Thursday, December 31, 2020

A New Year's Wish for Transcendent Education in 2021 and Beyond

I can't imagine anyone being against what is being proposed here by Sean Slade and Ariel Tichnor-Wagner in their ASCD guest blog. A focus on the whole child is what scholars and practitioners in child development, as well as in the Ethnic Studies Movement have been proposing for a long time.  However, for this to happen, we need a radical redesign in our educational system given the current regime of high-stakes testing and accountability and their undue impact on the quality of instruction, and thusly learning, in our nation's classrooms.  

There are a few immediate policy decisions that we could make In this regard. For example, we could eliminate A through F School accountability ratings, and with this, high-stakes testing altogether–for us in Texas, the STAAR system of testing. Note: it has never been "just a test." It has always been a "system of testing" that impacts everybody's behaviors within it, from the school superintendent, to school leaders and principals, and teachers, poisoning curriculum and classroom dynamics with adverse impacts, in particular, on low-income, linguistically diverse youth of color.

This is separate from what we really need, namely, better assessmentsand, as expressed below, meaningful, rich curriculum pertinent to students' lives and that reflects students languages, cultures, and community-based Identities as a matter of course.

As far as assessment is concerned, we need authentic, formative forms of assessments that are perhaps portfolio- or performance-based, tied into topics that are meaningful and policy relevant at all levels of society, e.g.,  local school boards, community boards, city councils, state boards of education, and our states' legislatures. 

We must eschew a decontextualized, chauvinist curriculum, and opt for one that embraces all of the concerns that have been laid out by the massive, indeed global, student movement of today that took place in the wake of the George Floyd killing, including: racial justice, structural racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, civil rights history, white supremacy, colonialism and decolonization, and many other critical topics. 

We have infantilized our youth as a nation for far too long. Our youth are already gaining access to all of this information via social media. What they do not have is an educational experience that is aligned, helping them to intelligently parse out the real news from the fake news, and that turns them into prodigious readers and deep learners, to boot. Bilingual education/dual language education need to be integral to this agenda, as well, since monolingualism for a complex world is not only insufficient, but at its core, assimilationist and white supremacist.

Only this kind of education will arm students with the critical knowledge, tools, dispositions, and frameworks they need to understand the world, and on that basis, to become positive agents of change, addressing social problems and movements that poise children to experience great, personal satisfaction, as well as a bona fide sense of transcendence that makes the whole learning experience worth the while. 

How hard is this? Certainly not any harder than our current, punishing system of high-stakes testing. We should have been doing this all along anyway. Children are sacred, not widgets. 

In Texas, the 87th 2021 legislative session begins in January and there will be proposals for just such changes. Stay tuned and be supportive. Our children's education should be a matter of urgent concern to us all.

In the meantime, may all have a wonderful New Year's Eve. 

And truly, all the best in 2021.

-Angela Valenzuela

Preparing students for an interconnected world

By Sean Slade and Ariel Tichnor-Wagner

As schools and educators face one of their greatest challenges in serving and supporting students during the COVID-19 crisis, it’s more important than ever to develop education systems that focus on the needs of the whole child.

The following is the first in series of short essays we will be publishing on this blog from ASCD’s recent report The Learning Compact Renewed: Whole Child for the Whole World (May 2020), which outlines steps that educators, communities, and decisionmakers can take to ensure that our students are knowledgeable, emotionally and physically healthy, civically inspired, engaged in the arts, prepared for work and economic self-sufficiency, and ready for the world beyond formal schooling. The essays focus on the need of student to prepared to thrive in an increasingly interconnected world—something current crises make abundantly clear.

The communities in which children live today are increasingly interconnected with the rest of the world. Global economic production and consumption chains, human migration, and the ease of Internet connectivity, and the proliferation of social media have broken down geographic and cultural boundaries. Our local actions—what we purchase or sell, who we vote for, how to get to work—can have ripple effects around the world. Likewise, an action that takes place halfway around the globe can affect our lives. As our world becomes smaller, local communities face challenges such as famine, violent conflicts, climate change, economic inequality, and human rights that threaten the health and safety of children and require complex global solutions. Therefore, an important facet of attending to the health, safety, engagement, and support of a child, and to ensuring that a child is challenged academically, is infusing the mindsets, knowledge, and skills needed to thrive in an interconnected world.

