October , 2018

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73-years later, CEO Dr. Barbara Byrd-Bennett will soon roll out the state mandated African American History curriculum

By Chinta Strausberg

I was listening to WVON this morning when a caller phoned in asking the substitute host to look up the history on Madeline Stratton Morris. I did Google her name and was shocked for she created the first black history curriculum for the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) in 1941–73-years ago and 50 years ago before the late Senator William “Bill” Shaw passed a bill in 1991 mandating the teaching of African American History in all public schools.

I was totally shocked to learn about Morris’ determination and her tenacity in teaching black history at a time when I don’t think that was very popular.

But, I am glad that CPS’ CEO Dr. Barbara Byrd-Bennett was receptive to obeying the 1991 law.

It was on November 12, 2012 during a CPS faith-based meeting that I asked Dr. Byrd-Bennett if she would obey that law. I am media director for the WE CAN, INC. Committee chaired by Florence Cox, who was the first black female president of the Chicago Board of Education.

At that meeting before about 300 religious leaders, she vowed to obey the 1991 law, and I am proud to say that after talking again to her two top aides earlier today, the CEO’s goal is to roll out the African American History curriculum sometime this month but no later than March of this year. I am both glad and proud that Dr. Byrd-Bennett accepted the challenge.

The history of the 1991 law is also interesting. Back in the 1980’s, I had a talk show on WVON. When I was interviewing Rep. Monique D. Davis (D-27th) about the Holocaust bill she had just passed, a caller named Mellow Sam from Maywood, Illinois, phoned and asked her to pass a bill mandating black history.

That was in the 1980’s. Senator Shaw passed the bill in 1991, but no one ever acted on that legislation. Had Dr. Byrd-Bennett ignored my question at her November 12, 2012 faith-based meeting, that statue would still be on the books gathering dust. So, I thank her for her courage and her passion to teach ALL students about African American history.

It was businessman Herbert Hedgeman who gave the WE CAN INC. Committee its charge to get this 1991 law actually taught in the classroom. Mrs. Cox and I have been busy meeting that challenge, but it never could have happened without the cooperation of Dr. Byrd-Bennett and again I thank her for keeping her word.

I grew up in a home where black history was not taught, and it was not taught in our schools. I never want another black child to grow up without knowing their own history and now my wish is coming true.

The We Can, Inc.’s next fight is to have the law implemented in ALL public schools in the state of Illinois. While we have lost generations of youth who were not taught African American history, in 2014 they will begin to learn and not just from slavery for Dr. Byrd-Bennett also agreed to WE CAN, INC.’s request that the history includes African history including the kings, queens and all of the accomplishments Africans made prior to their capture by slave masters.

With this knowledge, I believe our youth will realize their worth, learn from whence they come and my prayer is they lay down the guns and pick up some books. Perhaps some may think that is a stretch, but that is my dream, my hope and my prayer.

Here is some history on Madeline Stratton Morris taken from the Madeline Stratton Morris Papers Repository: Chicago Public Library, Carter G. Woodson Regional Library, Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection of Afro-American History and Literature.

Born in 1906 in Chicago, she was educated in Chicago Public Schools, Northwestern University, and the University of Chicago, and taught social studies in the CPS from 1933 to 1968.

Along with her second husband, Samuel B. Stratton, Morris was an active member of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, in addition to their extensive participation in several of black Chicago’s elite social organizations.

After her retirement from the CPS, Morris continued to teach at local colleges and to speak publicly on themes of African American history and education.

The Madeline Stratton Morris papers consist of biographical records, manuscripts, correspondence, organizational material, subject files, photographs, and a small collection of serials and memorabilia, as well as one box of material relating to the life and career of her second husband, Samuel B. Stratton.

The collection features manuscript drafts and correspondence relating to the creation and reception of her African American history curriculum, the “Supplementary Units,” from 1940 to 1949. The collection also extends to all facets of Morris’s public life, including her career in the CPS, her social activities in mid-century black Chicago, and an impressive record of public speeches delivered to audiences in Chicago and across the nation.

And, here is a link to The HistoryMakers on the life of Madeline Stratton Morris.


Chinta Strausberg is a Journalist of more than 33-years, a former political reporter and a current PCC Network talk show host. You can e-mail Strausberg at: Chintabernie@aol.com.

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