The rich and often tragic history of Black and Latino Americans has long been ignored.
In Black Chronicle and La Cronica historians and educators use a newspaper format to tell of their contributions and struggles.

 

 



The BLACK CHRONICLE was originated as a way of bringing immediacy to history. The newspaper format allows teachers to bring an entire class into the learning experience. Slow readers can focus on advertisements; more sophisticated readers can read news articles, features and editorials. But the most telling aspect of the newspaper format is its ability to portray a many-faceted moment in history, with its large implications and small concerns. For example, in Issue 4 (1857) of the BLACK CHRONICLE, the lead story is the Supreme Court decision rejecting the claim to freedom by Dred Scott. In the same issue, we read an advertisement by a woman who desperately needs $500 to buy her son and two sons-in-law out of slavery (page 2). Meanwhile, on page 4, we find a small item reporting that the game of baseball has established a new rule, limiting games to nine innings.

One of the dangers in studying history is that individuals and their struggles are forgotten. History often does not consider the lives of the individuals who, in the end, make up its substance. The BLACK CHRONICLE opens a window into the lives of those who struggled, and who are seen not as "test cases" or statistics, but as real people with aspirations, disappointments and victories.

The principal in the development of this exciting project was Robert A. Miller, who originated the idea while working in the 1960s as an actor in an Obie-Award-winning play, RIOT! Miller also worked as an education writer for COLLOQUY, a magazine published by the United Church of Christ. Aware of the turmoil over a need to recognize the contributions of minorities, he devised an approach to history that teachers could incorporate into their regular American History curriculum. The approach was to present Black American history in an engaging format, that of a tabloid newspaper. The material would be based on contemporary historiography but would draw on the design and to some degree the writing styles of past times. Miller brought the idea to Henry Hampton, president of BLACKSIDE, INC., in Roxbury, Massachusetts. In Hampton's vision, BLACKSIDE would be a company that would support imaginative media projects that promoted social justice. (In later years, he produced the renowned civil rights television series, EYES ON THE PRIZE.) With his associate, Howard Dammond, Hampton gave the BLACK CHRONICLE a home while Miller searched for funding. The project was ultimately funded by Holt Rinehart and Winston, which contracted for a package of materials that included 14 issues of BLACK CHRONICLE, 14 Overhead Transparencies, 14 Teacher's Guides, and 14 cuts on two L.P. records.

The project was reviewed as it was developed by a panel of Holt's advisors, and was overseen by Holt's Urban Studies Editor, Melba Outler. Although the BLACK CHRONICLE package was widely distributed to schools for several years, its distribution was finally discontinued by Holt. Eventually, the project was returned first to BLACKSIDE and then to Miller, who recently retired after 25 years from Thirteen/WNET as Director of Educational Publishing. He has now revived the BLACK CHRONICLE, as well has LA CRONICA, his subsequent history of Mexican Americans, on OURHISTORYASNEWS.ORG


 


The high school walkouts in Los Angeles in 1969, by young people who called themselves Chicanos, were in direct response to over a century of discrimination against Mexican Americans, not just in employment, but also in health care and education. Textbooks either ignored or distorted Mexican American culture and contributions. As the Los Angeles Times said in a December 13, 1971 editorial, "What is often overlooked is the damage that can be inflicted on all children, majority and minority alike, by distortions of history. Indoctrinated with myths, they have no way of separating legend from truth. This ill prepares them to cope with problems in a multi-racial, multi-ethnic society."

With an obvious need to rebalance the portrayal of Mexican American history, the newspaper approach that had been used in the BLACK CHRONICLE was proposed for Mexican American history. (See About Us, The BLACK CHRONICLE.) With seed money from the Ford Foundation, Robert Miller, who had developed the BLACK CHRONICLE, traveled throughout the southwest, exploring research collections in public and university libraries, local historical societies, and other rich sources. His objective was to determine the feasibility of developing a newspaper treatment of Mexican American history that, with a foundation of current historiography, would use contemporary newspapers, diaries, and other materials to bring authentic flavor to the project. After visiting Albuquerque, Houston, Santa Fe, Tucson and Southern Colorado, Miller established a sufficient number of contacts at collections as well as with researchers, mostly college graduate students and instructors, to feel confident that a set of historical newspapers could be developed. With researchers at UC Berkeley, UCLA, the University of Texas at Houston, the University of New Mexico at Albuquerque, and the University of Southern Colorado, in Pueblo, he organized an editorial office on the campus of Scripps College at Claremont University.

Under the supervision of Dr. Carlos Cortes, Dean of Mexican American Studies at nearby UC Riverside, Miller organized a group of writers and editors, and soon began receiving huge amounts of research sent from the field offices. These included copies of historical newspapers, diaries, court records, and other authentic documents. With frequent concept meetings and advisor review, the team developed nine issues for the project, named LA CRONICA. The issues began in 1835, with the secularization of the California missions, and ended in 1969 with the Los Angeles High School Walkouts, the farm worker strikes, political action in New Mexico and the development of the Chicano consciousness. After four years, the project was completed, with nine issues of LA CRONICA, in English and Spanish. LA CRONICA was distributed by Santiana Publishing Company and by McGraw Hill. It has been used in high schools to supplement American and Southwest history course, as well as in college courses. LA CRONICA is now available through OURHISTORY AS NEWS.org.