FREDERICKSBURG, VA – On the road for eight days — part of a national tour for my new book, Shackles From The Deep – and I’m talking to hundreds of grade-school students about the African slave trade, underwater exploration and a 17th century slave ship known as the Henrietta Marie.
It’s Black History Month and students in the five states I’m visiting raise their hands with lots of thoughtful questions.
“Were African slaves aboard the slave ship when it sank?”
“How long can you stay underwater as a scuba diver?”
“Why did they use shackles on the slaves?”
These questions from students also compelled me to ask one critical question for educators everywhere: Are we limiting African-American history to one month out of the year – and the shortest month if the year?
For 28 days, we cram as much African-American history as humanly possible into the minds of students. Now understand that I’m a proud proponent of Black History Month, no doubt, but we also need to teach our kids about their legacy with the same intensity during the other 11 months of the year, too.
Last week, President Donald Trump implied that Frederick Douglass was still alive. If for no other reason, we need to provide our students with the truth about our history and offer them real facts –not alternate facts –they can appreciate and embrace.
This month, I’m speaking to students of all racial backgrounds and faiths – African-American, white, Hispanic, Asian and Native American, Christians and Muslims – and these students deserve to learn about the global commerce of slavery throughout the year.
I’m interacting with public school students and private school students about a true story: A pile of lime-encrusted shackles discovered on the seafloor led me on an amazing journey that stretched across three continents, from foundries and tombs in England, to slave ports on the shores of West Africa, to present-day Caribbean plantations.
This is more than just the story of one ship – it’s the untold tale of millions of people taken as captives to the New World.
It’s also a story about how a Black underwater treasure hunter, Moe Molinar, discovered shackles from the slave ship in 1973, and how The National Association of Black Scuba Divers helped share the story of the Henrietta Marie with African-Americans.
More than 20,000 artifacts were recovered from the Henrietta Marie shipwreck, including the largest collection of slave-ship shackles ever found on one site. Those shackles also included tiny, three-pound shackles that were designed for children.
So I began piecing together this Trans-Atlantic puzzle where the Henrietta Marie began, on a splintered wharf along the Thames River in London, England.
Understanding the past is critical to understanding our present-day racial problems — and our future. We must continue to share our vital history with our young students of color in February – and every month of the year.
What do you think?