In this second decade of the ASCD Whole Child approach, we understand that teaching students how to engage with the world will help them both in their careers and in life pursuits. It will also help our communities understand that they are part of the broader world and have a role to play in working for the common good.

Abraham Maslow, 26 years after introducing his Hierarchy of Needs, added a sixth stage: self-transcendence. As Maslow defined it, “Self-transcendence seeks to further a cause beyond the self… This may involve service to others, devotion to an ideal (e.g., truth, art) or a cause (e.g., social justice, environmentalism, the pursuit of science, a religious faith), and/or a desire to be united with what is perceived as transcendent or divine.”

In Maslow’s hierarchy, youth develop their potential to be the best they can be and to assist others—to serve humanity. Improving oneself is admirable, but improving oneself for the betterment of those around you is desirable. We define this stage as altruism—reaching beyond oneself to take actions that improve one’s own community and communities around the world. We see altruism as a vital output of a whole child education.

In 2007, ASCD declared that that our education system should serve the whole child so that each child, in each community, is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged. As we look toward 2020 and beyond, we affirm that a fundamental part of educating the whole child asks education systems and communities to ensure that each child is an active maker and shaper of the world they will inherit. This stage is about helping each and every child recognize that they are part of, and inextricably connected to, the rest of the world.

The communities in which children live today are increasingly more interconnected with the rest of the world. Global economic production and consumption chains, human migration, and the ease of Internet connectivity, and the proliferation of social media have broken down geographic and cultural boundaries. Our local actions—what we purchase or sell, who we vote for, how to get to work—can have ripple effects around the world. Likewise, an action that takes place halfway around the globe can affect our lives. As our world becomes smaller, local communities face challenges, such as famine, violent conflicts, climate change, economic inequality, and human rights that threaten the health and safety of children and require complex global solutions.

Therefore, an important facet of attending to the health, safety, engagement, and support of a child, and to ensuring that a child is challenged academically, is infusing the mindsets, knowledge, and skills needed to thrive in an interconnected world, empowering them to make our world a better place for themselves, one another, and the planet. To do anything less is to shortchange our youth and their futures.

To help plan, start, and grow your school’s whole child journey, join ASCD’s Whole Child Network.

About the authors

Sean Slade is the ASCD’s Senior Director of Global Outreach. Ariel Tichnor-Wagner, a former ASCD fellow of global competence, is a lecturer at the Boston University Wheelock College of Education & Human Development. 

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Dr. Biden's response to the sexist op-ed suggesting she drop her title was pure perfection

Joseph Epstein's Wall Street Journal op-ed was terribly sexist and patronizing. Epstein calls her "kiddo?" Give me a break! Why would the WSJ even publish a rant like this? As women in higher education, we work too hard for our titles to be demeaned. Yes, I agree with author Annie Reneau. She responded perfectly with cutting forthrightness to this horrible attempt to disparage her credentials.

Speaking positively, it is exceptional and refreshing to have someone like Dr. Jill Biden in the White House, as she is someone who can help direct public policy in research-informed directions. 

-Angela Valenzuela

Dr. Biden's response to the sexist op-ed suggesting she drop her title was pure perfection

By  | 12.14.20

If you missed the Wall Street Journal op-ed this weekend that set social media discussions ablaze, here's a brief recap:

Joseph Epstein, a professor emeritus at Northwestern University, penned an opinion piece titled "Is There a Doctor in the White House? Not if You Need an M.D." that was bafflingly sexist in both its premise and its delivery. After an opening line that read, "Madame First Lady—Mrs. Biden—Jill—kiddo: a bit of advice..." he proceeded to explain how the doctorate that Dr. Jill Biden earned is not the same as having an M.D., and so she should cease using the title of "Dr."

