Six historians weigh in on the biggest misconceptions about black historyHistorians in the News
tags: historians, Black History Month
To study American history is often an exercise in learning partial truths and patriotic fables. Textbooks and curricula throughout the country continue to center the white experience, with Black people often quarantined to a short section about slavery and quotes by Martin Luther King Jr. Many walk away from their high school history class — and through the world — with a severe lack of understanding of the history and perspective of Black people in America.
Last summer, the New York Times’s 1619 Project burst open a long-overdue conversation about how stories of Black Americans need to be told through the lens of Black Americans themselves. In this tradition, and in celebration of Black History Month, Vox has asked six Black scholars and historians about myths that perpetuate about Black history. Ultimately, understanding Black history is more than learning about the brutality and oppression Black people have endured — it’s about the ways they have fought to survive and thrive in America.
Myth 1: That enslaved people didn’t have money
Enslaved people were money. Their bodies and labor were the capital that fueled the country’s founding and wealth.
But many also had money. Enslaved people actively participated in the informal and formal market economy. They saved money earned from overwork, from hiring themselves out, and through independent economic activities with banks, local merchants, and their enslavers. Elizabeth Keckley, a skilled seamstress whose dresses for Abraham Lincoln’s wife are displayed in Smithsonian museums, supported her enslaver’s entire family and still earned enough to pay for her freedom.
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