“In recognizing the humanity of our fellow beings, we pay ourselves the highest tribute.”
These words, spoken by Thurgood Marshall, the first African American U.S. Supreme Court member, aptly summarize a critical reason for all Americans to recognize, embrace, and learn about Black History Month every year. As a teacher responsible for illuminating young minds and encouraging our youth to adopt a global perspective, now is the perfect time to re-familiarize yourself with the heritage of Black History Month. There are so many ways to integrate Black History Month into your lessons plans to ensure your students are benefitting fully from this critical opportunity to recognize the contributions of those Americans who have made, and continue to make, significant impacts on our country.
What is Black History Month?
Black History Month, also known as African American History Month, was established to pay tribute to the generations of African Americans who struggled with adversity to achieve full citizenship in American society. Harvard-trained historian and founder of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH) Carter G. Woodson hoped to raise awareness of African Americans’ contributions to civilization. To further his goals, he announced the first Negro History Week in February of 1925. Woodson chose a week that encompassed the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.
The initial response to Woodson’s efforts was overwhelming, as citizens formed black history clubs, teachers requested classroom instructional materials, and progressive whites endorsed the educational efforts. The Civil Rights movement of the 1960s further amplified awareness for black history education and Woodson’s dreams. In 1976, what was once a week-long celebration expanded to one month. Every year since then, Woodson’s organization—which today is known as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH)—continues to promote and enable the study of black history.
Why Do We Celebrate Black History Month?
Today, it is as critical for Americans of all ages, races, and ethnicities to celebrate Black History Month as it was when Woodson first pursued a week of education and remembrance. It is only through the reflection on the past that we can understand our present and set goals for the future. It is also only through the understanding and appreciation of all of the cultures, religions, races, and ethnicities that make America such a uniquely diverse country that we can move toward greater cultural acceptance, and generations of Americans who embrace not only their similarities but their differences.
Why is Black History Month Important for Students?
As a teacher impacting the understanding of the next generation of our country’s leaders, it is essential to give students a global perspective of the people and cultures that have shaped our nation. By teaching students to appreciate the struggles and challenges of African Americans and the oppression they faced, we can build a generation that is more accepting and inclusive than ever before.
How to Incorporate Black History Month into Your Curriculum
Whether you are a K-4 teacher responsible for all subjects or a high school math teacher, keep these three ideas in mind as you work to incorporate Black History Month into your curriculum during February.
- Make Black History Relevant to Students’ Lives Today. Help your students to understand that black history is continuing to unfold and develop—and they are all a part of it, regardless of their individual background.
- Teach Black History in the Context of Your Curriculum. English teachers can explore the literary contribution of Langston Hughes and Maya Angelou. History teachers can conduct a deep dive into the role of black soldiers during the Civil War. Art teachers can foster dialogue regarding slavery ads from the nineteenth century, and math teachers can work with students to analyze population statistics. No matter your subject, there are relevant applications and avenues to embrace the contributions of African Americans in our past and present.
- Embrace Difficult Discussions. It may seem most comfortable and less intimidating to discuss factual aspects of Black History Month, such as the formation of the ASALH, the importance of the Emancipation Proclamation, and the Civil Rights Movement. However, your students will likely benefit most from open dialogue regarding more relevant topics, such as the current state of cultural awareness and acceptance in our nation. Foster an environment where students can speak freely, share personal experiences, and benefit from one another’s perspectives. Such dialogue needs to take place throughout our nation and is critical in not just teaching history, but teaching social awareness and moving toward an even more accepting society.
What to Learn More?
Free Black History Month educational resources are available to teachers from the National Education Association, as well as AfricanAmericanHistoryMonth.gov, including ready-to-use lesson plans, student activities, collection guides, and research aids.