Coming into this class I was very closed minded on the subject of African American history. I grew up in northern Florida which leans far to the right politically. Although the schools did cover topics like slavery, the Jim Crow era, racism, etc, my schools never really went any further into the subject than what the textbook covered. The classes in high school would never really have discussions on the topics, in hopes that it would deter from the controversy of the subject. When I first signed up for this class I didn’t do it because I was interested in learning about black history, I did it because I believed the class was going to be one of those anti-white radical classes you hear about every so often in the news. I wanted to make sure my voice and opinions were included in the class discussion to prevent any unwarranted or unjustified criticism of white people that may or may not have happened. However, after the first few weeks in the classroom, I quickly realized that I had been mistaken in my judgment of the class topic. I was still very defensive in most discussions, but I was also able to hear firsthand experiences and opinions of the African American students in the class. One thing my textbooks and community had never exposed me to was the personal stories and experiences of racism against people who I had known. I had heard countless times about the stories of racism against African Americans in the era of slavery or the Jim Crow era, but those were just stories, nothing real to me. Hearing and physically seeing the other students in the class tell their experiences of racism added a new perspective to my thinking.
After about two weeks we finally got down to the research portion of the class. Me and my partner were both assigned two names of people who were lynched in the early 1900’s. Like before, I saw this research as a formality of the class. I didn’t expect any sort of emotional connection to arise out of the research. The results for my group came the fastest and were probably some of the most detailed results out of any of the groups. We had a plethora of information on our two victims. However, even though results started to come in fast we still spent the entire semester researching and trying to find additional information. Over these few months of research I, unlike other groups, still never developed a very strong emotional connection with the victims we were researching, but I did develop a strong appreciation for their stories and the extreme difficulties that the Black community had to overcome. For the first time ever, I was reading actual newspapers from that time period, I was actually going to the place where the lynching took place, I went to the home towns of the perpetrator of the lynching. Seeing all of these things in person allowed me to gain a small glimpse into the perspective of the lynching victim and what they must have gone through during their life in the early 1900’s. I will never be able to understand fully what it was like for those African Americans, but I am very glad that I was given the opportunity to try and understand their situations.
I think the main thing that I took away from this class is that even though the United States is going through racial problems even today, we all have the capability to come together as a community, put aside our differences, and speak together as human beings about our problems with one another. Another thing I learned is that, recognizing the negative parts of the country’s history, or the negative things that my race or ancestors have done, doesn’t mean that I am disgracing myself or my race. The first step to making positive change is recognizing the problems of the past and making sure you don’t repeat them.