Righting history: Every month is Black History Month at BlackPast.org

UW professor Quintard Taylor is blowing students’ minds in class and with his website devoted to black history.

DR. QUINTARD TAYLOR is blowing his students’ minds.

Taylor, an esteemed University of Washington history professor, is walking them through the history of Mexican Texas, explaining how African-American slaves left farms and plantations to join the Mexican Army during the Battle of the Alamo in 1836, and slipped across the U.S. border during the conflict to live as free people in Mexico, where slavery was outlawed.

By the time Texas had claimed its independence from Mexico in 1836, he tells the students, what had been a place for black people to live freely in the 1820s had, through sleight of hand and defiance by slave-owning Southerners, become home to some 250,000 black slaves.

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If thinking were accompanied by grinding gears and squeaky nuts and bolts, Taylor’s thought factory of a classroom would require earplugs and a ratchet set. One of the class’ 32 students, who went to elementary school in Texas, furrows his brow and confesses he never heard that version of history when he was growing up.

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Taylor calls for a quick break, and when he returns, asks, “How’s everyone doing?”

Alana Edmondson, who grew up in Seattle, tells him, “I’m trying to wrap my mind around it all.”

The professor nods knowingly. He’s had his mind blown, too. Sometimes still does. It’s what happens when you explore African-American history in the West, a topic so arcane when Taylor began researching it in the late 1970s that he originally denied there was such a thing.

Now he’s become one of the foremost experts on the subject, teaching it to students…

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