ArticlePDF Available

Interpreting Black History: Toward a Black History Framework for Teacher Education


Abstract and Figures

I argue in this article that a close examination of preservice teachers’ Black history knowledge is needed to possibly improve curricular and instructional approaches of Black education. Seven preservice teachers were studied and asked to write Black history narratives to ascertain how they interpreted Black history. I analyzed these responses through a Black history framework that combined aspects of diaspora literacy, historical consciousness, and Black Critical race theory. Findings indicate preservice teachers held both critical and noncritical Black history knowledge. Implications are given to teacher educators to find out how to effectively gauge Black history as a heuristic for diversity education.
Content may be subject to copyright.
Urban Education
1 –29
© The Author(s) 2018
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/0042085918756716
Interpreting Black
History: Toward a Black
History Framework for
Teacher Education
LaGarrett J. King1
I argue in this article that a close examination of preservice teachers’ Black
history knowledge is needed to possibly improve curricular and instructional
approaches of Black education. Seven preservice teachers were studied and
asked to write Black history narratives to ascertain how they interpreted
Black history. I analyzed these responses through a Black history framework
that combined aspects of diaspora literacy, historical consciousness, and
Black Critical race theory. Findings indicate preservice teachers held both
critical and noncritical Black history knowledge. Implications are given to
teacher educators to find out how to effectively gauge Black history as a
heuristic for diversity education.
race, teacher education, Black History, social studies, urban education
Examining Black history knowledge in teacher education is an important
endeavor because theoreticians have proclaimed that history is a mechanism
to begin to understand the identities of groups of people (Woodson, 2006;
Wynter, 1992). History apprises us on where people have been, what people
1University of Missouri, Columbia, USA
Corresponding Author:
LaGarrett J. King, College of Education, Learning, Teaching, and Curriculum, University of
Missouri, 212D Townsend Hall, Columbia, MO 65211, USA.
756716UEXXXX10.1177/0042085918756716Urban EducationKing
2 Urban Education 00(0)
have been, where people are, and what people are, and history also provides
a blueprint for where people still must go and what people still must be.
History is fluid and socially constructed so that the purpose of history is
simply not about the past, but reflects much on how we interpret the present
and predict the future based on our historical knowledge. Black history,
therefore, enlightens us about Black humanity and shapes Black ontologies.
How we interpret Black history can have an impact on how we treat Black
people in the contemporary.
I argue in this article that a close examination of preservice teachers’ Black
history knowledge is needed to possibly improve curricular and instructional
approaches to Black education. If our historical knowledge is connected to
how we see ourselves and come to understand people, then what preservice
teachers know about Black history can influence how they treat Black chil-
dren and how they construct knowledge around Blackness. Although I do not
proclaim that Black history knowledge will be enough to promote cultural
and racial consciousness, what I do argue is that knowledge is foundational
and influences action, frameworks, and interpretations that teachers will
bring into classroom.
I examined the Black history knowledge of seven preservice teachers from
a teacher preparation program in the southwest. Although research promotes
preservice teachers’ knowledge on culture and race (Milner, 2006), very little
has specifically attended to Black history. To do this, I first explore relevant
literature on why Black history is needed in teacher education. Second, I
explore the theoretical framework of Black historical consciousness, in which
I combine the concepts of diaspora literacy, historical consciousness, and
Black critical theory. Third, I explain my methodology and introduce the pre-
service teachers used for the study. Fourth, I detail the findings where I
explain what each preservice teacher understood as salient frameworks for
Black history. Last, I conclude with implications for teacher education.
Why Black History in Teacher Education
The last four decades have seen teacher education programs increase attempts
at promoting diversity education. Leading the way are popular initiatives
such as multicultural education (Banks, 1994), Afrocentric education (Asante,
2011), culturally responsive pedagogy (Gay, 2010), and critical race theory
(Ladson-Billings & Tate, 1995). Although these constructs have similar
objectives, each has distinct characteristics that speak to ideas that promote a
more holistic form of education. One key link between these pedagogical and
curricular approaches is the utility of Black history.
King 3
Learning Black history within teacher education is salient for several
reasons. First, with a legacy since the late 1890s (L. J. King, 2014b), Black
history is an emerging lexicon in K-12 education. Black History Month is
celebrated at hundreds of schools each February, specific high school Black
history textbooks are increasing, Black history teacher professional devel-
opment networks are common, and school districts offer more Black his-
tory elective courses with Philadelphia city schools requiring Black history
for graduation. Another sign of attempts to institutionalizing Black history
is the push for Black history mandates around the United States (L. J. King,
2017). By mandates, I am referring to legislation brought up by lawmakers
to make Black history a requirement by law; states such as New Jersey,
Mississippi, and Florida serve as legislative examples. Although much
research is needed as to the scope and sequence and the effectiveness of
these policies, Black history state mandates might imply an effort to dein-
stitutionalize curricular inequities.
Second, Black history develops racial literacy (L. J. King, 2016). Racially
literate teachers effectively broach topics and have nuanced understandings
about race and racism, and develop critical dispositions toward racial justice
in K-12 education (Sealey-Ruiz & Greene, 2015). Teacher educators have
used race reflection journals, critical race case study assignments, designed
special classes, and diverse field experiences to achieve the goal of racial
literate teachers (K. D. Brown & Kraehe, 2010; Milner, 2003).
Third, Black history can help alter preservice teachers’ ideological trajec-
tory and racial imagery of Black students. For example, Walker (1996) coun-
tered the argument that segregated Black schools were intellectually inferior.
Her account of Black segregated schools, while poorly funded, was a story of
the rigorous and culturally sustaining ways Black educators, community
members, and students strived to be highly educated and productive citizens.
Watkins (2001) told the story of how racist ideology informed early Black
educational policy. He provides a complex rendering of White educators and
philanthropist as not only Black education reformers and progressives but
also as persons who, through education, continued, established, and main-
tained the U.S. racial hierarchy.
Walker’s (1996) and Watkins’s (2001) Black histories inform teacher edu-
cators that improving Black education does not rest on recycling the same
structures passed down through racist educational policy; the answers may
live in how Black communities both formally and informally educated their
children. This recognition helps teachers better understand Black educational
legacies, traditions, and epistemologies, with the hopes that teachers will
understand more appropriate and effective teaching of Black students.
4 Urban Education 00(0)
Although efforts at diversity education in teacher preparation are expand-
ing, one diversity class is often officially offered (K. D. Brown & Kraehe,
2010; Gorski, 2009). Little research explains if or what general education
requirements are available to help preservice teachers understand the nuances
of culture and racism. We do know that ethnic and Black studies classes are
offered at numerous colleges and universities, but it is unclear if these courses
serve as general education requirements for teacher education. Research,
however, indicate that White student registration in those classes are low
(Espenshade & Radford, 2009) and given that the largest demographics of
new teachers are White, it is safe to say that there are few opportunities for
preservice teachers to engage learning about race, racism, and culture through
Black history.
Preservice teachers’ Black history knowledge, therefore, is relegated to
K-12 education and the official history curriculum. Through uncritical and
Whitewashed Black history narratives throughout K-12 history education (A.
L. Brown & Brown, 2010; Thornhill, 2016; Wynter, 1992), similar to Dubois’s
(1973) statement, preservice teachers “in all probability complete education
without any idea of the part which the Black race has played in America” (p.
713). This miseducation has consequences to how teachers prepare to teach
Black students (J. E. King, 1992). Therefore, it is important for teacher edu-
cators to examine what preservice teachers know about Black history to bet-
ter prepare them to teach in culturally and racially diverse schools.
Theoretical Framework: Black Historical
I sought a theoretical framework that would help recognize essential and
effective types of Black history knowledge. To do this, I borrowed elements
from three frameworks, diaspora literacy (J. E. King, 1992), historical con-
sciousness (Seixas, 2004), and Black critical theory (Dumas & ross, 2016),
to help establish a heuristic of what I call a Black historical consciousness.
Black historical consciousness seeks to examine how people not only
understand Black history but also, and maybe more prominent, what it
means to be Black in a historic sense. Stated another way, Black history,
within official school curricular spaces, typically presents a limited view of
Black history and these narratives usually meet the criteria of liberal multi-
culturalism, where the narratives presented are safe and sanitized, usually
ignoring more critical and racial analysis of Black history. Rarely are Black
histories told from multiple Black perspectives, instead these narratives are
only told if the history is deemed important within White epistemic histori-
cal frameworks.
