This semester, Dr. Mark Sidwell, a professor in the Division of History, Government and Social Science, is teaching a special topics class in African American history.
A special topics class is a specific course chosen by a professor within the range of their expertise. While this is the first time this specific class has been taught, Sidwell has previously taught several similar courses.
Sidwell said students in this class learn about the participation of Blacks in the Civil War, the Reconstruction Era after the Civil War, the growth of Jim Crow segregation and the civil rights movement, topics sometimes overlooked in basic history classes.
“This class is not just a church history class,” Sidwell said. “It is everything about African American history from the beginning to the present. We look at the entire nature of slavery in the United States and how it established itself in this country.”
Nicoll Botero, a junior international studies major, said she chose the class as a history elective. “I think we should all know the history of other people in our country because it is not only one colonial American history,” Botero said. “We have so many amazing Black people in this country that we should bother to learn their history as well.”
Botero said sometimes students want to learn more about their own culture, so she believes the University should have more classes like this one. “Dr. Sidwell does an outstanding job of [using] modern references and showing contrasting viewpoints on things,” Botero said.
Sidwell said while the class highlights Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., he also introduces students to other Black leaders including Booker T. Washington and W.E.B Dubois. For one assignment, students choose an African American leader and write about that leader’s contribution to American history.
Charsie Johnson, an African American senior middle school mathematics education major, said when she received an assignment in another history class to write about someone who contributed to American history, she chose Madam C.J. Walker, the first female self-made millionaire in America. She found herself wanting to know more about African American history, so she decided to take Sidwell’s class.
“Right now, we are discussing racism and slavery,” Johnson said. “This class has made me realize that the world we live in now is much different than the world my ancestors lived in.”
Johnson said African Americans should push through hate and discrimination and strive to have a voice. “I think that we should show the resilient side of our culture,” Johnson said. “I don’t know a lot about my history, so it is good to have a class like this on campus.” Johnson hopes in the future there will be more classes focused on African American history.
“I would not mind seeing it put in the regular curriculum as a regular elective,” Sidwell said. “It depends on the reaction and interest of students.”
In addition to referencing texts in class from leaders such as Langston Hughes and Martin Luther King Jr., Dr. Sidwell uses a book he authored, Free Indeed: Heroes of Black Christian History. You can purchase the book from the University Press or check it out from the library on campus.