The entire op-ed reeked of condescension (referring to a grown adult as "kiddo" is rude under any circumstances) and misogyny (imagine addressing an accomplished man in such a manner). It was also just a bizarre and cringe-inducing take overall. Epstein shared how he'd somehow fallen into a 30-year teaching job at Northwestern with just a B.A. degree, whined about the standards for doctorate degrees (which he himself does not have), complained about honorary doctorates (which he does have) and claimed that Dr. Biden using her title of doctor feels "fraudulent" and "comic," despite the fact that she literally has a doctorate in education and teaches at a university where professors with doctorates are generally referred to as "Dr."

People pounced in righteous outrage, and understandably so. Women with doctoral degrees of all kinds changed their handles to include their doctor title. Women and men alike explained why the piece was so incredibly problematic. Female former students of Epstein's shared their experiences in his classes, adding credence to the accusations of misogyny.

Epstein's article seemed more like a rant you'd read in the comments on a YouTube video rather than a serious op-ed in a well-reputed journalistic outlet. What was the point of publishing such a take? It almost feels purposefully designed to get a rise out of the of the left's "politically correct cancel culture," which is just dumb, but here we are. "Look at everyone losing their minds over an academic title, " as if this guy didn't manufacture the controversy in the first place. Seriously, nobody actually cared that she was using her "Dr." title before he made it a thing. Gaslighting at its finest.

While the public reacted as expected, Dr. Biden was quiet about it for nearly two days. Then she put out a one-sentence tweet that was honestly the best possible response she could have given. "Together, we will build a world where the accomplishments of our daughters will be celebrated, rather than diminished," she wrote.

While the beauty of her response is its dignified simplicity, it's also powerful in what it didn't say.

Dr. Biden didn't address, mention, or even allude to Joseph Epstein. While she could have, she didn't get caught up in the mess of debates over sexism, misogyny, mediocre white men failing up in academia, the WSJ editorial dumpster fire, etc., like everyone else on social media. She didn't take the bait or provide any oxygen to the op-ed. She didn't give Epstein any of the attention he seemed so desperate for. Without actually saying it, she basically said, "This drivel is not worthy of my energy," which is exactly how you should handle drivel that isn't worth your energy.

And yet, she did address it. When you are in the public eye and the topic of an article that everyone is talking about, it would be odd to pretend that's not happening. She just addressed it in a way that hit at the heart of the issue, cutting out all the b.s. and acknowledging the fact that women having their accomplishments diminished is something that needs to change. She made it about looking forward and building a future that's better than the past, which is exactly where we need to keep our focus.

Finally, she provided a contrast to what we've become accustomed to seeing in our public discourse, and especially from the White House. In a situation where she could easily have slam-dunked a guy who quite honestly deserved it, she went high. The class and dignity of her tweet highlight a sea change as we leave the era of embarrassing, insulting Twitter rants filled with constant grievances. The maturity is refreshing.

Well done, Dr. Biden. Not only have to earned your title, you've also earned the respect of the people you will be serving. 

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Testing Students This Spring Would Be a Mistake by Dr. Lorrie A. Shepard

Key quote: 

"Assessments embedded in high-quality curriculum or key assignments are the best way for teachers to gain substantive insights about children’s thinking, plan instruction, and share information with parents."


Testing Students This Spring Would Be a Mistake

Especially now, high-stakes tests tell us very little we can’t know in other ways
Collage by Vanessa Solis/Education Week (Images: iStock/DigitalVision Vectors/Getty)
By Lorrie A. Shepard — December 16, 2020 

 Lorrie A. Shepard

This past spring, the U.S. Department of Education gave states permission to cancel federally mandated state testing and accountability reporting because of pandemic-induced lockdowns. As the new testing season approaches many advocacy groupsare urging the department to reinstate testing requirements.

