I noticed over the past week that we've had an unusual amount of traffic from people searching for information about Rosa Parks (and, to their good fortune, they were finding this excellent piece by DHinMI, from TNH's glory
years months). For those still googling, the answer is, no, Rosa Parks didn't have children.
But, I began to wonder why the sudden interest in Rosa Parks. Then I realized it's February and, naturally, the shortest month is also Black History Month. Although only fleetingly observed by the general public, there seem to be enough (students?) interested in the topic that it has a measurable impact on search engine traffic. In fact, if civilization came to an end and all that survived were google's search records, you could still figure out when Black History Month had been:
Search results for "black history" from Google Trends
You can also read the traces of Black History Month in the search patterns of other famous African-Americans:
Search results for "Harriet Tubman", "George Washington Carver", "Malcolm X", "Jackie Robinson", and "Sojourner Truth"
(The scaling of results for Rosa Parks is skewed by google searches upon her death in 2005. Strangely, google searches for Martin Luther King are perfectly flat in February after having spiked sharply around his January birthday.)
I figured that this site is read by enough amateur historians that you might have something interesting to say in the comments to current (or future) students googling up research for projects on Black History Month. For a start, I thought they might like to get off the beaten path a bit and dig up information on some of the country's less-often-remembered but no-less-great African American histories:
- Obviously there's the first black U.S. Senator (no, it wasn't Barack Obama -- he came 135 years later). If you think modern politics is strange, the history of the Senate during the Civil War looks even stranger. The first black Senator, Hiram Revels, went into the Senate just after the Civil War in the same seat that had been occupied by Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy, just before the war. Amazing.
- This article, about a rediscovered slave narrative, stayed with me since I read it three years ago. Although she was one of the very few slaves who wrote their own stories in their own hands -- being one of the very few slaves who could write at all -- Harriet Jacobs and the book she wrote, "Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl," are rarely taught. Several of her letters have been put online here -- for example, this one, in which she writes, while in slavery, "I have not written a single page by daylight Mrs W dont know from my lips that I am writing for a Book and has never seen a line of what I have written".
- Finally, I doubt it is being taught this way in schools, but the story of the government's (non)response to Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath -- including the way New Orleans sits today -- is undoubtedly a chapter of modern black history. At the time I wrote a related post on the hurricane of 1900 that destroyed Galveston, TX, and I still think there's a lot to be learned from that story about how a disaster of that scale, in that region, should and shouldn't be dealt with. One of the things that struck me most was how, in 1900, Clara Barton, the founder of the Red Cross, worked around racism of locals to ensure African-Americans got help -- one way she did it was by having blacks form their own relief committees to directly distribute funding. There is a good description of it here (PDF), especially starting around the bottom of page 10.
Any other thoughts for young Google researchers -- or the rest of us?