The Untold History of African Americans and its Consequences – Kyle Litteral

The Untold History of African Americans and its Consequences – Kyle Litteral

The Black History in San Diego Project is all about celebrating and participating in an event within San Diego that celebrates Black History Month. For my project, I, along with many of my other classmates, attended an event on campus on February 24th called “Eavesdropping on America’s Conversation on Race”, with Michele Norris as a guest speaker. Michele Norris is a journalist best known for her NPR show All Things Considered which she has been doing for near a decade. Norris’ event, in its highlighting of repressed African American history and the fight for equal rights over the course of African American history, specifically in context to her father’s story, taught me a great deal about the side of history we don’t usually get to hear – that of the common African American and how that traumatic history led to certain needs within the African American community that were met by prominent leaders.


The event started off with Michele Norris giving us an introduction to herself and gave the audience a short introduction into what we could expect over the course of this event. Though the main purpose of the event was to talk about “The Race Card Project”, the way in which Norris lead us to the project with her backstory was just as valuable as the project itself, as Norris was very forthcoming with personal information about her family’s history and her upbringing. Norris spoke about the kinds of events in her father’s life, like a bad experience with his local police at a constitution education building in the civil rights era, and his resulting silence about this experience was so interesting because of how her father wasn’t visibly bitter about this event to the point of not instilling a hatred of police in his children. The most interesting thing about this fact is that it was done on purpose. His traumatic story was withheld in order to, in Norris’ words, give his children a fresh start or clean slate as far as their outlook on the world that wasn’t influenced by negative events that had occurred to him in his life.


This anecdote was crucial for what was to eventually follow in this speaker event. What this story really did was set up the premise of the “The Race Card Project” that Norris spearheaded in 2010. The idea was that there was probably so many people, like her father, that had endured these experiences but had not shared them with anyone, a kind of unspoken racial history that she wanted to bring to the light and document through the years to see the progression of race relations and history in America and the world.


The project revolves around ordinary, everyday people responding to a postcard (now it is more digitally produced) in which they are asked to describe what race means to them or to offer their experience with race in just six words. The requirement of having to only use six words provides for very powerful responses as the shortened prompt describes so much and can paint such a deep picture with only a few words.


Though there were responses from other races, this project, the prompt responses, and this event as a whole taught me a lot about African American history. Before the audience was even told of the project, Norris’ story of her family’s silence on some of their harder moments within America, and more specifically, in the civil rights era, was so moving and informational. Norris’ story really opened my eyes to the suppressed history of African Americans in this country and how many stories were potentially never told and what their impact could have been. This one story also made me think about all the history that has not been told from the common African American’s perspective rather than typical history told through the lens of leaders and prominent people in the community. I think that these kinds of stories were common in African American history in the civil rights era and the trauma led to topics we have discussed in class such as the rise of prominent speakers and activists such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X as well as organizations such as The Black Panthers and others. People’s similar experiences to Norris’ father must have created a need to band together due to a common experience and the need for protection, the desire for better and fair treatment, and the necessity to fight for what was right.



When thinking more about how common and shared negative experiences for African Americans may have led to people such as Malcolm X’s ascendency, I made some connections to the course reading, “The Ballot or the Bullet” (1964). Traumatic experiences in the civil rights era provided for strong leaders to emerge. Also that this course reading points to the struggles of African Americans to exercise their right to vote which had a strong connection to Norris’ father’s traumatic experience. Michele Norris’ father’s traumatic event occurred while he was attending a program dedicated to providing African Americans an opportunity to learn the constitution due to the added unnecessary obstacle of having to take tests in order to vote. Malcolm’s speech on black nationalism, the rights of African Americans to vote for proper representation, and the importance and power of voting. I thought that this speech had interesting overlap to Norris’ background that indirectly led to her impactful project.


Looking to a secondary source for analysis on how trauma and the silent histories of African Americans led to leaders like Malcolm X, I discovered an article from the Smithsonian Magazine titled “Is It Time for a Reassessment of Malcolm X?” The article goes into the progression of Malcolm X’s history as an activist and the differences between him and Martin Luther King Jr., though there were some overlapping ideologies such as the pursuit of freedom. What was discussed was how Malcolm X took a much harder stance against the people who had caused African Americans so much trauma and hardship. A quote from the article, “The reason people really have to understand Malcolm X, whether you agree with him or not, he was committed to the uplifting of black people…”, really brings home my point of how African Americans really looked towards and wanted a strong leader to help them come together toward the common cause of empowerment due to the common experience of trauma from mistreatment and racism.


As far as “The Race Card Project” is concerned, this was also meaningful for my understanding of African American history but this time in a more recent context. While Norris’ family story was more centered in the civil rights era, the responses to her project have been occurring in a more recent time period which is really good for understanding the current history of African Americans today and how people feel about their place in America and the treatment African Americans receive in this country even today. It is no secret that America still has a long way to go in order to be a country that treats all people equally both on an individual basis as well as a governmental/institutional basis. Being able to hear how people describe their experiences is so valuable to understanding current situations for people, including African Americans.


Overall, I believe that this event was very impactful for all involved. Many people in the audience seemed to be moved and really connected with the material. Being able to learn about past history of African Americans in the civil rights era and even all the way down to today from individual contributions to Norris’ project really taught me a lot from an in-depth perspective. I think that Michele Norris’ event was instrumental to my understanding of African American history from a unique perspective, that of the everyday African American person, that I would not have received from a textbook or any other source. That is what made this Black History event so impactful, which was that the event taught black history with anecdotes from African Americans both past and present. The information shared will stick with me forever as this was a moving presentation that taught me a ton about African American history, I’m glad that I was able to attend.

Works Cited

The Ballot or the Bullet, Malcolm X (April 12, 1964)

Smithsonian Magazine



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