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?

Lana Tyehimba

I grew up in Detroit in the 1960s, during the city’s industrial and musical heyday. My mother’s family migrated to Detroit from Virginia, a state that sounded like one big ugly tobacco field based on the stories I overheard. But in Detroit, the promise of a better life was being realized – or so it seemed. While there were a growing number of black teachers, store owners, auto workers and homeowners, racial tensions were noticeable. We didn’t visit certain areas of the city. I truly wasn’t even exposed to white people until I attended an integrated high school in downtown Detroit. I remember “Free Angela Davis” buttons, and men in bow ties selling bean pies and the Final Call, and Afros growing larger by the day. I loved feeling a part of a wildly varied people bound by blood and history, even though I wasn’t being formally educated in that history. I was being educated in the streets. I remember the fires of the 1967 riots, and watching my mother go into a store and loot because we “deserved” more. I learned to be proud, but afraid too. Mostly, I learned that African Americans never, ever stop trying.