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Connecticut Locals Want Black History Textbook to Start with Pre-Slavery Era: ‘We Have History Before That’

Black Studies Textbook

‘The African Americans” by Henry Louis Gates Jr. and “Latino Americans” by Ray Suarez were selected as textbooks for Bridgeport’s required ethnic studies courses. (Photo by Linda Conner Lambeck)

Some folks have taken issue with the textbook chosen for a mandated Black History course at Bridgeport, Conn. schools because it doesn’t discuss the era of Black, or African, history prior to slavery.

District leaders have chosen Henry Louis Gate’s Jr’s “The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross” as the required text, but not everyone is happy about it. Writer Donald Yacovone co-authored the history book.

“Our history doesn’t start here,” community member JoAnn Kennedy argued. “This book starts here in America. We have history before that.”

According to the Connecticut Post, Bridgeport is only the second school district in the nation to require all students, beginning with the class of 2020, to take a half-year course in Black Studies, Caribbean/Latin American Studies or Perspectives on Race in order to graduate.

The classes are being developed with the help of a grant and a committee comprised of eight district staff members, while the texts were chosen with the help of consultants. Those consultants will also help train the teachers who’ll be offering the classes this fall, the newspaper reported.

For the African-American Studies course, district leaders turned to David Canton, a professor and director of Connecticut College’s Africana Studies Program. Assistant Superintendent Deborah Santacapita also weighed in, saying Gates’ book was up-to-date and encompassed a nearly 500-year span of history across Africa and other continents.

“We wanted to find a book that not only addressed African-American history but through the lenses of all different people” Santacapita said. “That was hard.”

The $15.45 piece price tag was also a plus for the cash-strapped school district. Leaders hope to purchase at least 800 copies to start with.

This was no consolation to community members like Kennedy who called the book’s lack of content on pre-slavery times a “disservice.”

“This is totally unacceptable,” she griped. “I don’t care how much money you saved on it.”

Kennedy, along with city council member Karen Jackson, grilled the school board’s Teaching and Learning Committee about the selected texts, and complained about the lack of parent input during the selection process, the CT Post reported. Board member Ben Walker replied by explaining that it’s not uncommon for schools to select textbooks without consulting parents and emphasized that the district consulted with experts about the texts that were chosen.

“Nothing is permanent,” Walker said. “In a year or two we may decide they’re not sufficient.”

“We can’t teach the entire history in one semester,” he added. “This is the era we chose.”

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