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State law to mandate black history courses at public colleges in Illinois

A silver gelatin print depicting a black-and-white image of participants holding protest signs during the March on Washington on August 28, 1963. House Bill 04346 requires each community college and public institution of higher education in Illinois to offer a course studying Black History. | Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian ORG XMIT: 2017-7006

Beginning Tuesday, public colleges and universities throughout the state must offer a course studying black history.

In 1981, a state law was passed to make sure that all public schools in Illinois teach black history. And in 2016, Chicago Public Schools history teachers believed that CPS didn’t do enough to implement black history classes into its curriculum.

The fact that the existing state mandates weren’t always followed is one reason state Rep. La Shawn K. Ford co-sponsored the bill.

“We’re going to have an audit on every school district in the state. In today’s times, where we have so much racial tension, we need to know each others’ culture,” Ford said. “You can’t have institutional learning that’s not complete.”

South Side native Joshua Adams, an assistant professor of media and communications at Salem State University, believes the legislation is a step in the right direction since most students never take a black history course until college.

“The way American history is taught around the country often leaves most students unequipped to know about and think critically about where we came from as a country and where we are going,” Adams said.

Elizabeth Todd-Breland, an assistant professor of history at and author of “A Political Education: Black Politics and Education Reform in Chicago since the 1960s,” believes oversight of the law is paramount.

“Given the way that black history has been ignored or distorted—particularly the history of slavery in some secondary textbooks and curriculum—I think requiring black history to be offered at the post-secondary level is important,” Todd-Breland said. “It will also be important to monitor the implementation of this to make sure these courses are not marginalized among other requirements.”