African-American history has played an integral role in the shaping of politics, economics, and culture in the United States. Growing up, how did you learn about the accomplishments and struggles of African Americans? Were you in a classroom? Reading a book? Talking with relatives or friends? How has your understanding or knowledge of African-American history changed and/or developed over time? What do you think is the most effective way to pass along this rich and growing history to future generations?

Joan McCarty

My first opportunity to take a formal class in African American History was in 1968 at the University of Illinois in Chicago. Many of the students thought this class would be a “rap session” class where we could discuss the problems we were experiencing with racism and discrimination. Imagine our surprise when white, Harvard-educated Dr. Gilbert Osofsky breezed in, lectured every day, assigned a book a week to be read, and allowed no discussion. One day some of us asked if we could discuss some historical issues. He looked legitimately dumbfounded by our request and responded, “but you don’t know anything.” Some of us were insulted, but truly, we knew very little about our history since we had never been taught much in high school or elementary school. Many students dropped the course. I hung in, read the books, and discovered an area of research that would lead me to graduate school and beyond. I will be forever grateful to the late Dr. Osofsky who taught me that scholarship and research is key in discovering one’s history and culture.