Whose History Is Being Told?

Those of us who not only love history but work to preserve documents and peoples’ stories, must be aware of whose stories are being told and use access to information in a way that is always striving toward equity. The erasure of certain histories has long been a tool to oppress and de-value people of color. As academics we must especially hold each other and ourselves accountable to work against the white-washed, male-dominated narratives of history.

Below are two excerpts written in the 1960s and 1970s by black students at Washington University about the importance of teaching black history.  First, a portion of the introduction to The Black Student Guide, a pamphlet created by and distributed among black students in the early 1970s. The introduction immediately begins with a consciousness raising effort to challenge the idea of whose history is being preserved:

“There is so much we don’t know about our past in this part of the word… Who defines the “very selective recording of history” we get? Who designs the very selective value system we get through our education?


“Education”: so we have a new word in our investigation! There is so much information lacking and so much misinformation projected in educational institutions, that we spend a great deal of time getting mis-educated primarily because we never stop to think. We never take the time to investigate, to contemplate, to observe at length.

Cover, Black Student Guide, 1973. University Archives.

Cover, Black Student Guide, 1973. University Archives.

Second is from a 1968 article in a student publication called the Black Collegian (cover pictured below):

It is our firm and sincere belief that the University has the responsibility of offering courses which portray the complete and full history of Afro-Americans and also the contributions of black citizens to the development of this country.
We feel that since the role of the Afro-American in the making of America is, generally speaking, neither well known nor correctly known, these omissions contribute to and reinforce the prejudiced, racist and stereo-typed attitudes of white Americans toward black people in this country…
The current approach taken to this course in inadequate… it fails to deal with how the black man got here from Africa, and why the economic, religious, social, and political reasons why he was sought out as a slave and enslaved… If the University wishes to continue to offer this course, then it should not be offered under the misleading title of “Afro-American History”, but perhaps under such titled as “The White Man’s Perspective of the Black Man’s Past in America”, or “White Washed Negro History.”

Publication, _Black Collegian_ November 22, 1968. University Archives.

Publication, Black Collegian November 22, 1968.


To read the full copy of the Black Student Guide, click here The Black Student Guide

To explore more about the Association of Black Students (originally known as the Association of Black Collegians) click here

About the author

Miranda Rectenwald is Curator of Local History, Washington University Special Collections. More info.