As an assessment researcher who has studied both high-stakes statewide tests and very different classroom-assessment processes, I am alarmed when testing advocates claim that test data will automatically serve equity goals. Advocates do not acknowledge any potential harm from testing for the very students in communities of color most traumatized by COVID-19. If the downsides were factored in, I believe most, even all, state tests would be canceled for 2021.

Even under normal circumstances, high-stakes testing has negative consequences. State assessment programs co-opt valuable instructional time, both for weeklong test administration and for test preparation. Accountability pressures often distort curriculum, emphasizing testlike worksheets and focusing only on tested subjects.

Recent studies of data-driven decisionmaking warn us that test-score interpretations can lead to deficit narratives—blaming children and their families—instead of prompting instructional improvements. High-stakes tests can also lead to stigmatizing labels and ineffective remedial interventions, as documented by decades of research.

Most significantly, teachers report that they and their students experience high degrees of anxiety, even shame, when test scores are publicly reported. These stressors would undoubtedly be heightened when many students will not yet have had the opportunity to learn all of what is covered on state tests. A high proportion of teachers are already feeling burnt-out.

Some advocates, alert to the potential for harm, have argued in favor of testing but without accountability consequences. Clearly it would be unfair to hold schools and teachers accountable for outcomes when students’ learning opportunities have varied because of computer and internet access, home learning circumstances, and absences related to sickness or family disruption.

Testing this year is counterproductive because it potentially demoralizes students and teachers without addressing the grave problems exacerbated by the pandemic. Others are insisting on accountability for spring 2021, saying that schools and districts had plenty of time this school year to prepare for COVID circumstances. In a recent letter, 10 civil rights, social-justice, disability-rights, and education advocacy organizations urged the Education Department to maintain federally mandated testing requirements so as “to hold districts and states to account.”

That impulse looks very close to blaming educators, who have given so much during the pandemic. It is counterproductive because it potentially demoralizes students and teachers without addressing the grave problems advocates have in mind.

One of the main arguments for testing this spring is to document the extent of learning loss, especially disproportionate losses affecting poor children and communities of color. We are told those data would then be used to allocate additional resources to support students who have fallen the furthest behind.  

Indeed, massive investments are needed—especially for summer school and individual tutoring to redress educational inequities exacerbated by the pandemic. Marc Tucker at the National Center on Education and the Economy, for example, urges that we invest in a national tutoring program like that being developed in the United Kingdom.

We already have enough evidence of COVID impacts to warrant federal investments. At the state level, there may not be new monies to allocate because of budget cuts.

Testing advocates should also consider the technical difficulties of testing during a pandemic. Remote testing requires security protocols that would violate privacy laws in some states, and even with such protocols, remote and in-person test results could not be aggregated or compared as if they were equivalent. Bringing all students into schools for testing when some are still learning remotely is unfair.

Consider, too, that the many students who are now absent from remote learning would likely be absent from testing, skewing results compared with previous years. Given the likely inaccuracies in 2021 state test scores, other data sources might be just as good depending on the intended purpose for testing.

If state policymakers need tests to convince them that learning needs are dire, then periodic, computerized tests already administered by districts will work, as shown in new studies by NWEA and Renaissance Learning.

To allocate resources to districts facing the greatest obstacles in meeting the needs of their students, states could use opportunity-to-learn indicato. Data on device and internet access, absences, and time spent in remote (as opposed to in-person) learning, especially for emerging bilingual and special education students, could provide direct evidence of disproportionate needs across districts.

Bear in mind that state tests do little to guide instruction for individual students. Knowing which students are below proficient does not tell teachers what skills they have already mastered nor what understandings students still need. Assessments embedded in high-quality curriculum or key assignments are the best way for teachers to gain substantive insights about children’s thinking, plan instruction, and share information with parents.

Some parents, it is argued, want independent evidence as to whether their children are meeting grade-level standards. But parents lobbying for testing are in the minority. University of Southern California researchers Daniel Silver and Morgan Polikoff reported nationally representative survey results showing that, in October, 64 percent of parents were in favor of canceling standardized testing for spring 2021.

