Michael Hines Recovers the Legacy of Black Educator Madeline MorganHistorians in the News
tags: education, African American history, Chicago, teaching history
In the decades before the second world war, the African American history taught in US public schools was remarkably backwards and racist. Black inferiority was assumed, with Africa seen as a primitive land lacking any great civilizations, slavery a necessary and benevolent institution, and Black people incapable of self-determination. The dismantling of these lies written to serve white people in power was the work of decades – in the first half of the 20th century, an entire generation of activists fought to transform the way Americans educated themselves about Black history, crafting what has been termed the “alternative Black curriculum”.
Among the most remarkable of these individuals was an educator named Madeline Morgan, who created an entire series of lessons for Chicago schools that corrected the record. Morgan’s work educated students on the civilizations that the ancestors of Black Americans originated in, the true horrors of slavery, and the many contributions of Black people to America past and present. Although she is not well-remembered today, at the height of her success Morgan’s educational interventions would become known worldwide, being feted in Time magazine and talked about among powerful politicians and civic leaders.
Morgan’s life and accomplishments are lovingly and assiduously chronicled in historian and educator Michael Hines’s new book A Worthy Piece of Work. This potent and passionate work of scholarship not only sheds light on an important but forgotten historical episode, it also teaches essential lessons for activists today. “Madeline’s demand that the curriculum reflect Black humanity, Black agency, Black accomplishment, Black skill and intelligence are demands that continue to be revolutionary,” Hines said. “We can see it in the work that organizations like Black Lives Matter do in schools today, or the demands of organizations like Facing History and Ourselves.”
A Worthy Piece of Work emerges, in part, from Hines’s own experiences as a K-12 educator. A Black teacher in a long line of Black teachers, Hines had grown frustrated with the omissions and errors in the educational materials around the history of his community. That made him take notice when he discovered Morgan by way of elders, historians of Black Chicago, and work on his dissertation at Loyola University Chicago. “Learning about her work reaffirmed things that I have always felt as a student in history and social studies courses, and things that I had felt as a teacher,” said Hines. “Seeing that these conversations were much older than I had thought was heartening, and it gave me a certain amount of affirmation and strength.”
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