King 5
What I argue, therefore, is that Black history told through White epistemic
historical frameworks limits our Black history knowledge. A more holistic
approach to Black history should be taught through Black people’s episte-
mologies, gazes, and imaginations. Although I am not arguing for an essen-
tialization of Blackness, Blackness and Black people are complex and
multifaceted; I do want to present concepts that hopefully guide researchers
and teachers to resist Black history concepts that do not speak through Black
experiences. I am appropriating the concepts of diaspora literacy, historical
consciousness, and Black critical theory as heuristics to begin to build a
Black historical consciousness for the purpose of expanding how we concep-
tualize Black histories.
Diaspora literacy refers to a person’s ability to understand, analyze, and
speak about the “historical, social, cultural, and political development”
(Clark, 2009, p. 11) of Black experiences. To be diaspora literate is to have
knowledge that Black history is global and explore not only the textual con-
text and representation of Blackness but also the sociohistorical realities of
Black people. The key concept in diaspora literacy is to understand that
global Black history is not isolated in Blackness but has had a profound influ-
ence in global history. I argue that diaspora literacy is important as we pro-
mote terminology associated with Blackness and history. Black history is a
more diverse historic representative of the Black experience than providing a
more geographic specific moniker such as African American history. Black
history is a universal concept of Black experiences in which Black history
begins with histories denoting Africa and African civilizations as the frame-
work whereas African American history begins with the institution of slavery.
Therefore, to have a nuanced and critical understanding of Black history
refers to having knowledge of what Lewis (1995) called, “overlapping
Diasporas” so that Black people are not imagined as simply the “other” but
pivotal to developing American and World culture and history. In this study,
the terms Black history and diaspora are used purposefully to insinuate a
natural relation between how Black history should be understood within a
global context.
To illustrate diaspora literacy, individuals would have some level of his-
torical consciousness about Black experiences. Thorp (2014) defined histori-
cal consciousness as an awareness of “how matters past, present, and future
relate to each other in a way that enables the individual to create a specific
kind of meaning in relation to history” (p. 21). He noted that historical con-
sciousness is developed based on three processes, the narratives (how indi-
viduals understand history and retell it), the use of history (what and how
history is used), and historical culture (how society defines history and how
persons are influenced). Historical consciousness expands on the atheoretical
6 Urban Education 00(0)
and limited conceptualization of history as simply facts and builds on the post
structural aspects of the field. The term also differentiates from more popular
history frameworks such as historical thinking (looking at the past and mak-
ing judgment) and historiography (the study of how historians look at the
past) by examining and studying how the individual and the collective soci-
ety understand the past.
Seixas (2004) expounded that historical awareness does not happen in a
vacuum but is influenced by both “cognitive and cultural factors, and the
relations of historical understandings to those of the present and the future”
(p. 10). Funkenstein (1989) posited that historical consciousness begins with
the data of the present. Taken together, Funkenstein (1989) and Seixas (2004)
surmised that historical consciousness considers how individuals’ and groups’
history knowledge is cultivated through their intellectual and social environ-
ments and how the present helps persons understand the past and how the
past helps them make sense of present.
K-12 history curriculum and the development of historical consciousness
through narrative, the use of history, and historical culture has a Western prob-
lem. Although there are several principles that encompass historical conscious-
ness (see Seixas, 2004), I am interested in preservice teachers understanding
the contextual and cultural considerations that de-emphasis hegemonic Western
epistemologies and promotes how different ways history is understood, used,
and manufactured. In other words, do preservice teachers understand Black
history through the lens of the oppressor or do their discourse represent a lib-
eratory rendering of history that includes “Black” perspectives?
To do this, I use Black critical theory to help theorize the “specificity of
Blackness” (Dumas & ross, 2016, p. 417) in Black history. Dumas and ross’s
(2016) ideological expansion of Black critical theory or Black Crit, an intel-
lectual branch of and response to Critical Race Theory, is based on the need
to have developing theories of Blackness. They argue that while critical race
theory’s foundation was based on “a decidedly Black theorization of race” (p.
416), CRT’s theorization is only race and racism, not a theory of Blackness.
Therefore, a critical race theory analysis can use Blackness as a mechanism
to explain racism and White Supremacy. Black Crit, however, promotes “a
critical theorization of Blackness [that] confronts antiblackness, as a social
construction, as an embodied lived experience of social suffering and resis-
tance” that recognizes how Blackness “is a despised thing-in-itself” as com-
pared “to all that is pure, human(e) and White” (Dumas & ross, 2016, pp.
Black Crit has three developing principles: anti-Blackness as endemic in
human life, Blackness as contentious with neoliberalism and noncritical mul-
ticulturalism, and a resistance of revisionist history that sanitizes Whiteness.
King 7
A Black Crit analysis within a Black history consciousness framework entails
that ideas of anti-Blackness and Whiteness are salient points in understanding
the histories of Black people, Black history narratives are independent of
noncritical multiculturalism with its own genre and set of historical contexts,
and Blackness is intersectional, global, and should be recognized through
complex human lenses.
Black Crit works well with diaspora literacy and historical consciousness
because the three concepts attempt to theorize historical knowledge and how
individuals come to know history. Yet, historical consciousness does not nec-
essarily equal the knowledge about Black humanity. Based on historical con-
sciousness’s connection to academic and popular history and given the
historically contentiousness, monocultural, and non-humanistic approaches
of the genre to Black history, diaspora literacy and Black critical theory helps
balance hegemony and situate the humanity of Blackness, therefore, develop-
ing a Black historical consciousness.
My question concerning Black historical consciousness, therefore, is
largely based on those cultural factors that influence the way we interpret
history. It is no secret that history’s invention of Blackness operated as a key
apparatus in adhering to and sustaining racial hierarchies in racial states.
Although school-related history has become more diverse in terms of quanti-
tative renderings of Blackness, scholars maintain that, qualitatively, the nar-
ratives continue to sustain troublesome knowledge negating Blackness as
truly legitimate. Therefore, any conversations surrounding historical con-
sciousness that focuses on Black history, in Western contexts, should be
examined more closely given that historic forms of Blackness were (and still
are) based on a Western historical fallacy.
Seven preservice teachers, consisting of elementary and secondary majors,
were part of the 2010 and 2011 studies, during the spring semesters, at
Southwest University. The elementary preservice teachers were educated as
generalist with certifications ranging from Pre-K through 6 with an English
as a Second Language (ESL) endorsement. Secondary students major in a
liberal arts subject (social studies related) and matriculate to a subject empha-
sis era in the College of Education after their sophomore year. Both programs
required more than 100 hours of fieldwork before graduation.
The elementary program had one official course designated as a diversity
requirement whereas the secondary program did not have any official diversity
8 Urban Education 00(0)
courses. Both majors used other core classes to engage with diversity-related
topics. For example, the elementary preservice teachers completed journey
box assignments (Alarcon, Holmes, & Bybee, 2015), which were staples in
their social studies methods courses. The journey box focused on diverse con-
tent. The secondary social studies majors engaged in a class project based on
the book Lies My Teacher Told Me (Loewen, 2007). The assignment required
preservice teachers to examine how U.S. history textbooks distort the history of
historically marginalized groups. The preservice teachers point out these defi-
ciencies and revise the content with critical narratives (Castro, 2014). Both the
journey boxes and the Loewen project allowed the preservice teachers to not
only engage with Black history but also think through the curricular and
instructional complexities of the subject.
Who Are the Preservice Teachers?
Preservice teachers were purposefully selected using a criterion where I iden-
tified them as developing cultural-relevant teachers and their willingness to
participate in A Winding River, a Black history summer reading program (L.
J. King, 2014a, 2016). I selected the secondary social studies preservice
teachers because I served as the cohort’s university supervisor. I relied on
nominations from faculty and other university supervisors for recruiting the
elementary preservice teachers. Cynthia, Santiago, Amelia, Jason, and Andres
were the secondary majors while Angela and Denise were elementary majors
(see Table 1). The study was conducted the semester before each preservice
teachers’ student teaching experience.
Cynthia is a White woman in her early 20s from a large metropolitan city in
a state in the Southwestern part of the United States. Cynthia student-taught
11th-grade U.S. history at a middle-class suburban high school. A former nanny
and government major, Cynthia saw teaching as a profession with which she
had flexibility in her schedule that would allow her to start a family. Although
she moved with her parents to four different states as a young child and attended
school with Hispanic and Black students, she classified herself as an “average”
White girl who does not know a lot about “other” cultures. She was excited to
be a part of the study because she wanted to know more about Black history to
be able to teach about complex issues in history such as race. She also wanted
more knowledge because she feared that she would say the wrong “facts” about
Black history, which will lead to more inaccurate information. She also wanted
to learn more because she hates that the United States is so racist and she wants
to be part of the solution by properly teaching Black history.