Even with flawless rollout of COVID-19-vaccination programs, it is unlikely that all or even a large majority of students will be back to full-time, in-school learning by the end of February. I think a good rule of thumb would be that students should have been back to normal school for at least a month before being asked to spend a week taking state tests. The new federal education secretary should grant states testing waivers if the condition of a month of in-person schooling cannot be met.

If such a condition can be met, state officials should still weigh the value of going ahead with testing, making explicit how test results will be used to benefit students. What actions will be taken based on the test scores?

This all feels depressingly like the same argument I had with civil rights leaders around the testing provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002. My colleagues believed that calling out test scores for Black and brown children would force attention to inequities. Some admit today that congressional appropriations did not follow on the scale that was hoped for or needed and that negative side effects were greater than intended.

Before the pandemic, inequities were as great or greater than in 2002 and now are devastatingly worse. Let’s not repeat old testing mistakes.

Friday, December 18, 2020

Advancing Racial Equity In Higher Education: Fireside Chat and Celebration

President Michele Siqueiros sits down with Governor Gavin Newsom, California’s higher education system leaders, and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond for a historic discussion on the economic and social imperative of closing racial equity gaps in college access and success. Watch the discussion and virtual celebration to honor sixteen years of higher education advocacy by the Campaign for College Opportunity.

How the Myth of a Liberal North Erases a Long History of White Violence

 We cannot move forward as a country unless we reconcile these numerous and patterned instances of anti-Black violence as integral to white, European American history.

-Angela Valenzuela

How the Myth of a Liberal North Erases a Long History of White Violence

Anti-black racism has terrorized African Americans throughout the nation’s history, regardless of where in the country they lived


John Langston was running through a neighborhood in ruins. Burned homes and businesses were still smoking, their windows shattered. Langston was only 12 years old, but he was determined to save his brothers’ lives. He had spent the night in a safe house, sheltering from the white mobs that had attacked the city’s African American neighborhood. Sleep must have been difficult that night, especially after a cannon was repeatedly fired. The cannon had been stolen from the federal armory by the white mob, alongside guns and bullets, so they could go to war against Black people.

Langston awoke to worse news. The mayor had ordered all white men in the city to round up any surviving Black men they found and throw them in jail. As John Langston would later write, “swarms of improvised police-officers appeared in every quarter, armed with power and commission to arrest every colored man who could be found.” As soon as Langston had heard this, he ran out the back door of the safe house to find his brothers to try to warn them. When a group of armed white men saw Langston, they shouted at him to stop, but he refused, willing to risk everything to save his brothers.

There is a toxic myth that encourages white people in the North to see themselves as free from racism and erases African Americans from the pre-Civil War North, where they are still being told that they don’t belong. What Langston experienced was not the massacre in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1921 or Rosewood, Florida, in 1923—this was Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1841, 20 years before the Civil War broke out. This was the third such racist attack against African Americans in Cincinnati in 12 years.

Cincinnati was not alone. Between 1829 and 1841 white northerners had been rising up against their most successful African American neighbors, burning and destroying churches, businesses, schools, orphanages, meetings halls, farms, and entire communities. These were highly organized actions instigated by some of the most wealthy and most educated white citizens in the North. As a white gentleman in the pretty rural village of Canterbury, Connecticut, wrote in 1833, “the colored people can never rise from their menial condition in our country; they ought not to be permitted to rise here.” He wrote this after white members of his community tried to burn down an elite private academy for African American girls, while the students slept inside.

One of the girls who survived that fire then made the long journey to Canaan, New Hampshire, where a few abolitionists were trying to establish an integrated school called the Noyes Academy. Canaan was a remote and lovely village but within months, white locals attacked that school. The white attackers brought in numerous teams of oxen attached to a chain they put around the school, and pulled it off its foundation, dragging it down the main street of Canaan.

In 1834 there were even more riots against African Americans, most notably in New Haven, Connecticut, Philadelphia, and New York City. The mayor of New York allowed the destruction of African American homes and businesses to continue for days before finally calling out the state militia. This violence was not against buildings alone, but was accompanied by atrocities against African Americans, including rape and castration.

