This unit was developed for an African American and Latinx History course at a public high school in New Haven. The course begins with indigeneity, pre-enslavement and pre-colonization, in Africa and in the Americas, a critical reminder that these histories don’t begin with domination. To the extent that these histories are shrouded in narratives of oppression, they are also abundant with stories of resistance—and must be taught as such. This is a theme throughout the curriculum and in this unit in particular.
The course continues with movements for abolition and decolonization throughout the early and mid-19th century, as well as those still active today in places like Puerto Rico. Next, we study Reconstruction and the sense of hope and possibility brought by this short era—dashed by the end of the 19th century. Yet, the fight for liberation endured throughout the 20th century and continues still today. This unit revolves around the 20th century, and the Black and Latinx freedom struggles of that era.
The goal of this unit, though, is not only to teach this critical history, but also to introduce students to a new way of learning history: through the lens of cultural studies. That is, we will examine Black and Latinx cultural production—including visual art, music, dance, and fashion—to help us understand the political dynamics of the 20th century, especially around themes of race, racism, and racial justice, as well as gender and sexuality. Through this unit, students will see how Black and Latinx art, music, dance, and fashion can be forms of resistance and expressions of freedom, as well as primary sources that help us to better understand the past and make connections to the present.