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Completing the History of Kentucky

Completing the History of Kentucky

Our nation is very divided these days. There are many reasons for this, but one very important one is because not everyone is fully included in the understood history of our Commonwealth. The contributions and the experiences especially of Kentuckians of color have long been overlooked. Last year, Berea College entered into a partnership with Kentucky State University, the Muhammed Ali Center and the Thomas D. Clark Foundation, to work to address this silencing of the past. The partnership is called the Association for Teaching Black History in Kentucky, and the effort is essential for creating a new, more inclusive history in our state, one that can enrich all Kentuckians.

Elsewhere in our nation, the topic of teaching Black history is being hotly debated, and some states are trying to control how and what teachers teach

about American history. Although this has gotten political, my sense is there are higher and greater issues here than just politics. This is a matter of truth, because the full story of American history includes Black history; equality, because no American’s history should matter less than that of any other American; education, because we cannot fix problems we do not even know exist; and, finally, it is about caring for all and where our hearts should be. That story belongs to all Kentuckians, and we should allow and encourage teachers to tell it. Our teachers and the stories they tell are vitally important, and telling the whole story permits all of our students to see themselves within it and helps them to thrive in our modern society. We believe deeply in the necessity and importance of this work, because telling it and teaching it, as thoroughly and accurately and lovingly as we can, is the best way to heal our divisions.

Berea College has not only been an important part of this story, it has also been striving to tell the whole story since 1855, when our founder, the Reverend John G. Fee, brought the biblical lesson of impartial love to Kentucky’s slaveowners. Rev. Fee persisted in the face of strong cultural and political opposition, and our school stands today as the legacy of his work. Black Kentuckians, including Berea College graduate Dr. Carter G. Woodson, the Father of Black History and the annual celebration each February he began, played a very important role in overcoming that opposition. So many worked steadfastly toward the hopeful vision of telling a more complete story of the Commonwealth.

The Association for Teaching Black History in Kentucky is an effort to provide teachers, museums and libraries with the resources they need to complete the story of Kentucky history. It partners with Black churches and brings Black leaders into the classroom and provides professional development to assist our teachers. The goal is to give voice to stories of Black Kentuckians while working within Kentucky state standards of social studies education and highlighting the good work going on in our schools. We recently appointed Chaka Cummings, an expert in this field, to lead these efforts, and we have every confidence in his success and that of the Association. In the words of the great hymn, it is time to “lift ev’ry voice and sing…to sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us.”