Black history is American history. It is impossible to understand this country without a thorough understanding of the experience (and impact) of Black Americans.
Sometimes acquiring this knowledge leads to shame and the abandonment of patriotism as overly sanguine, inherited notions of American exceptionalism and greatness are disturbed or upended. But studying this history can evoke the opposite sense as well.
I am grateful to be an American like Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Fannie Lou Hamer, John Lewis, and the other heroes of the Civil Rights movement; like those who put their lives on the line in World War II for Double Victory — democracy and equality at home and abroad; and like all those whose names have not been etched in the history books, but who lived simple lives of faith, courage, love, determination, and dignity in the face of oppression and cruelty.
Studying Black history not only offers us an opportunity to know how we got to where we are as a country — it also offers important insights into how we can build a society with authentic racial justice that reflects the dignity and equality of every person. Better understanding the experiences and contributions of Black Americans advances the liberation and flourishing of all — it moves us to become a society that mirrors the greatness of these exemplary people.
In recent years, a number of good, concise videos have been released that share some of these vital stories. Here are 10 videos to help those looking to deepen their knowledge of Black history this month:
Rewriting the History of the Civil War
In recent years, we have witnessed controversies over Confederate statues, monuments built to glorify white supremacists whose only claim to fame is waging war against the United States. This video explains why many of those statues were erected, by whom, and what they hoped to achieve. It describes efforts to promote “The Lost Cause,” which downplays the importance and immorality of slavery, among other harmful myths.
Ida B. Wells and Lynching
Lynching was a grotesque, distinctly American form of violence and terrorism. Ida B. Wells investigated these crimes and exposed the lies used to justify them. This video describes her efforts and other ways she fought for civil rights for women and Black Americans.
White Supremacists’ Successful Coup in North Carolina
Last month’s insurrectionist attack on the Capitol is not without precedent in American history. In Wilmington, North Carolina in 1898, Democrats and their paramilitary organization engineered a successful coup through intimidation and violence. This video describes these efforts and their actions to promote white supremacy and prevent the return of authentic democracy.
The Red Summer
African American soldiers returned home from World War I — a conflict framed as a fight for democracy — hoping to finally exercise the rights they were owed as American citizens. Instead, many were subject to racial violence as a wave of racist attacks swept across the country. This appalling violence would spark new efforts by Black Americans in politics, the courts, and the streets in defense of their God-given rights.
The Destruction of Black Wall Street
Black Wall Street in Tulsa was a thriving Black community with a strong middle class, until a minor incident sparked a massacre that left roughly 1200 homes and 35 blocks destroyed — and likely 300 people dead. This video describes the massacre, the initial pride of the white supremacist perpetrators, and their subsequent efforts to cover up their crimes.
Segregated by Design
Most Americans are familiar with the segregation that existed in the Deep South. But that is not the only segregation that has existed in the country. In fact, cities across the country have often been deeply segregated — and federal, state, and local policies played a big role in creating and preserving this segregation. This video provides an excellent overview of how this happened, something that has a profound impact on injustice that persists to this day.
The Double V Campaign
World War II represented another battle between the forces of autocracy and democracy. For Black soldiers, their goal was for a double victory — for the triumph of democracy over fascists overseas and also over entrenched, systematic racism at home. This video describes the formation of this Double V Campaign.
Fannie Lou Hamer’s Fight for Democracy
Fannie Lou Hamer’s remarkable rise to leadership as a civil rights activist and her (faith-fueled) fierce determination to advance racial justice are recounted in this video, which features the voices of those who knew her and worked by her side in the fight for voting rights and a more democratic Democratic party.
Martin Luther King Jr. on the New Phase of the Civil Rights Struggle
Most Americans are familiar with Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream Speech.” While some have tried to co-opt King’s message for their own ends, his soaring rhetoric and brilliant vision of an America with greater justice and solidarity continue to inspire and guide many who seek to build “the beloved community.” In this interview, King shatters the myth that the North was immune from racial injustice; highlights the link between racial and economic injustice; and talks about depersonalization, drawing on the personalist philosophy that shaped his views and that remains such a valuable approach for those working to make the Dream a reality.
Race is a social construct. Understanding why it was constructed, how fluid and amorphous ideas of race have been over time, and how these constructs have been used to advance racist objectives can give us a better understanding of the history of race in the country. It also helps explain the racial injustice that persists to this day — while making us wary of any ideas and potential responses that are rooted in pseudoscience or any form of racial essentialism.