One-shot black history misses the boat

Our Roots Run Deep co-editors Agin Shaheed, M.A. and John William Templeton flank actress Ursaline Bryant, portraying Queen Calafia during a book signing at Baldwin Hills-Crenshaw Plaza in 2005.
LOS ANGELES — Educators who content themselves with a single assembly program or class assignment during Black History Month are missing the boat on closing the achievement gap, according to an expert in African-American history in the West.
“When Capt. William Alexander Leidesdorff dedicated California’s first public school in April 1848, the black millionaire entrepreneur who spoke six languages gave us a template for stereotype-free education,” says John William Templeton, celebrating the 20th anniversary of Our Roots Run Deep: the Black Experience in California, Vols. 1-4, a 1,400 page anthology with accompanying lesson plans and a public television documentary.
In Los Angeles for meetings with educators and entertainment industry leaders, he points out that the state Education Code embraces that objective by declaring March 5 as Black American Day in honor of Crispus Attucks’ martyrdom at the Boston Massacre.
“Sixty percent of the educators in our 2008 survey of California social studies teachers said their students wanted a constant exposure to African-American heritage all year,” reports Templeton, who presented the paper to the California Council for the Social Studies that year.
Saturday, Templeton connects history with current events by depicting how a pharmacologist and two teenagers closed down San Francisco’s main streets for days in 1963 to force the city’s hotels and car dealers to begin hiring black workers. It is the fifth session of a seven week series called Come to the Water: Teaching San Francisco Black History, set for 2 p.m. at the historic Sam Jordan’s, 4004 Third St. in San Francisco.
Two weeks ago, he teamed with the National Maritime Museum to describe the role of black abolitionists in the state prior to the Civil War and highlight the Sargent Johnson artwork embedded throughout the building.
On Wednesday, Feb. 23, he is the luncheon speaker for an audience of 400 guests in the Celebrating Black American History program at the Hotel Whitcomb in San Francisco.
In a state where two in five black students drop out, Templeton is reminded of a vignette which occurred while taking students from his biotechnology magnet program on a walking tour through downtown San Franciso last summer.
While looking at a quote from National Medal of Freedom winner Maya Angelou, in the 1940s the first black woman to operate a local trolley, in a North Beach alley, a student blurted out: “This is interesting. I would actually go to school for this. Why don’t they talk about this during Black History Month.”
Today’s challenge is summed up in a 1855 statement on education by the Colored Convention of California, written by San Francisco ministers Revs. John J. Moore of First A.M.E. Zion and T.M.D. Ward of Bethel A.M.E. (Both churches are still active today 158 years after their founding in 1852):
“Knowledge gives to its possessors a power and a superiority over the uncultivated, real and substantial. The ignorant must give place and yield to the intelligent and educated; it is a law growing out of the nature of things.”
“We are engaged in a great work: it is this, we aim to render overselves equal with the most favored, not simply nominally equal, but truly and practically, in knowledge, energy, practical skill and enterprise. The past has been to us full of wrong and suffering; we are not content with our present condition; it remains for us to say whether we will continue in this position.”