneasy. Suddenly, Rizzo yelled “Get their Black Asses!” and police began clubbing and stomping the students. The police charge was so vicious that many witnesses were brought to tears. Forty-two students and 15 adults were arrested, and dozens were injured. Despite Rizzo’s harsh treatment of children peacefully protesting, he went on to become Mayor of Philadelphia and a statue honoring him stood across from City Hall until protestors forced the city to take it down this summer.
The 1967 walkout and the harsh police response also became a catalyst for the creation of Black history courses and Black studies departments in universities throughout the U.S. and eventually in 2005 Philadelphia became the first city in the country to make African American history a requirement for graduation.
This is the only course you will take in high school that was fought for and won by students like yourselves.
WHAT IS THE POINT OF THIS COURSE?
Students across the country continue to fight for Black history courses. The reason Black history is so important to so many people is because looking at U.S. history through the Black experience helps us all better understand ourselves, our history, our present, and our potential futures. Black history is a history of racism and oppression, but it is also a history of resilience and resistance. Because this history challenges so much of what we’re told the United States is about — freedom, democracy, the American Dream — when Black people begin to resist in this country, it has often inspired others to fight and protest. Therefore, studying Black history is essential to understanding the ways people have fought to make this country better — and how we can do so today.
We’ll start with today, examining the Black Lives Matter movement, and then we'll go back in time to pre-colonial Africa and move chronologically through Black history.
This class is about race, racism, and anti-racism as much as it is about history. We’ll be debating and discussing controversial and meaningful topics. This class will also be about you and making sense of your own experiences with new historical clarity. That means we will regularly be writing about our own lives and connecting them to the themes we're learning about.
This class does not use a textbook. We will use a variety of sources to critique dominant historical narratives that often contradict African American experiences.
WHAT ARE THE EXPECTATIONS FOR STUDENTS?
Come to class prepared and on time. Everyday has a purpose and class participation is essential so don’t be late or absent unless it's an emergency. When you arrive in class, please turn off and put away your cell phones. In addition, I expect you to:
Challenge yourself and others
It’s vital everyone feels safe and comfortable enough to participate. Absolutely no put-downs, especially those that are racist, sexist, or homophobic.
Please don't hesitate to contact me. Let me know if your situation makes it difficult to meet any expectations or you are feeling overwhelmed.
Your grade will be based on: the thoughtfulness and thoroughness of your written work and oral participation; the number of assignments completed; your growth as a thinker and writer throughout the term; and your knowledge of history.
The goal of this class will be to develop your skills as a thinker, speaker, and writer. We’ll focus on developing your ability to communicate in several ways historians, journalists, and activists communicate: debate, discussion, poetry, narrative and essay writing.
All grades will be entered in the classwork category and assigned points according to importance. To determine your grade simply divide the total points earned by the total points possible. Everyone can earn an A.
At the beginning of every week you will get two packets: a writing packet and a reading packet. You will turn in the previous week’s packets to me at the beginning of the week. All packets will be posted on Google Classroom in case you lose one. All longer writing assignments and projects will be posted AND submitted on Google Classroom or TurnItIn and will not be in the weekly packets.
WHERE WILL I SUBMIT MY WORK?
WHAT SUPPLIES DO I NEED?
To be prepared for class each day you'll need:
A small 3-ring binder or folder designated for African American history.
Some looseleaf paper or a notebook
Something to write with (and a back-up)
WILL I HAVE A LOT OF HOMEWORK?
Educational research is unclear whether homework has any benefit for students. Therefore, for the most part homework in our class will simply be work that you start but do not finish in class. When I do assign homework, it will be meaningful work that will help you deepen your understanding of what we are studying in class. I do not give busy work.
WHAT IF I'M ABSENT OR HAVE LATE WORK?
When you are absent, you are responsible for completing all missed assignments. If you have to be absent for multiple days, please contact me to explain the situation and figure out a plan. There is no penalty for late work as long as it's turned in within two weeks of the due date but all late work must have "That Late Jawn" physically attached to it or submitted online or I will not grade it.