African Americans in the North bravely continued to call for equality and the ending of slavery, while the highest officials in the land tried to encourage more massacres. As Lacy Ford revealed in his book Deliver Us from Evil, President Andrew Jackson’s secretary of state, John Forsyth, wrote a letter asking Vice President Martin Van Buren—born and raised a New Yorker—to organize “a little more mob discipline,” adding, “the sooner you set the imps to work the better.” The violence continued; historian Leonard Richards makes a conservative estimate of at least 46 “mobbings” in Northern cities between 1834 and 1837.

White leaders in Cincinnati gathered in speaking halls to encourage another attack against African Americans in that city in 1836. Ohio Congressman Robert Lytle helped to lead one of these rallies. As Leonard Richards noted in his book Gentlemen of Property and Standing, the words he thundered to his audience were so vile that even the local newspapers tried to clean them up, changing words and blanking them out, printing a quote that read that the Colonel urged the crowd to “castrate the men and ____ the women!” But the white people in the crowd did not hear this sanitized version; they heard a demand for atrocities, and soon there was another attack against African Americans in that city. Two years later Lytle was made Major General of the Ohio Militia.

In 1838 Philadelphia again saw white people organize to destroy Black schools, churches, meeting halls, and printing presses, and then finally Pennsylvania Hall. Over 10,000 white people gathered to destroy the hall, one of the grandest in the city. Pennsylvania Hall was newly built in 1838 with public funds and was meant to be a national center for abolitionism and equal rights. Its upper floor had a beautiful auditorium that could seat 3,000 people. It had taken years of fund-raising by African Americans and sympathetic white people for the hall to be built, but it took just one night for it to be destroyed. This destruction was quickly followed by violence by white Pennsylvania politicians who rewrote the state’s constitution, excluding free African Americans from the right to vote. An overwhelming majority of white men in Pennsylvania enthusiastically voted for the new Constitution.

This physical destruction of African American neighborhoods followed by the stealing of African Americans’ rights was a double-edged violence, and it was not unique to Pennsylvania. Back in 1833 in Canterbury, Connecticut, the girls managed to escape their school when it was set on fire, but soon all African Americans in Connecticut were made to suffer. White lawyers and politicians in Connecticut saw to that. A lawsuit brought against Prudence Crandall, director of the school, resulted in the highest court in Connecticut deciding that people of color, enslaved or free, were not citizens of the United States. White people could now pass any racist laws they pleased, including one making it illegal for any person of African descent to enter the state of Connecticut to be educated there.

While the 1830s saw an intense period of this violence, white northerners had a long history of attempting to control the actions of Black people; they had been doing so since the colonial period when race-based slavery laws made all non-whites subjects of suspicion. In 1703 the Rhode Island General Assembly not only recognized race-based slavery, but criminalized all Black people and American Indians when they wrote:

If any negroes or Indians either freemen, servants, or slaves, do walk in the street of the town of Newport, or any other town in this Collony, after nine of the clock of the night, without a certificate from their masters, or some English person of said family with them, or some lawfull excuse for the same, that it shall be lawfull for any person to take them up and deliver them to a Constable.

Northern slavery began to fall apart during the American Revolution, but the dissolution of race-based bondage was a long and protracted process and Black people were held in bondage in northern states well into the 1840s. Most northern states enacted Gradual Emancipation Laws to legally dismantle slaveholding; however, it was actions of Black people themselves—freedom suits, writing and publishing abolitionist pamphlets, petitioning, self-purchase, military service, flight and revolting—that made this a reality. There was also a brief move towards equal rights. By 1792 the entire Northwest Territory (Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Indiana, and Michigan) as well as 10 of the 15 states had opened up the vote to all men regardless of the color of their skin. But white northerners, native- and foreign-born, resented the increasing free and growing Black population. And when African Americans dared to live like free people they were violently attacked.

