Closer Readings Commentary

African American History Month

This month, in honor of African American History, we offer several new and classic suggestions for teachers looking to incorporate the best open-source—i.e., free—digital humanities resources on history and literature into their classrooms, while meeting the demands of the Common Core English Language Arts Standards. We are especially excited to announce the premier of a new film about playwright August Wilson, debuting February 20 on PBS .

The big picture

A major goal for many teachers is integrating African American literature and history across the curriculum and throughout the year. However, finding the time to pull together the best resources to do this is not easy.

The Common Core’s English Language Arts Standards shifts the learning emphasis to frequent student engagement with reading complex informational texts and their academic vocabulary.* What this means, in practice, is supplementing the textbook(s) with an array of digital books, articles, and websites.

Here are some suggestions from EDSITEment that will help you solve the complex informational text and vocabulary challenge:

The 19th century: from David Walker's Appeal to the 54th Massachusetts Regiment Memorial

The 20th century: NAACP, Freedom Riders, and August Wilson

  • Have students explore segregation from the end of the Civil War to the dawn of the modern civil rights movement with a lesson on the controversial film Birth of a Nation and the protests organized against it by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People;
  • Focus on the NAACP’s lobbying efforts on behalf of anti-lynching legislation in the 1920s and 1930s;
  • Make your class reading of To Kill a Mockingbird even more vivid by studying the two historical trials on which it was based;
  • Watch college students in the early 1960s make history as Freedom Riders who traveled interstate on public buses in the segregated South via the award-winning documentary directed by Stanley Nelson;
  • Finally, don’t miss the website and the premier of August Wilson: The Ground on Which I Stand, premiering on American Masters on February 20. It's the definitive story of the prolific playwright whose play cycle offer a timeline of African American life in the 20th century;

And don’t forget: EDSITEment’s Guide to Black History Month Teaching Resources, a comprehensive collection of NEH-supported and vetted websites and EDSITEment-developed lessons arranged roughly by historical period. These resources bridge the gap between the expanding academic scholarship of the black experience and the need for this history to be more widely taught at the K–12 level.

Help build your students’ historical knowledge of the African American quest for full and equal citizenship by giving them regular practice with these complex primary and secondary sources. In doing so , two of the fundamental learning shifts called for by the Common Core English Language Arts Standards can be accomplished.