Black activist won the right in the late 1960s to require that the story of blacks be included in textbooks and in the telling of American history, but the question of how that history was to be told was left unanswered.
Some black community leaders argued that black history had been so long ignored and information in textbooks was so sketchy that anything less would fall short of the mark.
Others contended that black history should be slowly incorporated into traditional social studies courses and that in due time, black Americans would be fully represented in the telling of the American story.
The battle still rages in some instances, and the question has not been definitively answered. Arguments for both approaches are still heard.
In Prince George's County, educatiors have struck something of a compromise. For the most part, county schools have sought to incorporate the black experience into the American experience as a whole.
Thus, students learn about Crispus Attucks -- a black man and the first American to die in the struggle for independence from Britain -- at the same time that they learn about George Washington.
"Textbooks have changed a great deal in the last 10 years," said Myrtle Fentress, who works in the curriculum office of the school system. "Now, they show both black and white Americans helping to shape the country's history."
Fentress said that in grades four through nine, social studies coursess take in much of black American history. When fourth grade students study state histroy, they read about famous black historical figures from Maryland like Sojourner Truth and explorer Matthew Henson.
In a seventh-grade social studies course that focuses on Prince George's County, students explore the changing demographics of the country, and the growth and development of black as well as white communities.
Through the process of integrating the black experience into local, state and national history continues in high school, students also may take an elective course in black studies. Approximately 11 of the country's 19 high schools offer the course, which focuses on famous black American figures like Marcus Garvey and important black institutions like the church.
Students also learn about the black experience in art and literature.
"We usually devote some time to the study of the 'Harlem Renaissance,' " said Harriet Watkins, who teaches two courses on black studies at Suitland Senior High School. "A lot of the kids would never get a chance to read the poetry of Countee Cullen and Claude McKay, if they didn't take this course."
Watkins, who has taught the course for nearly nine years, said she still believes experience is important because it gives an in-depth and comprehensive view of black history.
"I think students learn about the very well-known black figures like Fredrick Douglass, but they usually don't learn very much about people like Marcus Garvey, who were also important but aren't often included in the textbooks," she said.
A certain sense of mission also leads Watkins to believe that black studies courses are still important.
"Black students get a real feeling of self-pride when they read about blacks who succeeded even when they faced massive discrimination," she commented. "The kids need a view of history that they can identify with."
Last week, Watkins and her class discussed the meanings of prejudice and this week will explore the careers of 25 famous black Americans. Eventually the students will write research papers on a historical figure of their choice. t
Watkins said that interest in the course has been fairly high over the past nine years. Nearly 30 students are enrolled in her two classes at Suitland Senior High School.
"I think the course is absolutely neccessary," said Watkins. "It's the only one in which students can get a really intimate understanding of the role that blacks have played in this country."
"Suitland principal Walter Battle, a former social studies teacher, agrees: "The social studies people are moving in the right direction but a great deal more can be done. There's still a lot that's left out of the textbooks, and different teachers have different emphases in the classroom."
Battle said that students interest in black studies is still high and that he hopes the course will be around for a while.
"I've had more than a few students to walk up to me in the hallways and start a discussion about some important figure or event in black history. I really wonder if that would happen if we didn't have a black studies course," he said.