Santiago is a Mexican American man in his early 20s and became a natu-
ralized citizen during the fall of 2010. Originally from Mexico City, Mexico,
King 9
his family moved into the United States when Santiago was 10 years old. He
always had a love for history and because his grandmother in Mexico City
owned a small private school, he was constantly around the field of teaching.
Santiago was limited in his knowledge about Black history. In fact, most of
his knowledge came from outside media sources with a few classes he took
while at Southwestern State University. He wanted to be involved in the
study because it would help him conceptualize Black history in ways that are
more complex. Santiago student-taught 11th-grade U.S. history at a middle-
class suburban high school.
Amelia is a White woman in her early 20s and was a history major with a
minor in education. She identified herself as a feminist and social justice
educator. Her family is from Kansas and she claimed that her ancestors were
influential with helping relocate Black Americans from the south to Kansas
after the Civil War, a historical era after the Civil War called the Exodus of
1879 with the Black migrants called exodusters (Painter, 1992). She was
proud of this linage and wanted to become a teacher because she wanted to
help secondary students to think critically about the past and how it influ-
ences the present. For the past couple of years, she has worked in an instruc-
tional role at both the YMCA and the Boys and Girls club. Those experiences
have helped her to understand the difficulties of some young people and their
life circumstances. Also, those experiences have shaped her to become a
teacher and help young people reach their full potential. As a social justice
educator, she believed that teaching should help uncover injustices in society.
She believed that Black history is the perfect subject within history to be able
to teach about inequities in society. Amelia student-taught at a high academic
performing predominately White high school.
Angela is a Black woman and was a preservice elementary education major
in her mid-20s. She grew up in a small bedroom community outside a major
metropolitan area and stated that she was one of a handful of Black students
attending her schools throughout her K-12 experience. Although she was
identified with being Black, she admits that she related more to White people
than Black people. She was interested in the study for three reasons. First, she
never was taught anything about Black history in school. Second, she wanted
to make sense of a recent family reunion trip to Georgia where they celebrated
on the former slave plantation of her ancestors. She noted that the experience
for her was surreal and she wanted her daughter to know that part of her his-
tory. Last, she wanted to get a greater sense of who she is through history and
if she has a stronger sense of self, she will be able to facilitate this knowledge
with her students. Angela taught at a racially diverse elementary school.
Denise identified herself as a Black Latina and was an elementary edu-
cation major in her late 20s. Because of her mixed heritage, she stated that
10 Urban Education 00(0)
she struggled with identity issues, especially with the label of being
Black. Mixed with Cuban and Black heritage, she has always wanted to
know the larger story about the African Diaspora. When she was in school,
she hated history. She said that history was not relevant and diverse per-
spectives were left out of the “official curriculum.” However, she became
embarrassed when she could not follow historical movies, so when she
reentered college, the first class she took was Black studies. Since then,
she was able to see its relevance and wanted to be part of this study to
learn more about Black history. Denise taught at a racially mixed subur-
ban elementary school.
Jason O’Brien is a 64-year-old White man and was a history major from a
small town on the western corner of a state in the Southwest. He attended
segregated schools in the 1960s. In fact, he never had a Black student in any
of his classes. Although, he came across Black people in his town at local
parks and became closely associated with Black people through the military.
He decided to attend college after a career in the military and as a manager
for a telecommunication company. He is a self-described autodidactic histo-
rian. He was never a strong student in primary grades but once he became an
adult, he bought history books to learn more about America’s past. His pri-
mary interest was in Texas History and was placed in a Texas history class-
room as his student-teacher placement. His goal was to become a renowned
speaker of anything Texas and teach adult education classes. He wanted to be
part of this study because he admits that he does not know that much about
Black history, especially Texas Black history. He hoped that the study would
provide him the avenue to create new exciting stories. Jason taught at a
racially mixed suburban middle school.
Andreas self-identified himself as an undocumented resident in his early
20s. He was a Government major and was originally from Mexico. He has a
strong social justice stance toward inequalities toward other undocumented
residents. He was the President of a social justice organization at Southwestern
State University, which won a campus-wide award for promoting social jus-
tice at the University. Black history, in his mind, is helpful because it creates
a framework for the fight for rights for undocumented persons. Heavily influ-
enced by the Civil Rights era, he felt that Black Americans and Mexicans,
particularly the ones that are undocumented, are historically linked by similar
experiences. He feels that the ideologies and strategies by Black Civil Rights
workers can be used for what he considers the modern day Civil rights strug-
gle, immigration issues. He wanted to be part of this study to learn about the
agency of Black Americans to help him understand contemporary struggles
of undocumented residents. Andreas taught at an urban large low-socioeco-
nomic Black and Hispanic school.
King 11
Data Sources
Two data sources were used for this study. The first data source involved the
preservice teachers writing a narrative based on the question, what is the
story of Black history? This question achieved agency in the form of writing
a historical narration, which yielded many interpretations. Various interpreta-
tions countered the concept of a historical truth by differentiating between
“what happened” and “that which is said to have happened” (Trouillot, 1995,
p. 2). Historical narratives are not simply telling a story based on facts or
evidence, it is a sociohistorical process of how an individual interprets his-
tory based on one’s epistemological framings, truths, and perspectives.
Historical narratives are an epistemological and ontological process of how
individuals’ historical interpretations of specific stories of persons and events
intersect with power. Trouillott’s (1995) notion of power conveyed that majori-
tarian groups and institutions control history’s sociohistorical process as a way
Table 1. Participants.
Participants Ethnicity/sex Major
American history
Reason to
Cynthia White
Government Limited
Learn more and help
teach about race
Santiago Latino male History Limited
Better understand
U.S. history
Jason White male History Limited
Be more diverse in
story selections in
Amelia White
History Limited
Learn more about
the injustices in
society and teach
to her students
Angela Black female Elementary
Learn more about
herself and teach
more in her classes
Denise Black female Elementary
Learn more about
herself and teach
more in class
Andreas Latino male Government Limited
knowledge but
specializes in
the Civil Rights
Relate African
American history
to the immigrant
12 Urban Education 00(0)
to justify their humanity and deny or silence others. Power and silences are
essential in understanding preservice teachers’ Black history narratives because
what is silenced largely exhibits power. Although the narrative writing activity
was to gain perspective on what preservice teachers acknowledge is Black his-
tory, I also paid close attention to what Black history was silenced.
The second data source was face-to-face interviews. According to
DeMarrais (2004), interviews are “a process in which a researcher and par-
ticipant engage in a conversation focused on questions related to a research
study” (p. 55). The interview is useful in this setting because it helps the
researcher get beyond the preservice teachers’ written narratives. As Denzin
(2002) posited, interviews allow researchers to enter into a person’s perspec-
tive because what we observe are largely ambiguous. Although the narrative
writing activity was helpful for the preservice teachers to demonstrate their
knowledge of Black history, the interview process allows the researcher to
ask follow-up questions regarding the preservice teachers’ narrative and to
excavate any knowledge they left out of the preceding narrative. The inter-
view served as an additional resource to understand the Black history frame-
works each preservice teacher encompassed.
The interviews were semi-structured (Yin, 2013) to allow me to conduct
guided conversations but make the process more fluid than rigid. The struc-
tured questions such as, overall, what does Black history mean to the creation
of the United States? How do you see Blacks in the framework of U.S. his-
tory? were asked of every participant. These questions focused on their gen-
eral understanding of Black history, the major themes that defined Black
history, and the purpose of Black history to the material development of the
United States (see the appendix).
The less structured questions were specific to individual participants and
some questions developed organically through the duration of the inter-
view. For example, Amelia considered herself a feminist and White ally;
therefore, questions centered more about Black women and their historical
experiences. The less structured interviews took the majority of the inter-
view session and allowed the researcher to understand the nuances of each
participant’s thoughts concerning Black history. Each interview was tape-
recorded and lasted approximately 1 hr in length.
Data Analysis
I carefully read the preservice teachers’ narratives and listened to the different
interviews before transcribing and coding. Qualitative coding techniques
described by Creswell and Maietta (2002) and Merriam (2009) were utilized
in which I read through the narratives and transcribed interviews, divided the
King 13
texts into segments of information, labeled the segments, reduced overlap-
ping codes, and collapsed codes into emergent themes. In addition to these
steps, I examined the theoretical framework in relation to the data, which
allowed me to identify similar language and related concepts. I also con-
ducted member checking, where I presented the preservice teachers with
their transcribed interviews and my descriptions of their Black history knowl-
edge. The preservice teachers were active in the member checking process by
giving suggestions, clearing up misconceptions, and giving constructive
feedback on my writing, which assisted me in the final revisions of my analy-
sis. From these initial analyses, three themes evolved, Black heroes and mes-
siahs, oppression, and empowerment.
