The bill would require the Board of Regents to incorporate black history into public schools in cities with a population of over one million.
While at a teen technology challenge at Medgar Evers College, State Senator Jesse Hamilton asked the students if they knew who Medgar Evers was, and none of them could answer.
“At that point, I said something is wrong with our education system,” he said. “We have to make sure that people of color see positive images in school and know more than just Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglas and Martin Luther King.”
Assemblywoman Diana Richardson is sponsoring a companion bill in the Assembly.
The legislation was announced at the Weeksville Heritage Center in Brooklyn, the largest African-American cultural institution in the borough and the site of one of the country’s first free black communities.
“This was a major location on the underground railroad and so many people don’t know,” said Jacob Morris, a board member of the New York City Freedom Trail. “That alone makes this so appropriate for what we’re trying to accomplish.”
In 2005, the state created the Amistad Commission with the goal of infusing the state curriculum with lessons of black history. But according to Morris, that commission failed to live up to the task and has since gone dormant.
Professor Victoria Chevalier, who teaches at Medgar Evers College, said the curriculum will help students understand that figures in African-American history are agents of change and not passive afterthoughts thrown into the lesson plan during the month of February.
“The benefits of incorporating this vibrant history in the curriculum for our children as early as possible is immeasurable,” she said.
Hamilton said the curriculum would be worked into all subject areas. An English lesson, for example, could focus on the Harlem Renaissance.
“We’re going to integrate it into all lessons, not just history,” Hamilton said.