African American History is American History- Creative Resources for Teaching African American History

Sailors reading, writing, and relaxing at the Red Cross Rest Room in New Orleans. National Archives (165-WW-127A-016)

Dr. David Childs, Ph.D.
Northern Kentucky University

One of the core values of our democratic society in the United States is the celebration of diversity and inclusion, honoring individuals of different cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Indeed, one of our core civic responsibilities is to be respectful of and even learn to appreciate those of a different cultural background than ourselves. Classrooms should be spaces where teachers create an environment whereby students learn to be accepting of people and values different from their own. For much of US history the African American experience and culture has been undervalued. Indeed, much of Black history has been lost because African Americans have historically been treated as second class citizens and even sub-human in many instances. As a result of society’s subjugation of African Americans, much of the history was not preserved, indeed invaluable primary sources have been lost, never to be recovered. Furthermore, even much of the historical documents that have been preserved have been forgotten or overlooked.

In celebration of Black history month we would like to offer teachers some creative resources for teaching in middle and secondary classrooms. The website Nueseum Ed created and sponsored by the organization Freedom Forum Institute provides countless lesson plans on a variety of subjects on US history in general, including many great lessons on Black history. For example, the Nuseum website offers a Civil Rights interactive timeline that can be helpful in social studies classrooms. Other lessons and resources featured on the site include African Americans and religious freedom, the Dred Scott decision, the Brown vs. Board of Education case and a lesson on Dr. Martin Luther King’s Birmingham letter

A website called Teacher’s First is also a great resource for Black history lesson plans and materials. Another great online resource for teachers is the National Museum of African American History and Culture website. The museum is a part of the Smithsonian system in Washington D.C. and is free of charge. The website has many fantastic teacher resources for Black history including an exhibit on Black culture during the 1960’s and 70’s, the Black experience in World War I and an exhibit about African Americans in the American West. The site has many wonderful digitized primary sources, videos and other resources that can be used in creative ways in social studies classrooms. 

References
Newseum Ed: Freedom Forum Institute
National Museum of African American History and Culture
Teachers First: Thinking Teachers, Teaching Thinkers
Democratic Society
Civic Responsibility
Five African Americans Forgotten in History


11 Comments

  1. My practicum school has been a hot bed for debate on this very topic lately. Some of the US History teachers have been the subject of heavy criticism from their black students due to their handling of the Civil War and Reconstruction. These teachers have apparently been using only white sources, and the result has been painting black people of this era as helpless victims, which makes for exceedingly depressing history without any clear message or take away for the plurality black student population.

    This incident has reinforced the need for diverse sources AND for culturally responsive teaching that seeks to empower all students, rather than emphasize only their victim hood and the horrific acts committed against their ancestors. As you mention, there are tragic reasons that black voices have been silenced throughout history, but now with so much knowledge at our disposal via the internet, there is no excuse for a curriculum that can’t find a way to include black perspectives in history at all.

  2. I was fortunate to have an undergrad professor who was extremely careful to include a plurality of viewpoints regarding the Civil War and Reconstruction. Through that syllabus I was exposed to many primary sources and many new voices that I had never investigated. In grad school, the body of Black historical research available to me was even wider- because in the intervening years the realm of scholarship had exploded. My only issue with “Black History Month” is that in the most ironic sense it is not integrated with the curriculum. I find it senseless we focus on only one month, hodgepodge, and splatter students with “influential black men and women” for a month and then abandon it. I think that once my turn as an educator comes, I will ensure that my teaching includes black history makers in their proper chronology, with equal emphasis. I get irritated by the focus of February, not because it isn’t warranted, but because it isn’t INTEGRATED. It should be equal focus, equal coverage, equal content.

  3. This article is such a great resource that I think many educators may not realize is at their disposal. I think any teacher can be a “good” teacher by teaching what is handed to them, but I truly think that being a “great” teacher, like any profession, requires effort and passion. Teachers are given resources, but it is up to them and what they do with resources that ensure student success. Teachers also, can fall into the mode of making lessons that focus on state standards and testing curriculum too often. Yes, those things are important but teaching students a well-rounded curriculum that can teach them different types of lessons are just as important as well.
    I like how the article mentions how black history is a topic that might not always have a lot of resources or attention put on it and I think it is important for teachers to do their homework and seek out these resources. I think this is true of multicultural history as a whole as well; women’s history, other ethnic histories, and any other diverse cultural aspect that may not be always a part of teacher’s lessons. I also like how the website mentions creative resources which is important as well because it is always beneficial to engage students in creative ways.