Findings: Preservice Teachers’ Black History
In this section, I share the preservice teachers’ perspectives concerning Black
history, which I called frameworks to illustrate what the preservice teachers
thought were important in teaching and understanding Black history. Three
frameworks emerged: Black history as heroes and messiahs, oppression, and
empowerment. Through the findings, I found that the preservice teachers’
historical consciousness about the Black experience identified with White
privilege, Black oppression, and a limited African diaspora knowledge.
Black History Framework 1: Black Heroes and Messiahs
The first framework consisted of a Black history featuring individual heroes
and/or messiahs. Loewen (2007) described heroes as historical figures that are
depicted as “pious, perfect creatures without conflict, pain, credibility or
human interest” (p. 19). Heroes are often constructed as messiahs who have
different sets of morals, values, and sophisticated humane characteristics than
the average or ordinary Black person (Alridge, 2006; A. N. Woodson, 2016).
Messiahs are also exceptional, charismatic, and superhuman and become the
White imagination’s representative of Black America, serving as respectable
Black citizens who are closely connected to a liberal White America.
Hero and messiah narratives were present in all narratives. Similar to
students in Wineburg and Monte-Sano’s (2008) study on famous Americans,
all preservice teachers referenced Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, and
Harriet Tubman. Martin Luther King Jr.’s description was as a religious
leader who believed in nonviolent protest and whereas the preservice teach-
ers understood that the Civil Rights Movement was a collective effort by
many groups and people, King was written as the “main progenitor of the
14 Urban Education 00(0)
movement” (Alridge, 2006, p. 665). Denise wrote, “if it was not because for
King’s sacrifice, we [Black people] may not have gotten those laws passed
when we did.” Jason, who lived through the Civil Rights era, wrote the
King, during that time, was thought of as problem maker, even some in my
family said that . . . I guess that is why he was killed, you know, you cut off the
head of the snake, the body dies.
Jason’s analog of cutting the head of a snake to kill the body, refers to the
thought that King was the primary leader of the movement and if he died, the
movement would die with him.
The preservice teachers also discussed King’s ideology of nonviolent pro-
test. Santiago remarked, “King was really successful with his nonviolent
approach . . . moderate Whites really felt sympathy for Black Americans.”
Santiago continued with acknowledging Malcolm X but stated that Malcolm’s
“approach was just not palatable to moderate Whites.” Angela was a little
critical of nonviolence. “I understand why it [nonviolent protest] was done,
you know, getting beat and water hoses and everything, they got sympathy
from a few White people . . . I don’t know if it was the best strategy.” For
Cynthia, King was a “model American, he stood firm on his beliefs and no
matter what happened, he and others kept calm.” Jason brought some per-
sonal perspective and stated that “while we look at history and laud King, he
was not liked in many White communities . . . despite nonviolence, he still
was considered a troublemaker.” Although Jason attempts to provide a coun-
ter narrative about Martin Luther King Jr. by detailing some personal history,
most thoughts around King as the figurehead nonviolent religious leader is
the common messiah narrative taught in schools (A. N. Woodson, 2016).
Rosa Parks was not identified as a tired seamstress (Carlson, 2003) but
one whose activism was and is underappreciated. Angela stated, “Rosa Parks
is underrated . . . she had a plan to get arrested on that bus because she was an
active member of the NAACP.” Amelia stated that Rosa Parks was a “shero”
and that women like her, “those who participated in the Civil Rights
Movement . . . receive less credit [in the Civil Rights Movement] than people
such as Martin Luther King Jr. and others.” The preservice teachers knew less
of Tubman than King and Parks but their classification of her was consistent.
She was known as the conductor of the underground railroad, as someone
who helped slaves escape the south, and as brave for risking her life for others
to be free.
There were other Black heroes and messiahs briefly mentioned such as
Booker T. Washington, W. E. B. Dubois, Marcus Garvey, and Thurgood
King 15
Marshall. Angela and Amelia both heavily featured Sojourner Truth and her
Ain’t I a Woman speech given at 1851 Ohio Women’s Rights Convention.
Angela’s and Amelia’s discussions were slightly different. Amelia was proud
to connect Sojourner to the overall Women’s right movement, whereas
Angela noted that racial divisions between Black and White women had a
negative historical legacy. Angela surmised,
Sojourner was probably the first Black woman orator . . . but . . . to connect her
to the overall Women’s right movement, might be a stretch given that White
women were not checking on Black women like that.
The heroes/heroines and messiah characteristics are common in how
history curriculum presents narratives. This framework provides an acces-
sible way to introduce history to school children. Some may argue that this
hero/messiah paradigm highlights role models for Black school children to
emulate. This framework is also problematic. According to A. N. Woodson
(2016), the messiah master narratives elicit messages about civic identity
and agency that can be detrimental in how youth see themselves and
respond as civic actors. Messiah messages promote ideas that if you do not
put yourself at extreme risk, are not a devout Christian, or considered spe-
cial, your brand of civic engagement is less valued (A. N. Woodson, 2016).
Therefore, youth, particularly Black youth, might not actively instigate
societal change.
Black History Framework 2: Oppression
The second framework was a Black history steeped in oppression through
embedded racism and structural inequalities. Feagin (2013) defined oppres-
sion as “the exploitative practices of Whites, the unjustly gained socioeco-
nomic resources and assets of Whites, and the long term maintenance of
major socioeconomic inequalities [along] rigid color line” (p. 2). Oppression
is simply not about individual racial prejudice but about systems and institu-
tions that reinforce racial hierarchy. Oppression, therefore, is imbedded in the
United States’s material, social, and ideological reality, which is situated
around Whiteness through ideology, attitudes, emotions, habits, actions, and
institutions (Feagin, 2013). The oppression framework is twofold. The first
type of oppression is through institutionalized White supremacy or archetype
oppression framework (Feagin, 2013). The second is the idea of a self-
inflicted oppression.
16 Urban Education 00(0)
Archetypal oppression. Archetypal oppression is what some racial theorist
classify as systemic racism. Feagan (2013) explained that White oppression
of Black Americans is archetypal because it is the original model on which
White’s treatment of other non-European groups is patterned. Similar to Crit-
ical Race theorist who explain the permanence of racism as a U.S. historical
tradition that continues into today, Feagan’s ideas historically situates the
origins of anti-Black racism (or as he calls White-on-Black oppression) and
traces how the foundation of racism continues as a powerful mechanism
establishing White racial dominance and hierarchies. Although not as
nuanced as racial theorists, many of the preservice teachers identified hege-
monic institutions, policies, and practices that continued to contribute to anti-
Black racism.
For example, Jason stated,
[U.S. history] is a story of strong and powerful people moving through this
continent and bringing other people to work for them either as indentured
servants or slaves. There has always been an oligarchy in every society where
the rich and powerful control a few, this country is no different . . . The Civil
War did change arrangements politically, but it did not change too much, it
[Governmental policies] was always about semantics. There still consist cycles
of poverty because of the traditions of oppression.
Angela elaborated on Jason’s point by arguing that U.S. history represents
justifications for oppression:
[U.S. history] is all about expansion . . . They don’t tell the truth. It is so watered
down. It is controversial . . . I feel that U.S. history has a lot to do with who is
dominating the country and why Black people are oppressed . . . I think that is
what we do here is take over things and we claim them as ours even when they
belong to other people. We try to find a justification even if it is a lie.
Jason’s interpretation focuses on how oppression is an inherent strategy for
privileged groups to maintain power. He stopped short of arguing that the
United States is guilty, instead placed the onus that every society uses race
and racism as one of the many determining factors in oppressive policies. He
provides a more socioeconomic analysis as to the cause of oppression. Later
in his interview, he explained that the socioeconomic analysis and Black
oppression are intertwined given that the legacy of slavery and other anti-
Black policies were established to keep Black Americans poor. Angela, how-
ever, was direct in speaking to the United States’s role as a racial and
hegemonic state. When asked to expound on this statement, she explained
that the “U.S. history curriculum lies, it never explains why Black people are
King 17
in the condition that they are in.” She remarks that U.S. history makes it seem
as “Black people just can’t get right . . . it [rarely] explains the consistent rac-
ism displayed by institutions that keep Black people from really achieving.”
