Dear Howard University Community,
In case you missed it, Black History Month started this year with some particularly discouraging news: Florida has disqualified a collection of books and other reading materials from its advanced placement African American studies course, including works from our own Toni Morrison, Nikole Hannah-Jones, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and a host of other acclaimed Black writers. Even more, on the first day of Black History Month last year, over a dozen historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) including our own were forced to close and cancel classes after receiving bomb threats.
These recent efforts at invalidating critical race theory and other forms of Africana studies are absolutely disheartening, but they are certainly not novel. For decades if not centuries, there has been a tug-of-war in this country about which topics are appropriate to include in academic curricula, especially as it pertains to African American history. Still today, college campuses nationwide are being targeted by conservatives who believe students should not be exposed to the historical treatment of Black people and other minority groups within the United States of America.
This attempted erasure of our history only underscores the fact that Black history is American history, and that our stories deserve to be heard. We need to have these difficult conversations between people with divergent backgrounds, because the alternative is inadequate communication, and therefore much more division. Howard University has never been a place to stifle discourse; our commitment to truth as a core value has demanded a willingness to listen and engage with perspectives that we may find disagreeable. This campus has traditionally provided a platform to anyone willing to speak truth to power, and I anticipate that level of acceptance will continue – if not expand – for as long as our beloved University exists.
An attack on Black history is a direct attack on Howard University and the myriad HBCUs founded to eliminate inequities related to race, color, social, economic, or political circumstances. While our institutions have massively contributed to any and all progress on those fronts, we still have much more to accomplish to fully eradicate these injustices, and that cannot happen by pretending they are problems of the distant past or, even worse, choosing to ignore them altogether. It is imperative moving forward that we take a fuller stand and be bold that Black history is American history, too, and I am grateful that Howard University lives at the forefront of that movement.
Excellence in Truth and Service,
Wayne A. I. Frederick, M.D., MBA
Charles R. Drew Professor of Surgery