In 1824 and 1831 white mobs attacked African American enclaves in Providence, Rhode Island, when Black people refused to show public deference to white people. On October 18, 1824, a group of Black residents of the Hardscrabble neighborhood refused to step off the sidewalk when a group of whites approached. Their insistence on their right to the sidewalk met an onslaught of violence. Dozens of angry whites destroyed nearly all the Black-owned homes and businesses in Hardscrabble. No one was punished and the Black residents received no compensation for the loss of their property. Seven years later, when a Black man stood on his porch with his gun, refusing to allow a group of white men to attack his home and family, the violence in Providence became the deadliest the city had ever seen. The white mob ravaged the Snow Town neighborhood for four days until the governor finally decided that enough damage had been done and called in the state militia to quell the rioters. Again, no one was punished, and Black residents were not compensated. Instead they were blamed for provoking the riot with their assertions of independence.

Black freedom, rising and slowly increasing equal rights was what threatened most white northerners, because black emancipation meant that whiteness in and of itself was no longer a clear marker of freedom if Black people were also free. By the middle of the 1800s, there was a backlash against the growing free Black population in the North. They no longer had the full protection of the law, had the right to vote stolen from them, and could not sit on juries and serve in the militia. Northerners also segregated schools, public transportation, and accommodations. White people in nearly every northern state before the Civil War adopted measures to prohibit or restrict equal rights and the further migration of Black people into their jurisdictions—especially the new northern territories and states of Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Iowa, Wisconsin, California, and Oregon. And all of this occurred before the Civil War and the end of slavery.

The persistent myth of a post-Revolutionary North embracing African Americans and protecting their rights has been deliberate. Historians have long written about African-descended people, enslaved and free in the North before the Civil War. It is no secret that white northerners responded to this population with cruelty and violence. Leonard Richards published his book on some of these events in 1970 and David Grimsted published his book on mob violence before the Civil War in 1998. Yet the majority of white historians have focused on the ways in which these mobs attacked white abolitionists, even though Black lives were at the root of this violence. And it was Black people who suffered the most from it.

That suffering continues to be buried. For example, many historians note the 1837 murder of white abolitionist Elijah Lovejoy in Illinois. The mob attacking Lovejoy and his abolitionist press made it clear that they were not just angry about his views and publishing, they were motivated by racism. As a white farmer in the mob yelled out, “How would you like a damned n***** going home with your daughter?” But no academic historian has investigated what happened to the African Americans in Alton, Illinois, and the surrounding countryside, some of whom had been farming their own land since the early 1820s. This lack of interest and attention to this racist violence is deliberate. As Joanne Pope Melish made clear in 1998, in her book, Disowning Slavery, if you create a myth of an all-white North before the Civil War, it becomes much easier to ignore a history of violence against Black people there.

However, African Americans have long known that they have deep roots in all regions of the United States. As the African American Bishop Richard Allen wrote in 1829, affirming that Black people belonged:

See the thousands of foreigners emigrating to America every year: and if there be ground sufficient for them to cultivate, and bread for them to eat, why would they wish to send the first tillers of the land away? . . . This land which we have watered with our tears and our blood, is now our mother country.

Christy Clark-Pujara is Associate Professor of History in the Department of Afro-American Studies at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. She is the author of Dark Work: The Business of Slavery in Rhode Island. Her current book project, Black on the Midwestern Frontier: From Slavery to Suffrage in the Wisconsin Territory, 1725 to 1868, examines how the practice of race-based slavery, black settlement, and debates over abolition and Black rights shaped White-Black race relations in the Midwest.

Anna-Lisa Cox is an historian of racism in 19th-century America. She is currently a Non-Resident Fellow at Harvard’s Hutchins Center for African and African American Research. She was a Research Associate at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, where her original research underpinned two exhibits. Her recent book The Bone and Sinew of the Land: America’s Forgotten Black Pioneers and the Struggle for Equality was honored by the Smithsonian Magazine as one of the best history books of 2018. She is at work on two new book projects, including one on the African Americans who surrounded and influenced the young Abraham Lincoln.