Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Black History Month meets the American Revolution

Sometimes cool things happen when I plan poorly. In this case, I had about a million awesome books ready for Black History Month, while oblivious to the fact that February would also be the month we'd arrive at the American Revolution in our history book. This led to the unexpected juxtaposition of studying Thomas Jefferson's wording of the Declaration of Independence while reading slave stories.

The pivotal book of our unplanned little mixed unit became Kimberly Brubaker Bradley's Jefferson's Sons, a fictional account of the nonfictional children of Thomas Jefferson and his slave, Sally Hemming. The book asks "What does it mean when the man who wrote the Declaration of Independence is your father and also your slave master?" Bonnie flew through this one, reading it and a day and a half after reluctantly beginning it when I assigned it. (This strange combination of eye-rolling followed by nose-in-book happens often in our house.)

We read and discussed the Declaration of Independence, too, but studying Jefferson's eloquent words without the admission that he owned other human beings, his own children, would be, well, it would be what my elementary and middle school history experience was. The Founding Fathers were god-like in the reverence we gave to them. This led to quite a bit of shock on my part as a college student learning that both Jefferson and George Washington were slave owners. (I have to admit, it felt a little sacrilegious just typing that last sentence.) I'd like for Bonnie's foundation in history to be a little more grounded in, well, history.

At any rate, this was only one of many, many books we covered for Black History Month and the American Revolution, but for me, it was the most relevant and the most interesting. I don't want to be too cynical in my approach with American history, but at the same time, coloring pictures of Pilgrims and hero-worshiping the Founding Fathers doesn't quite cut it for me either.


  1. I read the first chapter of Howard Zinn's

    A People's History of the United States

    and felt stunned. Columbus and his mission were a terrorist attack (my comparison). Each chapter delves into the gritty side of all the hero worship and justified actions of great movements over the past two hundred+ years.

    History's amazing, but I'm with you on the idolizing of events that have been gilded. There's more to it than just Disneyfied bunk.

    There's a kids' edition on my Amazon wishlist:

    1. That book looks fantastic! Thanks for sharing.