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. I think the resources and lesson plan examples listed in the article are really great to use in the classroom. Learning about the subject of Black History through interviews and oral history gives the students a more in depth look at the lives that some of these people had.

  2. Using videos to help teach history is a great resource. Students are then able to see what was actually happening instead of just reading about it. By watching interviews, you can see the emotions that these people were having and see how they react to different things. It makes learning about the topics more interesting. The resources included are also very helpful.

  3. I appreciate the idea of using audios and interviews. With technology today, so many students have seen interviews with celebrities, so it would be a fun learning opportunity that uses a format that they are used to.

  4. As a future Secondary Social Studies educator, I think that this article is a great resource due to the suggested learning objectives, and their correlation to state objectives and standards. This also sho the importance and opportunities that technology can bring to the classroom.

  5. This article is a great resource to have handy when teaching social studies. I know for me as a student in elementary, middle, and high school, social studies wasn’t my overall favorite subject, but it also wasn’t my worst subject either. With the help of these resources, I feel like I would be able to teach my students the social studies standards confidently and they would meet the standards expected of them. Technology has definitely advanced from the time I first started using computers and the fact that a lot of materials and resources are so accessible is a great advantage that not only teachers, but everyone in society should utilize. Being able to bring things to life from the past using videos such as YouTube and other technology is a great way to put the students into that moment in time so they can view the perspectives, emotions, etc. of that era.

  6. These interviews would be such a great source of information for students to use to be able to learn about black history. It’s a one of a kind source that would’ve come straight from some of the best like MLK and MLKjr. This article was a nice read.

  7. Introducing these interviews to students would be such a great way for them to see just how different things were during these times. Also, I believe these videos offer information that makes a larger impact if seen/heard coming from the individual, rather than a teacher just explaining it. A lot of these icons are ones that students have heard about or seen a picture of, but have they seen the way they interact with others? I really like the idea of using videos to teach not only black history, but the history of the government, of wars, etc.

  8. The big thing with watching an interview is about seeing body language. Being able to hear how their voices change when asked a certain question and watch their body shift when they get uncomfortable. Being able to watch an interview is so much different than just reading about it, but I feel it’s necessary for a student to understand the concept being discussed.

  9. This is important article to help inform others of African Americans and the history within their culture. Interviews can impose so much knowledge about the past so it is important to listen and be informed.

  10. While watching the biggie smalls interview, It took place in 1997, which was a time or very different kind of music. This interview was informative for me because he spoke about what his and Tupac’s music did to their fans which was creating a east coast and west coast beef. Using the available technology that we have now would have been very useful to those in the
    past. So taking advantage and utilizing it no to learn about the history of African Americans is important. It’s something we can learn from.

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