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This Black History Month, I Am Extra Thankful for Black Teachers


By Dr. Hui-Ling Malone 

I distinctly remember sitting in my kindergarten classroom when my teacher brought out an enlarged photo of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “Can anyone tell me who this is?” Ms. Jacobs asked us. A white girl next to me with red hair blurted out, “Michael Jackson!” At that moment I knew my classmates were clueless. I was a shy kid but knew this was my moment to shine. Gingerly,  I raised my hand and Ms. Jacobs nodded at me. “That’s Dr. Martin Luther King,” I stated proudly.

At an early age my father instilled in me and my siblings the importance of knowing our history and the legacy of Black freedom fighters. I was six when my family and I watched the mini-series Roots, by Alex Haley. I was in third grade when my dad handed me the Autobiography of Malcolm X to read. While still in elementary school, I learned of historical figures from Huey Newton to Shirley Chisholm. I was proud to be Black American and a descendant of enslaved Africans and enjoyed learning about my history. Of course, never ever did that education take place in any formal classroom setting, that is until college when I finally had the opportunity to take courses in African American Studies. This is also when I had my first official Black teacher.

This month and every month I am thankful for Black teachers. But in this moment, I’m feeling extra thankful. Here’s why. 

February is my favorite month, but this particular February is stressing me out! February began on the heels of the murder of Tyre Nichols who was beaten to death by six police officers for reasons still unknown. On February 1st, the College Board announced its official curriculum for the new AP African American History course. The original curriculum which included critical Black scholars such as Kimberlé Crenshaw, Robin D.G. Kelly and bell hooks were removed, striking out topics such as Black feminism, the Black queer experience and critical race theory.

Also earlier this month, police units proudly unveiled “Black History” themed cop cars as a celebration of Black history. Performative displays of “celebrating” Black culture and history isn’t new from white mainstream America. Let’s not forget when politicians adorned themselves with kente cloth, or when Walmart sold Juneteenth flavored ice cream. Unfortunately, instead of honoring George Floyd and countless other innocent Black Americans murdered by police by shifting policies and funding to protect Black people, we got everyone an’ they momma capitalizing on “woke” merchandise. As Fannie Lou Hamer once said, “I’m sick of symbolic things. We are fighting for our lives.”

Which brings me back to why I’m thankful for Black teachers this Black History Month. In the midst of this chaos, along with back to back mass shootings and worldwide destruction, I find inspiration in the legacy of Black educators. In fact, in honoring Black History Month, we must recognize how Black History Month is deeply rooted in Black schooling and the legacy of Black educators in the pursuit of liberation.

Carter G. Woodson is known as the father of Black History Month, which began as Negro History Week in 1926. Woodson is also widely recognized for his book, The Miseducation of the Negro, published in 1933. Yet, less is known about his role in working alongside Black educators and his direct impact Black education. This is thoroughly discussed in Jarvis Givens’ book, Fugitive Pedagogy: Carter G. Woodson and the Art of Black Teaching (2021). Negro History Week was a special time of the year that was honored by Black teachers and students alike. They knew the power of educating the next generation on their history.

Givens emphasized that educating Black students was always more than developing academic skills. It fundamentally challenged pervasive anti- Black sentiments. This is consistent with Gloria Ladson-Billings, the mother of culturally relevant pedagogy, who explained that education for Black folks has, “never been merely about skill development and text comprehension. Its primary purposes and foci have been liberation, empowerment, and self-determination (Ladson-Billings, 2016, p. 141)

Givens considers Woodson an “abroad mentor” for Black teachers. Through Woodson’s organization, Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH) and from the recommendation of Mary McLeod Bethune, he established the Negro History Bulletin which was a forum for Black teachers to exchange ideas and share resources to advance their teaching and learning practices. Through grassroots organizing, Black teachers connected with each other and built networks for professional development and sustainability in a racist society. 

This was all in the context of Black teachers who were constantly at the threat of white violence. In Black schools, certain texts, including Woodson’s, “The Negro in Our History” were banned by white school board members. This white backlash led to Black school houses being shot at and burned to the ground by the Ku Klux Klan and white residents in protest of Black education as the practice of freedom. Yet, Black teachers persisted. As Givens wrote, “Even if Negro History Week’s content did not immediately have an impact on white people’s perceptions of black folks, it instilled in African Americans a stronger sense of historical consciousness about their identities and the structural challenges they faced. It both affirmed the frustration and rage about the world around them and provided intellectual resources for challenging it” (p.171)

In our current society where political conservatives are banning books, creating hysteria about Critical Race Theory and sending disapproving letters to the College Board about African American Studies, we can draw strength and inspiration from the legacy of Black teachers. Despite the intimidation, Black teachers held the authority on the knowledge that was necessary to survive and thrive in an oppressive society. During enslavement, Black folks gathered in secret to learn to read despite the threat of harsh punishment or death (Williams, 2007). This fugitive pedagogy continued after Brown v. Board through Citizenship and Freedom Schools (thank you, Septima Clark, Esau Jenkins, Bernice Robinson and members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) that displayed grassroots efforts of organizing educational initiatives as part of an abolitionist effort toward freedom. Black History Month and Black education was born out of fight, and to honor that, we must keep fighting.

It’s understandable that some teachers are dismayed by our current society. However, whether it is the College Board or some politician who is adamant about maintaining a colorevasive society (which upholds whiteness), we know that they are not the authority on our history. And this month, I hope we can be extra thankful to Black educators who have always fought for our freedoms by any means necessary, while also centering our joy and futurity. To Black educators and all educators who continue to teach truth to power in the face of oppression, and to my father- my first Black teacher, thank you. Thank you for the reminder that despite the circumstances, the work must and will get done.




Dr. Hui-Ling Malone is an Assistant Professor of Education at the University California, Santa Barbara.



Givens, J. R. (2021). Fugitive Pedagogy: Carter G. Woodson and the Art of Black Teaching. Harvard University Press.

Ladson-Billings, G. (2016). “#Literate Lives Matter”: Black Reading, Writing, Speaking, and Listening in the 21st Century. Literacy Research: Theory, Method, and Practice, 65(1), 141–151.

Williams, H. A. (2007). Self-Taught: African American Education in Slavery and Freedom. The University of North Carolina Press.