In a 1986 book by U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, the future diplomat argued for the aggressive inclusion of a black history curriculum in American schools, claiming that its omission had “crippling effects” by “providing a child with no more than … a white interpretation of reality.”
The 86-page book, “A History Deferred,” served as a guide for secondary and elementary school teachers wanting to teach “Black Studies,” and was published by the Black Student Fund, an advocacy group where Rice had an internship.
“Susan’s interest in the study of Black history evolved from her desire to learn more about the experiences and achievements of her own people,” notes the preface.
Central to the book’s ambition was reclaiming lost black achievements and giving black children pride in their history. In that vein, Rice lists black achievements in “Literature,” “the Arts,” “the Music [sic]” and “Public Service” to present an Afrocentric view of U.S. history.
This was necessary, Rice noted in her book’s foreword, because most students were “taught American history, literature, art, drama, and music largely from a white, western European perspective. As a result, their grasp of the truth, of reality, is tainted by a myopia of sorts.”
“American history cannot be understood fully or evaluated critically without ample study of Black history,” Rice added.
Rice wrote her undergraduate senior thesis under Clayborne Carson, a Stanford history professor who teaches “Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity,” about the experiences of black southerners who worked in Oakland’s shipyards during World War II.
Like Carson, Rice saw a political component in Black Studies, writing that the “absence or cursory coverage of Black history, literature, and culture reinforces pernicious and pervasive social perceptions of Black Americans.”
And failing to teach Black Studies in school, she argued, had negative consequences for the self-esteem of black children.
“Ultimately, what is more important than the white or majority perception of black Americans is the black man, woman, and child’s perception of themselves,” Rice wrote. “The greatest evil in omitting or misrepresenting Black history, literature, and culture in elementary or secondary education is the unmistakable message it sends to the black child. The message is ‘your history, your culture, your language and your literature are insignificant. And so are you.’”
Despite lacking an Afrocentric curriculum at the tony National Cathedral School for Girls in Washington, D.C., Rice’s options were many and impressive.
Her father was a governor of the Federal Reserve and a World Bank official, and her mother was a senior vice president of Control Data Processing. Rice won a coveted Rhodes Scholarship in December 1985. “I think it is very important for other black students to be aware of the scholarship program and see it as a good opportunity for them,” she told The Washington Post at the time.