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9 Apr 2012

A History Lesson

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April 9, 2012 Category: Local Posted by:

With her new book …’Not Just A Slave’, Angeline M. Dean gives youngsters a chance to learn that African American history predates the Middle Passage.


By Denise Clay


Angeline M. Dean had had enough.


As she walked down the hallways of the school in which she teaches one day, she saw an exhibit on African Americans… made up totally of pictures of slaves.


Next, she attended a focus group in which children were shown pictures of prominent people of color. No one knew who author/poet Maya Angelou, or Sonya Sotomayor, the first Latina to serve on the Supreme Court were…but they knew who Miami Heat star LeBron James was.


But when her cousin Arycca Thomas came to her and asked “Cousin Angie, am I just a slave?” she knew that she had to do something, she said.


“That was the last straw,” she said. “These kids didn’t know their history and they had teachers who didn’t know how to teach them that history.”


To help these kids learn their history, and to give teachers a starting point to get these historical conversations started, Dean has written a children’s book entitled …Not Just A Slave.


The book, which includes breathtaking illustrations from local artist Christina O, features the stories of a variety of figures from African American history. Many of them are commonly known, such as Hannibal, Cleopatra and Shaka, King of the Zulus, but some may be new to readers like Imhotep, the first known genius, Candace, Empress of Ethiopia and Khufu, the father of modern pyramid building.


The mix of people was purposeful, Dean says, because telling these stories was important in ways that might not been so obvious to some.


“In some cases, we had to show that these people were Black,” she said.


That was something that Dean grew up knowing. As a means of disciplining her as a child, her parents, Eveline and Frederick Dean, would make her read such books as the Ebony Encyclopedia of Black America to learn about the history of African Americans.


In many ways, this “punishment” filled in the gaps that the school system couldn’t or wouldn’t fill, Dean said. The gaps were filled even more when she became a student at Burlington County College in Pemberton, N.J. These gaps still exist, and Dean believes, might be a contributor to something else that she sees as a teacher: a sense of boredom among her African American students.


“I have this innate belief that our kids might be bored in school because they’re learning all of these things, but they’re not learning about themselves,” she said. “Sure, we teach about the Civil Rights Movement, but out kids need to learn something different about themselves. We have to provide them with hope.”


Dean is hoping to get her book into school districts around the country, including the School District of Philadelphia.


…’Not Just A Slave’ is published by Rathsi Publishing and can be purchased on, Barnes and, and on Dean’s website:

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