Black History Series Part 2: Learning Black History through Interviews and Oral History

Jackson Five: Courtesy of the Rock Hall Library and Archive

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

New technology allows us to explore history in ways that previous generations could not even fathom. In contemporary times when one is studying recent history they have a treasure trove of audio visual resources that can help history come alive. Particularly, digital technology has made access to videos more easily accessible and very inexpensive (Often free). Youtube is perhaps the most popular video sharing online software and has revolutionized history teaching.

Social studies classrooms can come alive with the use of oral history and audiovisual interviews. Personal accounts and interviews from individuals that lived in certain time periods can offer insight into a way of life that cannot be obtained through any other means. In celebration of Black history month we have provided a number of interviews from historical figures in the black community, many of whom are no longer with us. These can give insight into the lives of these important figures in history.

Below we have provided lesson ideas and a number of sites that feature a variety of lesson plans that teachers can use in their social studies classrooms. The lesson plans guide teachers on how to effectively use oral history, interviews of historical figures and other sources to teach social studies. We have also provided a number of video clips that contain interviews of famous African Americans that can be utilized to teach history in an effective and engaging way, that is sure to pique student interest.

Ideas for Lesson Objectives:

1. Students will identify challenges unique to the black experience by observing interviews of African American historic figures and celebrities.
2. Students will appreciate the humanity of African American celebrities by examining their oral histories, interviews and speeches.
3. Students will analyze the role some black celebrities played in fighting for civil rights and social justice issues by examining interviews, speeches and musical performances.
4. Students can utilize interviews from the Civil Rights era to gain a better understanding of the mindset of individuals and society during that time period.
5. Students can define social history and formulate questions about social history topics.
6. Students can analyze, interpret, and conduct research using oral histories.
7. Students can use oral history interview techniques to gather information about social history. 8. Students can interpret recent changes of social life in the United States using existing oral histories and by conducting original oral history interviews.

State and National Social Studies Standards

National Council for the Social Studies Standards
• Standard 1- Culture: Social studies programs should include experiences that provide for the study of culture and cultural diversity.
• Standard 2- Time, Continuity and Change: Social studies programs should include experiences that provide for the study of the past and its legacy.
• Standard 4- Individual Development and Identity Social studies programs should include experiences that provide for the study of individual development and identity.

Ohio High School Social Studies Standards
American History Strand
16. Racial intolerance, anti-immigrant attitudes and the Red Scare contributed to social unrest after World War I.
17. An improved standard of living for many, combined with technological innovations in communication, transportation and industry, resulted in social and cultural changes and tensions.
18. Movements such as the Harlem Renaissance, African American migration, women’s suffrage and Prohibition all contributed to social change.

Kentucky High School Social Studies
Big Idea: Cultures and Societies

Sample Lessons and Other Resources
What is History? Timelines and Oral Histories
How can I use oral history as an educator?
Lesson plan: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech as visual text.
How to do Oral History Projects
Oral History and Social History
Oral History as an Educational Experience
Interviewing Famous Leaders in History
Lesson Plan Resources for Teaching African American History
Black History Lesson Ideas beyond MLK & Civil Rights
Learning historical thinking with oral history interviews
Living Legends: Oral History Projects Bring Core Subjects to Life
Oral History Project

Interviews and Speech Archives
Civil Rights Movement Our Stories
Story Corp Interviews from Individuals from the Civil Rights Movement Rosa Parks – Interview
Rosa Parks Interview (1956)
Rosa Parks interview (1995)
Martin Luther King Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Tells a Joke on “The Tonight Show” from 1968
Martin Luther King Interview- Civil Rights (Merv Griffin Show 1967)
Martin Luther King, Jr. On NBC’s Meet the Press (1965) | Archives | NBC News
Central Ohioans share personal memories of Martin Luther King Jr.
MLK’s Experience of God
September 27, 1966: MLK—A riot is the language of the unheard
First Christmas without him. Inside MLK’s home in 1968
Jimi Hendrix News Conference – 1970
Interview with Jimi Hendrix on Star-Spangled Banner
Jimi Hendrix Interview with Niels Olaf Gudme 1969
W.E.B. DuBois Speaks! Socialism and the American Negro (Full)
W.E.B. Dubois explains the meaning of “The Negro Problem”
B.B. King and Buddy Guy on Meeting Jimi Hendrix // SiriusXM
Ray Charles Interview Dick Cavett 1
Nelson Mandela interview
Nelson Mandela destroys Ted Koppel Part 1
Muhammad Ali Rare Interview – The Frost Interview 1974
Muhammad Ali ;One Of The Best Interviews He Had Funny Iconoclast
Dave Chappelle + Maya Angelou [Full Episode]
Maya Angelou on Facing Evil Courtesy of Bill Moyers
Sam Cooke Interview 1964
Sam Cooke 62′ interview
Interview Nat King Cole (Zürich, 1960) |
Sammy Davis, Jr. 60th Anniversary Celebration (1990)
Jerry Lewis and Sammy Davis Jr interview ’69
Sammy Davis in 1955
Interview part 1 of 2 Bill Cosby – Noah
BILL COSBY with TEENS 1965 comedy routine
The Dick Cavett Show: Comic Legends – Bill Cosby
Notorious B.I.G Interview Aired March.12.1997
The Notorious B.I.G. – Last Interview on KYLD 107.7 FM, San Francisco [March 5, 1997]
Aretha Franklin: Close-Up (1968) | A Must See! Aretha Franklin – Live at Concertgebouw
A Young Barack Obama’s Advice for Having Hope in “Dark Times”
The Oprah Winfrey Show | OWN The Jackson 5 – Interview (1974) 20/20 Michael Jackson Interview (1980) American Bandstand 1970- Interview Jackson 5
13 Year Old Michael Jackson INTERVIEW with His Father Joe Jackson


  1. It is often better and more interesting to learn about history through videos. Students are more likely to pay attention to a video rather than just taking notes from a lecture. 

  2. I love watching interviews and listening to podcasts because it just feels like such a natural way of learning which this article helps to prove. This benefits students so they aren’t just listening to teachers drone on about boring stuff but so they are listening to people who may have a doctorate in the field or experienced it themselves.

  3. This posting is crucial in understanding other African American leaders. As well as allowing students to form their own understanding of the past.

  4. Thanks on your marvelous posting! I really enjoyed reading it,
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  5. I enjoyed reading this article because i was able to gain more knowledge about african americans and their history. Technology plays a huge role in society nowadays. With that being said, it allows us to explore history that we have no clue about and want to research. Interviews with past artists, athletes, writers, etc. have been published on the internet which allows us to dig deeper into that part of history.

  6. Learning about black history through interview and audios is such a good idea for students to learn in a different way. It shows real people talking about this subject and giving real life stories which I think could help students better understand what that time period was like. Students often get bored of hearing a teacher talk and lecture for too long so I think interviews and audios would be a great way for students to get engaged.

  7. Interviews are a great way for students to expand their knowledge about history. I especially enjoyed the section about lesson objectives and I’m interested to look more into the resources provided with this article.

  8. I appreciate the idea of using audios and interviews in the classroom to learn about important times in history like Black History. Most students have seen some type interview or listened to an interview, whether it be of their favorite celebrity on YouTube or they watched it on tv with their parents. By using interviews, it is a way to connect them to something they are already familiar with and show that some things have not changed over time. It is also a fun way to connect them to that time period and it helps them realize that what happened was real and they will be interested in it. It will help keep students engaged and hopefully learn something new during the lesson.

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