LaGarrett King works in his office

LaGarrett King works in his office on Friday at the MU School of Education. King is the director of the new Carter Center in Columbia, a program that will infuse black history into the K-12 curriculum.  

LaGarrett King is a crusader for teaching black history.

Inspired by Carter G. Woodson, who first championed the field of black history, King opened the MU Carter Center for K-12 Black History Education in February.

It’s been his dream for many years.

“Probably since he was 3,” the center’s associate director, Ashley Woodson, joked.

That’s not far off, King said. He developed the idea after reflecting on his experiences as a student and a teacher.

“When I studied history in school, it always felt like something was missing — particularly the stories of the people that looked like me,” said King, who grew up in 1980s Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Back then, federal desegregation enforcement was in full effect. He said he attended high school with an even mix of black and white classmates.

Although a steady rollback of desegregation laws over the past 30 years has since resegregated the public school system, another reality has remained unchanged: King’s teachers were almost all white, a problem that persists nationwide today.

In Missouri, 5.2 percent of public school teachers were black in 2017, while 16.2 percent of students were black, according to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

A robust body of research supports the notion that black students taught by black teachers — people with whom they identify — have higher high school graduation rates.

But King, an associate professor of social studies education at MU, believes the whitewashed history often taught in schools more often reflects a deficit in professional development and resources available for teachers than malicious racial bias.

Launched in February, the Carter Center aims to provide teachers with the tools to educate students about black history in a more nuanced format.

“Teachers are well-meaning and they want to do well, but they’re under-resourced,” King said. “I had wonderful history teachers who were very knowledgeable, but those stories about black people in history were always left out. I always felt a void in learning black history.”

The black studies and history classes King took in college steadily filled the void.

“It started making sense that there were enslaved people who fought back or ran away,” King said. “It made sense that the majority of people were not involved in the civil rights movement. It all made sense after I heard it. I just needed someone to say it out loud or read something that confirmed it.”

King wanted to be that person for his students when he became a high school history teacher. He made it his mission to teach his students about the historical contributions of black Americans even if it wasn’t in the curriculum. Later, the creation of the Carter Center would further his mission.

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey: brixeye@missouri.edu, 882-2632.

  • Kathryn Palmer is an education reporter for the Columbia Missourian and a graduate student at the MU School of Journalism. She can be reached at kathryn.palmer@mail.missouri.edu

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