Elsie tightly clutched her school bag as she entered the school gates. Out of the corner of her eye she could see the other children staring at her as she walked past. She hugged her school bag closer and nervously walked into the classroom.
‘Children,’ announced the teacher, ‘this is Elsie. She has just moved here and will be joining our class.’
Elsie took a seat and carefully placed her bag on her lap. As she looked around her, it didn’t take long for her to notice that she was one of only two black children in the class.
‘Let’s open up our history books to page 17,’ said the teacher. Elsie opened up her book and the teacher started to read. ‘Today we are looking at all the great discoveries and inventions that people have made in our world.’
As Elsie looked at the pictures in her book, she felt her tummy tighten into a knot. Not one of the people in the drawings was a black person like herself.
Elsie’s mind rushed to what she had learned in her previous school: for thousands of years black people from all over the world had made some of the most important discoveries and inventions. She wanted to stand up and tell all her classmates this truth, but the words felt stuck in her throat. She was scared.
Suddenly Elsie remembered her great-grandmother Louisa. Louisa had been born a slave and had fought for freedom and justice. One night, a violent group of people came to Louisa’s house to hurt her family. Although she was terrified, Louisa risked her own life by refusing to let them in. She knew the truth, that black and white people are equal, and that gave her courage. Seeing that she would not move, the crowd finally left. Elsie thought of Louisa’s courage and knew that she too could be brave.
Still holding her school bag tightly with one hand, Elsie slowly raised her other hand to speak.
‘Excuse me, Miss,’ she said with a shaky voice, ‘but I was taught that black Africans worked with iron before anyone else in the world knew anything about iron. They also created beautiful carvings and statues out of gold and bronze. But this book doesn’t show any of this.’
Everyone in the classroom fell silent.
The teacher took off her reading glasses and turned to the class. ‘What Elsie says is true. And it seems that the people writing this history book chose not to tell that part of history.’ The teacher began to tell the class about some of the amazing contributions that black people, both in Africa and in other parts of the world, had made over the centuries.
Elsie’s hand slowly let go of her school bag and she placed it under her desk. Although her tummy still felt a bit wobbly, she knew that, like her great-grandmother Louisa, she could draw on her inner courage to stand up for what was true.
When Elsie was older, she became one of the first African-American women lawyers in the United States. Throughout her life, she continued to speak out for truth and justice.
Did You Know?
- Elsie travelled the world to promote the principles of justice, both in her work as an attorney and as a member of the Bahá’í Faith.
- Elsie lived in many countries including Morocco, Nigeria, Kenya, and the Bahamas.