Andreas agreed with Angela’s points as he provided comments on how the
official narratives mislead students into believing in racial progression of the
United States. Explaining the cycle of oppression in the United States,
Andreas makes the point that “First, of all, there was a forced migration, there
was slaves until the 1860s and then they were freed but they were not really
freed.” He goes on to explain that traditional history paints “a picture that
after emancipation the federal government helped Black Americans achieve
full citizenship and equal rights. The narratives fail to recognize the institu-
tional forces that served as barriers for those goals.” What both Andreas and
Angela emphasize is an understanding that powerful groups with agendas
manufacture history. These accepted forms of knowledge were mainstreamed
and are considered to be neutral; therefore, Black history becomes watered
down and does not elicit a critical disposition toward complexities of race
and racism and how the system continues oppression.
Self-inflicted oppression. Despite the majority of preservice teachers under-
standing that systemic oppression is prevalent, a few narratives also accused
Black people as responsible for their oppression. A popular narrative the pre-
service teachers told was about enslavement. Although explaining the begin-
nings of the transatlantic slave trade, many talked about how Africans
practiced slavery or Africans sold other Africans into bondage for the
exchange of rum and guns. Both phrases are historically accurate but infer a
certain idea about Blackness and limit the responsibility of European coun-
tries who participated in the institution of slavery.
Take Jason’s, Andreas’s, and Angela’s comments and distinctive interpre-
tations regarding the Atlantic slave trade, African slavery, and Black history.
Jason began his interview by explaining that the institution of slavery in the
United States was an extension of the global slave culture, one that has always
emphasized the powerful over the weak. He surmises,
the U.S. is simply a subset of the mindset of global oppression, which the
United States was no different . . . “Every society, particularly advance cultures
had some form of slavery, Africans had slaves, in which they sold to U.S.
businesses.” U.S. slavery, therefore, would not have happened if Africans did
not assist in the capture of millions of their own people.
By framing the United States’s involvement with the institution of slavery as
a result of a global phenomenon, he relinquishes some of the United States’s
18 Urban Education 00(0)
involvement and responsibility as an oppressive racial state. Jason deflected
negative connotations of United States’s involvement in slavery. He sur-
mised, “every [society] in the world had strong people force people [slaves]
to work for them. The U.S. is no different.” The institution of slavery, there-
fore, is considered normal for its time but the morality of Africans was ques-
tioned but not of the European countries.
Andreas echoed the morality of Africans for having a slave society and
trading enslaved people to European countries. He commented,
the sad part [of United States slavery] was that many [African people] were
sold by their own people, by other African chiefs . . . Slavery in U.S. society
was bad, but slavery in African societies was worse because they were of the
same lineage . . . I guess there was no unity between the countries of Africa
because how could you do that to similar people and for a few items.
Andreas provided some dichotomous comments regarding Africans’ involve-
ment in the institution of slavery, both national and international. First, simi-
lar to Jason, he questioned the morality of African ethnic groups in practicing
slavery among each other. Andreas’s comment about Africans “being of the
same linage” denotes a presentism thinking regarding race and racism—that
Africans saw themselves as of the same racial beings despite no official label-
ing of any kind. The failure to see Africans as distinct and separate ethnic
groups (similar to how Europeans saw themselves) results in an essentializa-
tion of Blackness, which made it easy for Jason and Andreas to question the
morality of Africans.
Only Angela provided a critical juxtaposition between the institutions of
slavery in Africa and the United States. She surmised,
[Slavery] started with African tribes selling other African tribes in slavery . . .
Slave culture in the U.S. was very different from slave culture in other places.
It was based on economics. Built this country off of slavery . . . I know here in
the U.S., slavery with Black Americans was a [more] brutal ritual than in other
places as far as the treatment [of slaves]. They [U.S. government] viewed us as
property . . . They did not see our humanity.
Similar to scholars (Johnson & Smith, 1999; Thornton, 1998), Angela tried to
explain the nuances of African and U.S.-based slavery. She explained that
enslavement in African societies involved more kindred relationships whereas
the U.S. version encompassed the ideas of economics and a racial stratifica-
tion in which Black humanity was lost. Yet, Angela’s beginning phrase “It
[slavery] started with African tribes selling other African tribes in slavery”
can be interpreted that she blamed African societies for what was to become
King 19
Westernized forms of slavery based on economics and racial hierarchies. She
differed from Andreas and Jason as she did not infer a moral judgment of the
African societies and ensured that the United States did not get a pass for its
African slavery and African selling Africans axioms are contentious and
decontextualized narratives that ignore the complexity in culture, ethnicities,
and the social construction of race. Conceptualizing Africans into one mono-
cultural group lessens the impact of U.S. slavery. In other words, questioning
Africans’ morality, and situating the institution of slavery is a global phenom-
enon, the United States’s involvement with enslavement, albeit troubling and
immoral, was only a representative of the times.
Black History Framework 3: Empowerment
Third, preservice teachers found Black history empowering. Based on the
early frameworks of oppression, a few preservice teachers remarked that it
was amazing that Black people had survived that history. They recognized
that systemic oppression has limited many Black Americans from advancing
politically, socially, and economically. They also acknowledged that many
are doing well today despite those impediments. Santiago proclaimed that
Black history is a source of inspiration and empowerment for U.S. citizens
because African Americans in history were “outstanding people achieving
and overcoming obstacles.” Cynthia agreed stating that, “Black history is
representative of the American dream and it embodies the American spirit.
[For] a people, to come out of such dire circumstances and now look at how
much [African Americans] have achieved, it is an American story.” This pro-
gressive “American” story was highlighted by many preservice teachers
mentioning the achievement of Barack Obama, who some may consider the
United States’s first Black president. Angela remarked, “I am not going to lie,
having a Black president after all the stuff, we went through is amazing.”
Denise echoed Angela’s sentiments, “it was only a generation ago that saw
White people spraying water on [Black] protesters during the Civil Rights era
. . . now we have a Black president, what an inspiration.”
Cynthia noted, Black history has influenced every part of our lives and is
indicative of “our [United States] struggles with race and our success in pass-
ing laws [and] to circumvent past racial aggressions.” She resumed, “Despite
the odds and despite being hated and treated horrible [Black people] can live,
survive, and come out [of oppression] and make the country better.” In her
view, the struggles that Black Americans faced in the country helped
strengthen policies and ideologies concerning race, which she noted was the
United States’s most serious and dangerous issue. Santiago agreed and felt
20 Urban Education 00(0)
that Black Americans, despite their troubled history [with race and oppres-
sion] now have the “opportunity to succeed, therefore, their story is empow-
ering, inspiring, and is representative of American ideas of democracy.”
These preservice teachers believed that democracy prevailed and Black
history is representative of overcoming racial discrimination. The Civil
Rights Movement was the historical example given by Cynthia and Santiago
as indicative of the American dream. Although they understood that racism
existed after the Civil Rights Movement, they felt that the Voting Rights Act,
Bus boycotts, and the March on Washington were all influential in creating a
new racial state in America. It was also representative of the American spirit
to “fight” for freedom as Santiago elaborated, “[Civil Rights] influenced
whole communities and governments to do something.” In a sense, these
preservice teachers saw a progressive Black history, one that is representative
of the American story and overcoming struggle and succeeding to the
American ideas of democracy.
Andreas surmised that the [Black] Civil Rights Movement was not only a
historical lesson on liberation but could also serve as a current case study for
other racial and ethnic groups attempting to obtain equity. Andreas believed
that the Civil Rights Movement was a blueprint to what he considered the
new Civil Rights Movements for undocumented citizens. “If they [Black
Americans] can achieve rights then we [undocumented immigrants] can do
the same.” Andreas elaborated,
Latinos and undocumented immigrants should study more about African
Americans during the Civil Rights Movement [because] the grassroots efforts
by persons to perform actions such as the sit-ins, protests, and marches are a
framework for how undocumented immigrants can approach citizenship. It
[Civil Rights Movement] worked.
Andreas explained that he believed that Black Americans sacrifice not only
for “their people but for all persons of color.” He expressed that “the Civil
Rights Movement led by Black Americans was part of the reason why he
joined a University based social justice organization.” He elaborated,
The Civil Right movement did great things to establish full citizenship rights
for Blacks and Chicanos. I believe that civil rights are still a problem. I believe
that a big percentage of our population is being discriminated against and
treated as second-class citizens especially immigrants or specifically
undocumented immigrants. I see strategies used by MLK Jr. and other Civil
Rights activists as a guide for me and my organization to help undocumented
citizens obtain [citizenship] rights.
