The Day the National Guard Raided an HBCU Dorm

Feb 15, 2023

Compass with needle pointing the word leadership with blur effect plus blue and black tones.
Award statues and

A portion of the bullet-ridden, exterior wall of Smith Hall still stands in commemoration at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University.  Khadejeh Nikouyeh/News & Observer

The Day the National Guard Raided an HBCU Dorm

This is why Black history needs to be taught

By Gina Miller, contributing writer for SunShower Learning

Our nation’s schools have an incredible responsibility when it comes to honoring Black History Month.  All too often, they use a “heroes and holidays” approach.  While this may be well intended, it has the effect of making Black students feel othered, as though they exist outside of the actual curriculum.  A better approach would be to incorporate Black stories and voices into the year-round curriculum – and to incorporate Black students into the everyday classroom. 

Another problematic approach is to relegate Black History Month to a historical rundown that serves to retraumatize Black people.  I’m about to share a personal experience that I hope will not do just that.  I feel compelled, however, to provide evidence of the incredible responsibility our educational system has to tell all sides of history.  I feel strongly that an equitable curriculum teaches that Black history did not begin with slavery; it also depicts the violence and oppression that Black Americans have endured, thereby contextualizing the current-day economic and social outcomes that sit squarely in the long shadow of history.

Earlier this week, I participated in a tour of North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (N.C. A&T), a Historically Black College and University (HBCU), with my son.  During the tour, we learned – for the very first time – about how N.C. A&T became the site of one of the largest, most violent government occupations of an American college campus, complete with tear gas, bullets and tanks.  It was May of 1969, and a protest was underway in response to the latest racial injustice at a local high school.  A decision had been made by the faculty-student election committee to deny the name of a Black student on the ballot for student body president despite the fact that he had triple the number of votes as compared to the opponent who ended up being elected.  When the Greensboro police arrived to disperse the protesters, they fired tear gas and bullets at the students.  The National Guard soon arrived and began a sweep of Scott Hall, where many innocent students were sleeping.  One student described, “young men running, trying to avoid being shot” and “pounding their fists on the doors of the dorm, begging to be let in so that they could escape the gunfire.”  Amid the chaos, N.C. A&T sophomore Willie Grimes was fatally shot in the back of the head.  As one of his instructors mournfully stated, “he was here for education. I think he was trying to get home when he was shot.”

As I stood there, staring at the bullet-ridden remnants of the building and reading the commemorative plaques, I contemplated the incredible responsibility of our educational leaders. As Paulo Freire said:

“There’s no such thing as neutral education. Education either functions as an instrument to bring about conformity or freedom.”  

Education can disregard; it can restrict; it can misrepresent.  It can outright omit historical events, such as the shooting at N.C. A&T.  It can exacerbate race and class disparities and serve an agenda of continued oppression and inequity.  On the flip side, education can dismantle systemic racism and drive equity of opportunity.  It can provide the tools to build more just, equitable societies and, in so doing, shape the nation and the world for the better.  

As we celebrate Black History Month, I implore today’s educational leaders to acknowledge their incredible responsibility to teach all sides of history, dismantle systemic racism and drive equitable educational outcomes for all children.  And I implore them to incorporate Black history into the everyday curriculum and the everyday classroom experience until doing so is no longer a bold action that must overcome incredible resistance.  (I’m looking at you, Governor DeSantis.)  Black history is our collective history, not to mention that Black history is the ongoing pursuit of truth and justice for all.  It is worthy of honor indeed.

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