    When I was in elementary school, I thought it was exciting any time we talked about black history month because I can remember thinking “this is something different than who I am”. I think it is important to demonstrate the differences in all of us. Not to try and make everyone fit into a mold. Meaning, when people say, “We don’t see color” and that type of thinking. I know that is well meaning and when people say that, they are saying the difference in color doesn’t matter, but it does matter. Not that it should matter in a negative way but instead a positive way, a way of celebration. I feel that color should be talked about but in a way that shows how to appreciate so many different types of people and where they come from. I think in doing this it shows uniqueness and difference, but importantly it can always be brought back to a place of relatability.
    For example, I remember in like second grade, we watched a movie about Ruby Bridges and her first day at school. Back to what I mentioned earlier, even as young child I was intrigued because I thought “She is different than I am and I want to learn more about her” with me being a young white girl and she was a young black girl, I could obviously see the difference, but the thing is I was able to appreciate the difference. Without ignoring her color and who she is, but still seeing the value in learning more about it. Referring back to as I mentioned before, this is how celebration of differences can always be brought back to a place of relatability even for young kids. I was able to connect to her in many ways. We were both young girls, we both enjoyed some of the same things in school, we both might face tough times (even though they are different, the idea is still the same), etc.
    Therefore, I learned a balance even at a young age of seeing difference, celebrating difference, and taking time to appreciate learning about it. Not devaluing it by ignoring it and trying to fit it into a mold of everyone being the same. As I said before sometimes our society mixes everything and everyone into one big jumble. While the intentions could be meant for good, it is more important to keep our individualities at the forefront and to be positive about them, while still recognizing them and allowing everyone to see them and appreciate them. This ultimately creates growth and respect for others and what a better place to start this than in school, when children are at their peak of learning new things.

  4. Growing up, I was never introduced to education on Black History Month. I know we briefly spoke about certain events in American History that involved African Americans. Though, it was never the main focus. I do believe as stated in the article that schools today should celebrate diversity and inclusion. Making every person feel as if they are equally important rather than a constant second class citizen. Due to the growing diversity in the class and the salad bowl that is American we need to be accepting of people and their values different than our own. This article was helpful in finding resources that would not only help educate my students, but also allow me to look into understanding African American History.

  5. This was a very beneficial article to read as a future educator. I value the point made that “classrooms should be spaces where teachers create an environment whereby students learn to be accepting of people and values different from their own”. Celebrating diversity is something all children should be taught at a young age. Teachers can play a huge role in helping children appreciate different ethnic backgrounds by integrating concepts into their lessons. They can also show how certain culture groups such as African Americans in our past and in modern times have been undervalued. Although the resources offered in this website are targeted towards teaching in middle and secondary grades, I believe they can also serve a great purpose for elementary teachers as well. One of my favorite resources listed was the Newseum Ed website because it included lesson ideas and resources for not only Black history, but also a variety of subjects on US history. The Civil Rights interactive timeline would make for a great resource in upper elementary classrooms that would engage students. Many of the resources can easily be shifted to appropriately fit intermediate grades. I would use these resources to introduce devastating topics such as slavery in a safe and informative way to students.

  6. This is a great article for future teachers like myself. I agree that black history is not a big topic in schools. African Americans have historically been pushed down like the article states which includes historical evidence and cultural history. Even the sources that were preserved have been overlooked because of the This article provides some great resources for teachers like lessons, activities, video, primary sources, and more. It is very important as a teacher to educate my students on all ethnic and cultural groups. These resources will allow me to better educate my students and provide fun activities.

  7. I really loved the resources this article provided. I feel very passionate about teaching multiculturally year round, not just in February. It makes me upset to think about the history students are missing out on because teachers are not willing to put in more time to ensure that the history they teach is accurate. There are also plenty of important things that we leave out of education because a person of color was the center of the historical event. My own K-12 experience with Black history month and multicultural teaching in general is very limited. I hope that more and more teachers will realize the need for teaching content outside of what is already in the resources we are given, as they are often not as inclusive as they should or could be. I look forward to using the resources you have provided in this article in my own classroom some day and allowing all students to recognize themselves in what they are learning.

