State official tells Kean students Black history isn’t just for February

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By Adrianna Ruffo | Published May 8, 2017

The state assemblyman and civil rights worker who introduced the legislation requiring that black history be incorporated into the teaching of general history from grades K-12 said the law has not been honored.

In a presentation on civil rights issues to several Communication classes, former Assemblyman William D. Payne (D-Newark) said the Amistad legislation he introduced and was passed in 1998 requires African American history to be included in the curriculum all year-round.

“One of the major reasons for racism that exists in our country is the fact that the history and contributions made to our country by African Americans is distorted or entirely omitted from the curriculum which is used throughout our entire system of education,” said Payne.

Instead, he said, black history is relegated to being taught mostly in February, which is Black History month. This leaves the mistaken impression that black Americans were not involved in the founding of America and the continuing fight for freedom.

The omission is a lie historically, but it also hurts children who then grow up not having appropriate role models. He then recited names of great Black soldiers; inventors and other significant black Americans who he said are not recognized for their achievements alongside white men as they should be.

Mr. Payne was at Kean in April after he was invited to speak to a class on News Literacy, which had earlier reviewed news coverage of what is referred to in the media as the Newark riots when a police incident led to massive rioting and 26 deaths nearly 50 years ago in July 1967.

Payne explained that what the media called “riots” is seen among many who were involved not as a riot but as a revolution because it was borne out of oppression and racism.

Payne, who was born and raised in Newark, and graduated from Rutgers University told the students about his time working in the civil rights movement when he had the honor to work with the movement’s greatest leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Medgar Evers and Malcolm X.

Credit: Rebecca Panico

William Payne, forward far right, stands with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1956. Credit: Rebecca Panico

He recounted the trials the group endured and presented photographs of himself standing next to Dr. King, and other major Civil Rights leaders.

“I truly believe that if we are able to teach the truth, that we would have changes of attitude,” said Payne.

William Kolbenschlag, a communication professor at Kean, brought his Public Relations Writing class to hear Payne and the class was interested in his points about the importance of teaching public school students the contributions that African Americans have made to the United States.

“I decided to bring my public relations writing class to the event because we are talking about op-eds and opinion pieces and I thought this would be a great topic for them to write about,” said Kolbenschlag. “So for them, it became a lesson in writing, speaking, history, politics and civil rights all in one.”

Kolbenschlag said his students were also impressed by Payne’s experiences, that his stories of that period is “not the kind of thing they saw in history books.”

“I learned a lot in a short amount of time. In just an hour or so he covered so many different topics,” said Kolbenschlag. “So not only was this an opportunity for my students to learn, but it helped me gain a better understanding for the topics discussed as well.”

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