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Black History Edits Made to Virginia Schools Curriculum

Maggie Walker statue
In 2017, the City of Richmond installed a statue to Maggie Walker, a businesswoman and teacher. She was also the first African American woman to charter a bank and serve as its president in the United States. Now, Virginia is adding more Black history, including notable figures and the central role of slavery in the Civil War, to the state curriculum after decades of failing to teach the full history of the commonwealth. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

On Thursday, the Virginia Board of Education approved changes to the state's history curriculum to incorporate a more holistic version of Black history. The changes are effective immediately. 

Edits to the current curriculum were recommended by Gov. Ralph Northam’s Commission on African American History Education in the Commonwealth, which delivered its report in August.

For now, only changes were made that work within the framework of the current standards. Those changes include the following:

  • Including Juneteenth in the list of holidays and observances in the curriculum framework for kindergarten
  • Adding John Mercer Langston and L. Douglas Wilder to the list of notable Virginians for first graders
  • Adding specificity on the leadership of Martin Luther King Jr. in ending racial segregation to the second-grade framework
  • Adding a specific reference to Virginia’s Old Point Comfort as the point of arrival of the first Africans brought to British North America
  • Including Crispus Attucks and James Armistead Lafayette in the list of individuals playing important roles in the American Revolution
  • Acknowledging the resistance of most white Southerners to Reconstruction
  • Teaching high schoolers about the adoption of the Virginia Slave Codes by the Virginia House of Burgesses, and about the history of lynching in Virginia and the U.S.
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The Board of Education is expected to make even more comprehensive changes to Virginia’s history courses next year, when the Standards of Learning for history and social sciences are scheduled for review. Those content changes would take effect in early 2022, along with new SOL assessments. 

One of next year’s main content changes -- proposed by the commission’s August report -- would be to make it clearer that the Civil War was caused by cultural and economic tensions that were directly tied to slavery. 

Dan Gecker, president of the Board of Education, says the goal of these changes is to tell a more fair version of the country’s past.

“We are not rewriting history. We are actually more fully telling history. And it is our hope that when we are done, the Standards of Learning will in fact reflect not a rewriting to a certain point of view, but a full and fair recitation of what actually happened,” Gecker said.

As for why these changes are happening now, Gecker credited “a clear, greater awareness of diversity” that has arisen in the current moment in the country’s history.

In a statement, Northam embraced Virginia’s efforts to better teach Black history -- and “its continuous influence on our communities today.”

“A review of this content, instructional practices and resources currently used to teach African American history in the Commonwealth will help ensure that every graduate enters adult life with comprehensive understanding of the African American voices that contribute to the story of our nation and our Commonwealth,” Northam said.