King 21
For Andreas, Black American’s involvement in the Civil Rights Movement
was more than an intellectual admiration, the history served as something
practical and applicable to his everyday life. The strategies borrowed from
the Civil Rights Movement used by his organization included protest marches
to the state capital and singing Mexican protest songs. Even when his organi-
zation won a prestigious University-wide award, he mentioned the struggles
of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement in his speech as a motivator for the
Although Santiago was less social justice–oriented than Andreas, he did
agree that the Latino community could benefit from using Civil Rights as an
application to improve his own community. Santiago stated that the “Civil
Right movement inspires me to impact my community.” He specified that he
felt voting was the quintessential duty for citizens and, without a strong polit-
ical presence, their voice will not be heard collectively. He believed that
Black Americans achieved political success through voting: “Civil Rights
was largely about voting, and voting is big for citizenship. The [Civil Rights]
movement had that type of impact and I want to have that type of impact in
my [Latino] community.”
The three frameworks of heroes/messiahs, oppression, and empowerment pro-
vides a complex understanding of Black history that is both promising and
problematic. In one sense, the preservice teachers were probably more knowl-
edgeable about or at least unafraid to acknowledge certain aspects of Black
history. Unlike many studies, the preservice teachers did not shy away from
discussing the permanence of racial oppression that defined major events of
Black history. Although there were narratives that charged Black people as
responsible for their own demise, systemic oppression, and its connection to
contemporary Black life was a key theme outlined in the majority of the narra-
tives. The systemic oppression narrative and how the preservice teachers con-
nected to contemporary life also made Black history, in Andreas’s, Cynthia’s,
and Santiago’s estimations, empowering. The empowering framework made
Black history practical for a social justice teacher like Andreas, who was fight-
ing for equity in both the classroom and society for undocumented citizens. To
him, Black history was tangible, an intellectual blueprint for civil rights. In
addition, even though a common framework that depicted Black history
through the heroes and messiah paradigm, the preservice teachers attempted to
include historical characters outside the mainstream and provide some sort of
nuances and critical dialogue about mainstream Black heroes and messiahs.
22 Urban Education 00(0)
Discussion and Conclusion
Returning to my research question, do preservice teachers understand Black
history through the lens of the oppressor or do their discourses represent a
liberatory rendering of history that includes “Black” perspectives? The preser-
vice teachers’ Black history frameworks may seem promising given that these
preservice teachers were more knowledgeable in Black history and systemic
oppression than previous research studies (Wills, 2001). Yet, being histori-
cally conscious is more than knowledge acquisition. Historical consciousness
encompasses epistemological, ontological, and axiological concerns that rec-
ognize that history is not solely about the past but how we view the present.
Historical consciousness identifies history as a source of identity and power.
This recognition becomes extremely important when we consider teachers’
Black history knowledge (or lack thereof) and how that knowledge relates to
Black children’s material experiences in schools. In others words, how we
interpret Black history, associated with how we act according to our knowl-
edge, is closely related to how society treats (through policies, discourses,
socioeconomic opportunities) contemporary Black people.
I have examined the data through a Black historical conscious framework,
which takes into consideration preservice teachers’ knowledge about the
Diaspora and how their narratives critically engaged with the notions of
Black Critical theory. Diaspora literacy considers how persons understand
Blackness as a global phenomenon. It is recognizing that Blackness is com-
plex, socially constructed, and intersectional. Diaspora literacy and Black
history connects because to get an understanding, to be historical conscious
about Blackness, is to be in tune with how Black people’s experiences are
different, yet interconnected through linage. The only connection the preser-
vice teachers had with the Diaspora was comments related to oppression and
the Africans selling Africans remarks, which inferred an uncomplicated dis-
course that Black people were agents in their oppression.
The connection to the Diaspora through slavery is problematic because the
slavery paradigm keeps Blackness in a constant state of enslavement, which
implies that Black people’s rightful place is at the bottom of the racial hierar-
chy. Black people as solely slaves have implications to how Black people are
seen in the contemporary. The negative discourse concerning Black activism
or Black Lives Matter are examples of an ideology that Blacks have little
rights to complain or even ask for equity under the law. Blacks are to be con-
trolled, that law and order needs to be established, and restrictions to Black
democracy is seen as appropriate responses. In that way, Black demonstra-
tions for liberation are always met with contention whether it marching,
kneeling during a patriotic ritual, or even typing the phrase #BlacklivesMatter
King 23
is considered deleterious because historically, Blacks were never meant to be
part of the body politic. Blacks were not involved in the intellectual exercise
of democracy; therefore, the appropriateness of their demonstrations cannot
be defined. Black people were property so it is not a stretch to consider the
implications of a history that situates them as only slaves, who passively
accepted their fates, and was given their freedom by sympathetic Whites, to
have an effect over the legitimacy of their liberatory stances.
Preservice teachers’ Black history narratives examined through a Black
Crit framework provides more complex. First, Black Crit exposes how “anti-
blackness is endemic to, and is central to how all of us make sense of the
social, economic, historical, and cultural dimensions of human life” (p. 15).
It could be argued that the preservice teachers’ knowledge about systemic
racism and connecting to contemporary race relations that begun with the
transatlantic slave trade and endured throughout U.S. enslavement has ele-
ments that expose anti-Black histories within the official curriculum. Yet,
phrasing that Africans sold Africans as a way to indict Blackness were anti-
Black sentiments. This dichotomous viewing of Black history steeped in
oppression but self-inflicted, eradicates any serious anti-Black critiques to
the official history curriculum. Instead, this rhetoric is closely tied to liberal
multiculturalism, which Black critical theory attempts to disrupt.
Exposing anti-Blackness is important within Black history frameworks to
combat neoliberal multicultural reformers who have sanitized Black history
to exclude notions of White supremacy, racism, and anti-Blackness.
Preservice teachers such as Jason were guilty of expressing a more liberal
multiculturalist view toward Black history by presenting his narratives
through color-blind and everyone’s the same rhetoric. Black critical theory
within Black history is naturally contentious to liberal notions of multicultur-
alism because Black history, in this mode, is not White history. What I mean
is that aligning Black history to the existing White narrative becomes an
extension to White history, not Black history. Black history is forced within
frameworks, topics, and narratives meant to exclude Blackness.
Within this paradigm, a White epistemic logic is used to explain the his-
torical behaviors of Black people. White epistemic logic assumes that White
and Black historical experiences and the behaviors associated with those his-
tories are the same. White epistemic logic situates history as just that, history,
and not the multiple histories that help develop a historical consciousness.
White epistemic logic provides for a curriculum that teaches about Black his-
tory and not through Black history.
To push against the White epistemic logic is to transform and disrupt the
current rendition of history education, that is, to build Black histories through
its own frameworks and paradigms, and inquire without intrusion of Whiteness.
24 Urban Education 00(0)
This does not mean that White people cannot be included in some narrative if
historical pertinent, what it means is that Whiteness does not drive the Black
narratives. For example, the preservice teachers noted that nonviolence was a
salient aspect of Black civil rights history. This idea is closely aligned with a
White paradigm that coveted a certain passiveness about Black liberation.
This is the tension between liberal multiculturalism and Black history, that the
historical trajectories, epistemologies, and culture are just different. Stated
another way, what is historical importance to Black people can be independent
from White historical frameworks.
In reimagining, this new Black history is part of a liberatory praxis, Black
Crit’s third principle. Key to creating a Black liberating space is to not let
Whiteness off the hook. There again lies the tension with liberal multicultur-
alism, which too often excuses White supremacy as a relic without holding it
accountable for racial hierarchy. Here a Black history that elicits a liberatory
space speaks to the real histories of Blackness that directly attacks Whiteness
through various mediums. Therefore, nonviolence is not favored as accept-
able Black agency, Black agency includes many forms including physical
violence against Whiteness that attempts to dehumanize and silence Blackness
as legitimate life.
What I am concerned with a Black critical theory framework in Black his-
tory is the tendency to not balance anti-Blackness with Black agency. Without
Black agency to balance oppression within anti-Blackness, Black history
falls into the trap of being part of a Black suffering narrative. A Black suffer-
ing narrative is twofold. First, Blackness is defined through its pain and may
imply that suffering is the very fabric of Black life histories. Black suffering
becomes normalized and infers a certain passive acceptance to these condi-
tions. As a result, Black humanity is one-sided. Second, Black suffering con-
structs a sympathetic lens. Black history is not about developing sympathetic
figures but to expose how their humanity shaped and constructed world ide-
ologies and practice. Black people can be filtered through a paternalistic lens
seeking to fix and correct Black pathology instead of seeking from Black
people solutions for U.S. democracy that uphold egalitarian ideas.