  8. I really love the resources that you provided in this article because I was just co-teaching a reading in history class and our whole focus of the month of February is on Black history month. As the end of the month approached, we were running short on some resources, so this is great! It is amazing how many African Americans contributed to the society in the United States we know today, yet many students are unaware of them. I often times hear about Harriet Tubman and Martin Luther King, Jr. during my time during school’s black history lessons, but there are so many more that need to be noted and be more inclusive about the events that happened in history, rather than leave important parts vague or undiscussed!

  9. First off, the topic / subject area of this article has been something that I am really starting to better understand in a couple of different ways. The first way is more of my factual / conceptual understanding of African American history, as it really has been something that has been much more focused on during my years in college than it was focused on during my elementary, middle school, and high school years. And while it has been focused on more so in some of my college courses, I still understand that there is SO MUCH more for me to learn about and read about when it comes to African American history. The second way that I feel I have improved / better understood was better understanding the IMPORTANCE of portraying American history (and really any historical event or topic) from multiple perspectives! This has been something that we have discussed many different times so far this current semester (spring semester 2020). And NOT just teaching content related to African American history for just one month like it is unfortunately carried out in different schools across this country. As far as this article goes, I think it really provides very useful and beneficial resources. Resources that I can really benefit from using within my own classrooms of the future, as I am not an African American, and as we stated in many conversations throughout some of my college courses, it is important not to ACT like someone you are not, but you are still able to bring in different perspectives and point of views in other ways. For example, playing a video led by an African American figure, special guest coming into speak to the class, reading books with African American protagonists / characters, and many other options as well. The video example was one that was discussed during our trauma crisis meeting seminar we had a few weeks ago. Another thing I liked about this article was towards the very beginning when it mentioned how one of our core values of a democratic society is the celebration of diversity and inclusion. As I could not agree more! Also, how it mentions the importance of teaching our students to accept others who may not look the exact same as themselves, as it is about who they are on the inside, and someone’s color does not define who they are. Overall, I found this article to be a very resourceful and had a very good message to it, that I feel ALL teachers could benefit in one way shape or form from reading it. As I would recommend this article to any of my colleagues who are also trying to become a teacher at any level, as one thing is for certain, not everyone I am going to teach is going to be exactly like me, and making sure EACH AND EVERY child is able to feel like / see individuals that look like themselves (whether that be in a book, video, discussion, ect…) is something that can go a LONG way in motivating that child in striving to become the best version of themselves that they can be. And ultimately, isn’t that why we all are trying to be teachers in the first place? Making sure kids are able to learn and grow to the best of their abilities so that they can go on to live better and happier lives in their future!

  10. This article addressed the various components of history teaching that addresses all cultures and backgrounds. Further than just addressing these cultures and backgrounds, it is important that teachers create a classroom culture that accepts, celebrates, and empowers these cultures and backgrounds. This article specifically addresses the history of African Americans and how it is often overlooked or not seen as part of United States history. It is important to incorporate African American history into every aspect of the curriculum, not just sprinkled in throughout the year. It is important than we are instilling in students a respect and desire to celebrate all students. The tools given in this article will be helpful in streamlining the important perspective that African American history brings into the social studies curriculum across all grade levels.

  11. I have always agreed with the sentiment, “African American History is American History”. For many Black people, the United States is all they know. Its the only culture they truly connect to and all of their, and their family’s, lived experiences as far back as they can trace are here. The United States claims to truly repent slavery but I think one of the most horrendous side effects of the use of slavery in the United States is that we stole people from their culture and their lands and we now deny the new culture they have created after being forced onto this land. American history as we know it has definitely overlooked or forgotten Black history as Dr. Childs says. This can lead to Black students feeling just that — overlooked or forgotten. Angel Jones, an educator and advocate, said something along the lines of, “I’m not just Black in February. I’m Back year-round’ and this really struck a cord to me. As a white woman I have always seen myself represented, especially in history. I’m not limited to just a month of white history so why do we limit ourselves to only a month of Black history when Black people built this nation? I think resources like Teacher’s First and the National Museum of African American History and Culture, plus many more like them, are essential to creating a classroom environment that is multicultural and especially places emphasis on Black Americans as this is their history too after all and everyone deserves the right to an unbiased, anti-racist education.

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