Blog: Learning To Learn About Black History

Dr. Vanthony McMullan, Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

By Dr. Vanthony McMullan,
Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Muskegon Community College

According to Jessica Machado and Karen Turner’s recent article, the study of American history is the process of learning partial truths centered around the white experience and where Black people often are left without sections about slavery and a few quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King, resulting in a severe lack of understanding the contributions of Black people in this country.  It occurs to me that specific experiences in my life have significantly impacted my perspective and support of Black History Month.

I grew up in Flint, Michigan; schools were segregated.  Middle school was the first time I experienced integration by attending school with white and brown students.   However, in high school  (1974-1976), I learned the harsh reality of racism and bigotry as the school I attended was predominantly white. I also experienced that in situations like my high school experience, one could experience integration and segregation at the same time.

I am a proud graduate of a Historically Black College University (HBCU), Central State University, in Wilberforce, Ohio.   Having said that, once again, I was isolated as the school was predominantly Black. Still, I felt comfortable as we celebrated Black History Month dutifully with events, featured speakers, etc.

In my adulthood, I believe that two experiences have shaped my view of American history and Black History in general, my work experience in doing the critical work of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and my academic experience while working on my doctorate in Leadership and Organizational Development at Cornerstone University.

After college, I was part of a workplace training process to become a certified diversity trainer.  I was introduced to a book titled “Lies My Teacher Told Me.”   The author of this book criticized American textbooks for incorrectly citing events such as Christopher Columbus, the dealings between Europeans and Native Americans, and inaccuracies regarding slavery.  This book and how it was portrayed during my training caused me to question the validity of American History,  particularly Black History.

After completing my doctorate, I learned the value of research and verifying information, as it was a requirement, especially when doing a dissertation.  This experience affected me immensely as it caused me not to offer my opinion or perspective so readily without doing my “homework”, so I knew what I was talking about.   This led me to research the contributions of Black Americans as correlates to American History so that I can now speak confidently on the subject.

Here are just a few of the many contributions of Black people to American History:

  • Philip Downing- Inventor of the Mailbox (1891)
  • Garrett Morgan- Inventor of the Traffic light (1922)
  • Richard Spikes-Inventor of the Automatic Gear Shift (1932)
  • George T. Sampson- Inventor of the Clothes Dryer (1892).

Please join me on my continuous learning journey regarding the events and contributions of Black people while we celebrate Black History Month!