The quest for a critical Black history is difficult. For more than a century,
Black history has been part of an educational discourse to help Black students
gain a sense of one’s self (L. J. King, 2014b). To Whites and Others, Black
history is used to show their full humanity. Yet, we are still struggling with
those concepts. It proves difficult to get what Dagbovie (2010) described as
a “balance[d] themes of victimization and oppression, and perseverance and
resistance, constantly acknowledging and highlighting Black agency and
subtle forms of resistance without trivializing the multitude of tragedies and
setbacks that African Americans have encountered for centuries” (p. 51).
King 25
What is needed is a total transformation of what is known to be Black history.
It begins with setting a Black history framework that not only tells history but
also informs the present and present Black history holistically and humanely.
Teacher education can have a place in this new exploration.
Pre-Interview Protocol
1. In your opinion, what were the most influential events in United
States and world history and why?
2. How many United States/history classes have you had? What were
the titles and subjects explored in those classes?
3. How was Black history taught in those history classes? Who were the
common Black people taught during these classes? Which events
were highlighted as important to the building of the United States?
4. How many classes have you had concerning Black history (high
school, college)?
5. How has Black history been integrated in other social studies–spe-
cific courses such as government, economics, and world geography?
6. Overall, what does Black history mean to the creation of the United
States and World History?
7. How has Black history shaped your understandings of Black
8. What other influences other than history classes inform your knowl-
edge about Black history? Be specific (TV, documentaries, trade
books, Internet). How has that shaped your understandings about
Black history?
9. What are your understandings and/definitions of the following:
a. Africans, African slave trade, middle passage, and slave culture in
the United States
b. Race, slavery, and Black people
c. Black American influences during and after reconstruction
d. Black people quest for full citizenship/Quest for freedom
e. Black women and their unique experiences
f. Racial violence against Black people (i.e., lynching)
g. Influential Black civil rights icons (specifically pre-1960s)
h. Contemporary and historic racial issues
10. How have you taught about Black history–related issues during the
course of your teacher preparation program?
26 Urban Education 00(0)
11. Are there any challenges that you may see teaching Black history dur-
ing your student teaching?
12. What do you want to know more about Black history?
13. How would Black history knowledge influence what you do as a
teacher and as a person?
14. How do you think this project will affect your instruction in the
15. In what ways have your cooperative teachers used Black history in
their classrooms?
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research,
authorship, and/or publication of this article.
The author(s) received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publi-
cation of this article.
Alarcon, J., Holmes, K., & Bybee, E. (2015). Historical thinking inside the box:
Preservice elementary teachers use journey boxes to craft counter narratives. The
Social Studies, 106, 186-192.
Alridge, D. (2006). The limits of master narratives in history textbooks: An analysis of
representation of Martin Luther King, Jr. Teachers College Record, 108, 662-686.
Asante, M. (2011). Afrocentric idea revised. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University
Banks, J. A. (1994). An introduction to multicultural education. Boston, MA: Allyn
& Bacon.
Brown, A. L., & Brown, K. D. (2010). Strange fruit indeed: Interrogating contem-
porary textbook representations of racial violence toward African Americans.
Teachers College Record, 112, 31-67.
Brown, K. D., & Kraehe, A. (2010). When you’ve only got one class, one chance:
Acquiring sociocultural knowledge using eclectic case pedagogy. Teaching
Education, 21, 313-328.
Carlson, D. (2003). Troubling heroes: Of Rosa Parks, multicultural education, and
critical pedagogy. Cultural Studies Critical Methodologies, 3, 44-61.
Castro, A. J. (2014). The role of teacher education in preparing teachers for critical
multicultural citizenship. The Journal of Social Studies Research, 38, 189-203.
Clark, V. (2009). Developing diaspora literacy and marasa consciousness. In H.
Spillers (Ed.), Comparative American identities (pp. 41-61). New York, NY:
King 27
Creswell, J. W., & Maietta, R. C. (2002). Qualitative research. In Handbook of
research design and social measurement (pp. 143-184), Thousand Oaks, CA:
Sage Publications.
Dagbovie, P. G. (2010). African American history reconsidered. Champaign-Urbana:
University of Illinois Press.
DeMarrais, K. (2004). Qualitative interview studies: Learning through experience.
In Foundations for research: Methods of inquiry in education and the social sci-
ences (pp. 51-68), Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Denzin, N. K. (2002). The interpretive process. In M. Huberman & M. B. Miles
(Eds.), The qualitative researcher’s companion (pp. 340-368). Thousand Oaks,
Dubois, W. E. B. (1973). Black reconstruction in America, 1860-1880. New York,
NY: Atheneum.
Dumas, M. J., & ross, k. m. (2016). “Be real Black for me”: Imagining BlackCrit in
education. Urban Education, 51, 415-442.
Espenshade, T. J., & Radford, A. W. (2009). No longer separate, not yet equal: Race
and class in elite college admission and campus life. Princeton, NJ: Princeton
University Press.
Feagin, J. (2013). Systemic racism: A theory of oppression. New York, NY: Routledge.
Funkenstein, A. (1989). Collective memory and historical consciousness. History &
Memory, 1(1), 5-26.
Gay, G. (2010). Culturally responsive teaching: Theory, research, and practice. New
York, NY: Teachers College Press.
Gorski, P. C. (2009). What we’re teaching teachers: An analysis of multicultural
teacher education coursework syllabi. Teaching and Teacher Education, 25,
Johnson, C., & Smith, P. (1999). Africans in America: America’s journey through
slavery. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
King, J. E. (1992). Diaspora literacy and consciousness in the struggle against mise-
ducation in the Black community. The Journal of Negro Education, 61, 317-340.
King, L. J. (2014a). Learning other people’s history: Teacher candidates developing
African American historical knowledge. Teaching Education, 25, 427-456. doi:1
King, L. J. (2014b). When Lions write history: Black history textbooks, African
American educators, and the alternative black curriculum in social studies educa-
tion, 1890-1940. Multicultural Education, 22(1), 2-11.
King, L. J. (2016). Teaching Black History as a racial literacy project. Race Ethnicity
and Education, 19, 1303-1318.
King, L. J. (2017). The status of Black history in U.S. Schools and Society. Social
Education, 81(1), 14-18.
Ladson-Billings, G., & Tate, W. F. (1995). Toward a critical race theory of education.
Teachers College Record, 97(1), 47-68.
Lewis, E. (1995). To turn as on a pivot: Writing African Americans into a history of
overlapping diasporas. The American Historical Review, 100, 765-787.
28 Urban Education 00(0)
Loewen, J. W. (2007). Lies my teacher told me: Everything your American history
textbook got wrong. New York, NY: The New Press.
Merriam, S. B. (2009). Qualitative research: A guide to design and interpretation.
San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Milner, H. R. (2003). Teacher reflection and race in cultural contexts: History, mean-
ings, and methods in teaching. Theory Into Practice, 42, 173-180.
Milner, H. R. (2006). Preservice teachers’ learning about cultural and racial diversity:
Implications for urban education. Urban Education, 41, 343-375.
Painter, N. I. (1992). Exodusters: Black migration to Kansas after reconstruction. W.
W. Norton: New York, NY.
Sealey-Ruiz, Y., & Greene, P. (2015). Popular visual images and the (mis) reading of
Black male youth: A case for racial literacy in urban preservice teacher educa-
tion. Teaching Education, 26, 55-76.
Seixas, P. C. (2004). Theorizing historical consciousness. Toronto, Ontario, Canada:
University of Toronto Press.
Thornhill, T. E. (2016). Resistance and assent: How racial socialization shapes Black
students’ experience learning African American history in high school. Urban
Education, 51, 1126-1151. doi:10.1177/0042085914566094
Thornton, J. (1998). Africa and Africans in the making of the Atlantic world, 1400-
1800. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.
Thorp, R. (2014). Towards an epistemological theory of historical consciousness.
Historical Encounters, 1(1), 20-31.
Trouillot, M. R. (1995). Silencing the past: Power and the production of history.
Boston, MA: Beacon Press.
Walker, V. S. (1996). Their highest potential: An African American school commu-
nity in the segregated South. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.
Watkins, W. H. (2001). The White architects of Black education: Ideology and power
in America, 1865-1954. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.
Wills, J. S. (2001). Missing in interaction: Diversity, narrative, and critical multicul-
tural social studies. Theory & Research in Social Education, 29, 43-64.
Wineburg, S., & Monte-Sano, C. (2008). “Famous Americans”: The changing pan-
theon of American heroes. The Journal of American History, 94, 1186-1202.
