In his article “Black History Is Not American History,” which focuses on teaching Black history from a Black historical consciousness approach, Dr. LaGarrett King defines his second theme, Black agency, resistance ,and perseverance, as “Black histories that explain that although Black people have been victimized, they were not helpless victims.” This theme highlights ways that Black people have actively resisted oppression, both independently and collectively.
By teaching through the lens of this theme, teachers will show students that Black people throughout history have not been passive victims of racism and oppression but have instead worked against structural barriers and the people who have created them in a variety of ways. This can be seen in a variety of spaces across history, such as in protest songs and spirituals, in the experiences of free Black people, and in the development of social institutions both before and after emancipation and into the twenty-first century, among many other examples.
King uses the following questions as examples of ways that students can be asked to consider Black agency and resistance:
- How do African Americans make social change?
- How do you adapt to change?
- What makes movements successful?
- Was the civil rights movement successful?
The goal of this blog is to define the theme of Black agency, resistance, and perseverance and then examine ways that this can be explored within your curriculum. Below, we explore two lessons from Active Classroom’s new African American Studies series and also look at several other types of resources that you can use to explore Black agency, resistance, and perseverance as well as how this theme intersects with the other Black historical consciousness principles.
Setting the Context for Students
Take a moment to analyze this painting. Don’t go too fast! Try to make note of different details. What stands out to you?
Photo: Racism/Incident at Little Rock by Domingo Ulloa, 1957
Now think about what you might know already about this image. Are there any clues in the image that help you make connections to things that you know? If you had to summarize this image in one word, what would it be?
This painting is called Racism/Incident in Little Rock; it is by Domingo Ulloa and was painted in 1957. Ulloa was responding to the events in Little Rock, Arkansas, when nine Black high school students integrated Central High School despite the refusal of segregationist governor Orval Faubus. The students were met with anger and outrage from white parents and students, necessitating the use of the National Guard to ensure their physical safety. Ulloa’s painting encapsulates many of the feelings that perhaps you identified when you tried to summarize it above: fear, danger, anger, threat, scary, unease, and violence.
Still, despite facing such explosive opposition to their presence in a white school, the Little Rock Nine, depicted in the painting, also show other traits: persistence, perseverance, determination, and strength in the face of deafening opposition. This is an example of Black agency, resistance, and perseverance, one of the six Black historical consciousness principles identified by LaGarrett King.
For example, return to the painting that you analyzed above. Does it ask and/or allow questions about Black agency, resistance, and perseverance? Help build students’ understanding of the theme? Is it taught/presented from a Black perspective? Are diverse Black perspectives present? Does this lesson/resource ask students to critically analyze primary or secondary sources?
These are all questions that you can use to help you as you examine resources in planning. Click here to view the resources and use the questions to see how you can use them to help your students explore the theme of Black agency, resistance, and perseverance.
Photo: Library of Congress / Civil Rights Memorial, Montgomery, Alabama
Connecting Black Agency, Resistance, and Perseverance to the Classroom
As you consider planning a lesson around the Black historical consciousness principles, it is important to remember that they do not stand in isolation but are often interwoven within a historical topic; power and oppression coexist with Black agency, resistance, and perseverance, telling a complicated, fuller human story.
Consider some of the following questions as you evaluate resources and lesson plans for use in your Ethnic Studies or United States History course:
- Does the lesson/source/resource ask and/or allow questions about Black agency, resistance, and perseverance?
- Does it help build students’ understanding the theme?
- Is it taught from a Black perspective?
- Are diverse Black perspectives present?
- Does this lesson ask students to critically analyze primary or secondary sources?
The purpose of the Black historical consciousness principles is to help students and teachers understand Black histories that fully develop Black people’s humanity. By grounding our work as teachers in the BHCP, we are completely reframing the history we teach through the lens of Black people, telling a fuller and more complicated story that encapsulates all facets of Blackness. By using the guiding questions above, you can begin to recalibrate your lesson planning through the lens of the Black historical consciousness principles.
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LaChardra McBride has been in education for the past 13 years and is currently a curriculum specialist in Houston. Responsibilities in her current role include authoring district social studies curriculum in Grade 6 World Cultural Studies, Grade 9 World Geography Studies, and African American Studies, developing and facilitating district-level professional development, as well as continuing instructional coaching duties. She has taught World Cultural Studies, Texas History, and United States History and has partnered with Active Classroom in various capacities for the past three years.
Samantha Manchac has been in education for the past 14 years and is currently an instructional coach and curriculum writer in Houston. She, alongside LaChardra, specializes in building their district’s ethnic studies curriculum and professional development for teachers. She taught United States History and AP* U.S. History in Houston for ten years. She also works with undergraduate pre-service social studies teachers teaching Social Studies Instructional Methods.