ORLANDO | Within a rectangular classroom on the second tier of St. Andrew Catholic School in Orlando is a classroom overflowing with prominent Black leaders on its walls and bookshelves of African American literature. The English and languagearts (ELA) classroom exudes a seriousness for its knowledge of Black history and for its dedication to help its students learn that information.
After students gathered near the statue of St. Andrew to recite their morning prayer, they dispersed and began to fill their teacher’s classrooms. Waiting patiently behind her corner desk, preparing her tablet to navigate her virtual students on Zoom, rested the face-masked their teacher, Tameka Hanford.
“I am happy to be here at St. Andrew, not just as their ELA teacher, but as the person they see as an example,” said the woman who comes from a family of educators. “(As) a person of color that looks like them, that can talk like them, that can sometimes act like them, but also be that stern example.”
In celebration of Black History Month, Hanford talked to the Florida Catholic about her experience as a Black educator at a school with a student people that is predominantly people of color. A teacher for the last five years, she shared her voice as she addressed a variety of questions that surround teaching and celebrating Black History Month in a video interview with the Florida Catholic. It is available to view at www.thefloridacatholic.org.
“Black history is not just in the month of February,” she said. “To expand your horizons, Black History Month is 365 days of the year. It’s not just one day or one month or one week. There are so many people who have contributed to Black history. … We’re artists, inventors, actors, athletes, scientists, lawyers, doctors and more so I attempt to highlight Black history on a daily basis… I cover great African Americans and other people of color because it’s important for my students to know, learn and see people who look like them.”
Along with discussing prominent figures in Black history, Hanford discussed the difficult subject of how, at times, history can be “whitewashed” to produce a more positive reflection that it truly may have been. She doesn’t gloss over the fact that founding fathers such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson owned slaves. Hanford also expounded further with her thoughts on Abraham Lincoln. “I don’t think he was just in love with African Americans and that he wanted Black people to just be free. Even in politics, people tell you what they want to hear to get what they want,” she said. “You can’t just sit here and tell a Black child that (Lincoln) loved Black people…it was more of (Lincoln) knowing what he had to do to get votes. He may have been a great speaker. He may have been a great-hearted person. I don’t discredit that.”
Abolitionists such as Douglass and Horace Greeley worked to gain Lincoln’s support for abolition. In an editorial, Greeley wrote for the New York Tribune in 1862, “The Prayer of Twenty Millions,” the writer assailed Lincoln for his soft treatment of slaveholders and for his unwillingness to enforce the Confiscation Acts, which called for the property, including enslaved people, of Confederates to be taken when their homes were captured by Union forces. Abolitionists saw the acts as a wedge to drive into the institution of slavery. In a response to that editorial, Lincoln wrote a noncommittal response concerning emancipation, “If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that.” But Lincoln also ended his response with, “I intend no modification of my oft-expressed personal wish that all men everywhere could be free.” A month later, Lincoln introduced the Emancipation Proclamation.
“Today, systematic racism exists and is alive at every level of society,” she said. “We know it’s real through education, employment, the criminal justice system, surveillance, housing, and healthcare. Racism has taught the privileged that blackness is not valued; the truth is, it’s been destructive in the lives of generations of Black, Native and Hispanic Americans. Our children should know their history, but it should be taught correctly. When we don’t have the answers, it is our responsibility to educate ourselves in order to teach the next generation.”