Statement from Executive Director Cathy Gorn
Over the last week, I have watched the events, protests, and unrest taking place in cities across the country. I understand the frustration and anger expressed in response to ongoing incidents of brutality and deadly violence against African Americans. They are wrong, they are tragic, and my sorrow and sympathies are with the families and communities of those who have lost their lives.
Our country has struggled for centuries with the very issues confronting us today. Black history is American history. Its place in providing an unfiltered view of action and inaction in the face of inequality deserves to be scrutinized to enact change for the future. The dangers of ignoring the consequences of our shared history and reluctance to grapple with the difficult parts of our past create ripples that reverberate into systemic social and economic inequality.
Historians seek the truth, and part of that means asking tough questions not only of the subjects we study, but of ourselves. We cannot pick and choose to examine only the stories of history that make us feel safe. We must also confront our own biases and prejudices, implicit or explicit, to understand their influence in our work. Good historians continue to ask questions of each other, and of history, to pursue the truth in order to shape a better future.
Students, when you see injustice, take a stand; but don’t just stand there. When you turn 18, run, don’t walk, to register to vote. Democracy works best when “We the People” are engaged and informed. The figures and movements of history which you have addressed in your projects provide crucial lessons to be heeded in this moment. How were systemic inequalities broken down in the past? How did leaders galvanize and unite their people in times of darkness and strife? What motivated individuals of privilege to speak up and take action for the oppressed? Who were the agents of change, and how did they hold their leaders to account? I hope your answers to these questions will inform your words and actions beyond the classroom as you face the world and establish the role you will play in it.
This is why we study history. This is why we do National History Day.