Published in 2012, Black History: More than Just a Month, by public school teacher Mike Henry, is a fascinating volume that highlights a comprehensive collection of the often-overlooked contributions by African-Americans to American history. Beginning with the colonial era, Henry interlaces popular historical narratives with details of the crucial, yet less frequently recognized, roles played played by black men and women.
For example, Henry sheds new light on the story of the 1762 assassination attempt against George Washington, here in New York City’s Fraunces Tavern, which also served as the site of his famous farewell address to his officers 1783. The plot against Washington by the English involved turning one of his bodyguards, an Irishman named Thomas Hickey against him. Hickey had a black mistress, Pheobe Fraunces, daughter of the tavern’s proprietor, and it was intended that she would put poison into Washington’s favorite dish, green peas.
When she learned of the plot, Fraunces pretended to go along with it, pressing Hickey for additional details. Once she had sufficient information, she went to Washington with her findings. The plan was carried out as intended, but having been forewarned, Washington threw the peas out of a window before anybody could consume them. They were eaten by a chicken in the yard that promptly died, serving as proof to arrest Hickey, who was later sentenced to death by hanging. His sentence was carried out in 1776 and marked the incipient nation’s first military execution. “Thus, it wasn’t a spy or a military aide but a young black woman who helped prevent the assassination of the commander-in-chief by gathering enough evidence so the would-be assassin could be caught, convicted, and executed” (Henry, 2012, p. 9-10).
While the bulk of Black History offers readers an enlightening overview of American history, there are also two useful and interesting appendices. The first is a daily calendar of events from black history. For example, on February 16, 1944 the “Golden Thirteen,” the first African-American naval training group began their program. Their class average of 3.89 is a record yet to be beat. Today marks the anniversary of blues singer Bessie Smith’s first recording on February 17, 1923. Additionally, a “top of the lists” section names top contributors and “best ofs” in a wide variety of fields, from inventors and war heros to gifted athletes and unforgettable renditions of the national anthem (#1 is Jimmy Hendrix at Woodstock).
While Black History: More than Just a Month, was intended a resource for teachers and educators to use to inform their teaching, it’s a compelling read for anybody interested in learning more about African-American contributions to our shared history during this or any month.
Henry, M. (2012). Black History: More than Just a Month. Lanham, MD, USA: R&L Education.
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