Woodson, A. N. (2016). We’re just ordinary people: Messianic master narratives
and Black youths’ civic agency. Theory & Research in Social Education, 44,
Woodson, C. G. (2006). The mis-education of the Negro. Trenton, NJ: Africa World
Wynter, S. (1992). Do not call us Negros: How “multicultural” textbooks perpetuate
racism. San Francisco, CA: Aspire.
Yin, R. K. (2013). Case study research: Design and methods. Thousand Oaks: SAGE.
Author Biography
LaGarrett J. King is an assistant professor of social studies education and affiliated
faculty member in Black studies and the Kinder Institute for Constitution Democracy
King 29
at the University of Missouri, Columbia. His research interests include Black history
education, critical theories of race, social studies/curriculum history, and critical mul-
ticultural teacher education. His work has been published in Theory and Research in
Social Education; Race, Ethnicity, and Education; Teaching Education; and the
Journal of Negro Education.
... H. Wu et al., 2021), increased discussions about racial bias and racism within the home (Sullivan et al., 2021), and the development of racial equality programs in higher education (Ash et al., 2020). There has furthermore been an interest developing educational curricula focused specifically on American Black history (King, 2019;Tosolt, 2020). ...
There is limited understanding of how perceptions of racially discriminatory policing are complicated by ethnicity, particularly among Black Muslims. Given the dual-pronged discrimination they likely experience, this study examines how racial and Muslim identity, systemic racism, and knowledge of Black history influence perceptions of police respectfulness and stop legitimacy among a nationwide sample of Black Muslims. Results determined a negative relationship between perceptions of racism as a major problem in America and police respectfulness and a positive relationship between knowledge of Black history and illegitimate stops. These findings support the continued implementation of policies to eliminate racism and develop a broader understanding of American Black history, as well as speak to the benefits of ongoing police reforms in this regard.
For decades, scholarship on preservice social studies teacher education in the United States has grappled with the unsystematic nature of research in this field. Given the broad and enduring attempt to overcome these divisions, however, it is noteworthy that there has not been a recent attempt to systematically categorize those divisions. This literature review analyzes 139 articles published between 2009 and 2019 through the lens of the divisions between “traditional,” “disciplinary,” and “critical” strands of social studies research on teacher education. Results indicate that disciplinary and critical strands dominate the contemporary literature and provide two distinct research agendas for understanding the development of new social studies teachers. Reconsidering social studies teacher education as a field containing two divergent systems, this review maps the fault lines defining the field and explores how it might respond to those divisions in ways that are meaningful for researchers, students, and practitioners. © 2022 College and University Faculty Assembly of National Council for the Social Studies.
In this study, we examine how race and racism impact the schooling of African American males by analyzing the first-person perspective of hip-hop superstar, Nasir “Nas” Jones. We selected Nas due to his unique yet prevalent educational trajectory and perspectives. Critical race theory is employed as a framework as well as notions of Sankofa methodology and literary analysis to investigate his music, documentaries, and an open letter whereby he critiques the public school system while providing academic ideas to engage and inspire Black students. Studies about Black males routinely focus on their subpar academic performance with the intention of “correcting” these behaviors. We utilize the experiences of Nas to reframe the conversation and provide nuanced insight into Black educational experiences instead of perpetuating recycled, bleak narratives. This article concludes with suggestions for educators to better serve African American males in the Pre K-12 academic context.
Teachers often think of curriculum as a static set of written content. However, in college level multicultural education (ME) classes, this kind of curriculum rarely provides the student input necessary for authentic transformation. As a result, pre-service teachers lack the ability to understand how their biases and assumptions negatively impact their students. This phenomenon coupled with pre-service teachers' negative associations with terms like “white privilege” and “deficit perspective” beg the question: How can White educators provide positive experiences that result in high levels of cultural competence among White teachers, who make up the workforce majority? With this question in mind, the author set out to create the “red bandanna experiment,” a lived curriculum-as-racialized-text experience in present time that relies on both teacher and student input. Ultimately, the experiment allowed for her own critical engagement with curriculum artifacts and also gave students a positive outlet for engaging with their own biases and assumptions.
Research into education for librarianship has failed to explore the historical development of the subject or to establish the social and cultural contexts within which it developed. Such historical background and context are essential for exploring and understanding issues of race and of systemic and institutionalized racism. Historical methodology, coupled with the revisionist history of Critical Race Theory, asks how the social/institutional structures of white society determined the construction of librarianship and education for librarianship in the African-American community, explores issues of whiteness and white privilege, and investigates how this influenced African Americans’ perception of the profession and their place and role in it. It addresses intersectionality and essentialism and seeks to understand the thoughts and feelings of the African Americans involved in the process who were disregarded and ignored.
Research has shown that classroom instruction can be precarious when addressing potentially ‘controversial’ issues. Yet, students can benefit from examining the narratives of those who have questioned the merits of United States democratic citizenship. By employing critical childhood studies and windows, mirrors and sliding glass doors as theoretical frameworks and critical hermeneutic phenomenology as its methodology, this study elicits the perspectives of ten first- and second-grade Black male students via interviews and classroom discussions regarding the Colin Kaepernick protest. The findings indicated that counternarratives can be an effective instructional tool for student engagement, authentic expression, and analysis of social phenomenon.
Drawing from the narrated experiences of teacher educators (TEs) at different institutions, this paper analyzes TEs’ perceptions of support related to their work in teaching about race and racism. TEs varied in the extent to which they viewed their institution as supportive, and they identified factors that signaled that their institution supported teacher learning about race and racism. TEs also described how their racial identities and positional privilege related to tenure status informed engagement with peers both for providing and seeking support. Implications for teacher education programs in providing support for TEs who teach about race and racism are discussed.
Full-text available
This article asserts that despite the salience of race in U.S. society, as a topic of scholarly inquiry, it remains untheorized. The article argues for a critical race theoretical perspective in education analogous to that of critical race theory in legal scholarship by developing three propositions: (1) race continues to be significant in the United States; (2) U.S. society is based on property rights rather than human rights; and (3) the intersection of race and property creates an analytical tool for understanding inequity. The article concludes with a look at the limitations of the current multicultural paradigm.
Full-text available
A look at how Black history has evolved over a century.
Full-text available
Critical race scholars have argued that curricular portrayals of the Civil Rights Movement are undermined by master narratives that legitimate the racial status quo. Although many scholars have critiqued Movement master narratives in social studies and society, few studies have examined Black students’ interpretations of such representations and the effects of these representations on their sense of civic agency. In this article, I present ethnographic data that illustrate the function of a specific type of master narrative, messianic master narratives, in 9 Black urban youths’ understandings of historical and contemporary civil rights leadership. Messianic master narratives position an individual as the messiah, savior, or deliverer of an oppressed group. Data provide evidence that messianic master narratives constrain Black youths’ civic agency, specifically by associating civil rights leadership with immense risk, uncritically invoking Judeo–Christian values, and undermining participants’ understandings of historical agency and historical collective action. I conclude by explicating curricular risks associated with messianic master narratives and offering recommendations toward disrupting these narratives in social studies classrooms. Copyright © College and University Faculty Assembly of National Council for the Social Studies.
This book shows how important the African role was in shaping the Atlantic world that developed after the navigational breakthroughs of the fifteenth century. The degree of African initiative displayed in this period is stressed, both by African elites in dealing with the new visitors and trading partners and, even by African slaves in the New World. Evenly divided into sections on Africa and Africans in the New World, this study stresses cultural and institutional backgrounds to Africa and African slaves. Although the book is intended to help Africanists understand how Africans fared in the Americas, its main purpose is to give readers familiar with Afro-American history a fuller and more dynamic vision of Africa, so they can see the African slave as an African and not just as a laborer.
Scholars have long promoted black history as an appropriate space to promote the development of racial literacy. Few research studies, however, have examined how teacher education uses black history as a heuristic to teach about race. Using racial literacy as a framework, this article examined the varied ways four social studies pre-service teachers interpret and taught race through black history. The pre-service teachers were aided by a black history summer reading program dedicated to help them gain the necessary knowledge to teach race through black history. The findings indicated that the pre-service teachers taught race and black history more critical than traditional US history classes but were limited in their presentation of black history and race.
The authors put forward a theorization of a Black Critical Theory, or what might be called BlackCrit, within, and in response to, Critical Race Theory, and then outline ways that BlackCrit in education helps us to more incisively analyze how the specificity of (anti)blackness matters in explaining how Black bodies become marginalized, disregarded, and disdained in schools and other spaces of education.