The first national Negro History Week was organized by Carter G. Woodson in February 1926 to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. As interest and advocacy for expanding the study of African American history developed, a desire to expand beyond just one week also grew. In 1970, students at Kent State University celebrated Black History Month from January to February of that year, and since 1976, each President of the United States has endorsed commemorating February as Black History Month across the country.
The resources and lessons provided below are organized chronologically to illustrate that the achievements, perspectives, and experiences of African Americans are important to social studies and history curricula all year long. Users will find connections between these materials and those provided in subsequent sections of this Teacher's Guide to develop cross-disciplinary learning activities and projects.
Slavery and the Early Republic
Taking Up Arms and the Challenge of Slavery in the Revolutionary Era: This lesson is designed to help students understand the transition to armed resistance and the contradiction in the Americans' rhetoric about slavery through the examination of a series of documents.
Slavery and the American Founding: The “Inconsistency not to be excused”: Framed by the compelling question "How did the American founders' views on slavery shape the creation of the republic?", this lesson asks students to examine the views of American founders regarding slavery and evaluate the extent to which they reflect the principles of the American Revolution.
After the American Revolution: Free African Americans in the North: What were the experiences of African-American individuals in the North in the years between the American Revolution and the Civil War? To what extent were freed slaves citizens in the newly independent nation? This lesson provides primary sources for students to analyze in order to evaluate these questions.
Slavery in the Colonial North: Philipsburg Manor, located in Sleepy Hollow, New York, is a historic site owned and operated by Historic Hudson Valley. The site tells the story of the 23 enslaved Africans who were the only full-time, year round residents of the Manor, and whose forced labor was the backbone of the Philipse’s international trading empire.
Twelve Years a Slave: Analyzing Slave Narratives: What does Solomon Northup’s narrative reveal about the relation between slavery and social institutions such as marriage and the family? Why are slave narratives’ authenticity and truthfulness questioned? Examine the primary sources that became the basis for a major motion picture.
Perspectives on the Slave Narrative: Working with primary sources that provide insight into the lives of slave owners, slaves, abolitionists, students gather evidence to respond to the compelling question "What role did the slave narrative have both in historical and in literary traditions?"
Abolition and Reconstruction
Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad: In this lesson, students will comprehend the organizational structure of the Underground Railroad; learn about one of its most famous conductors, Harriet Tubman; and consider the legacy of the heroines and heroes of slavery resistance.
Frederick Douglass's Narrative: Myth of the Happy Slave: In this lesson, students analyze Douglass's first-hand account to see how he successfully contrasts myths with the reality of life under slavery.
From Courage to Freedom: Frederick Douglass’s 1845 Autobiography: Frederick Douglass's 1845 narrative of his life is a profile in both moral and physical courage. In this lesson sequence, students examine how he contrasts reality with romanticism and powerfully uses imagery and rhetorical appeals to persuade the reader of slavery's evil.
"I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of glorious anniversary!
Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us.
The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common."
—Frederick Douglass, "What to the Slave is the 4th of July?"
Frederick Douglass What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?: This student activity brings together video and audio media, along with the text of Douglass's speech, to give students opportunities to discuss and deliberate who the 4th of July is for and the extent to which Douglass is justified in his position.
David Walker vs. John Day: Two Nineteenth-Century Free Black Men: David Walker, a free African American, invoked the Bible and the Declaration of Independence to challenge the inequities of American slavery in his Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World (1829). John Day, also a free African American, was a major proponent of colonization and an early Liberian colonist who argued that African Americans would never achieve equality in the United States. Through this lesson, students examine the conflicting perspectives over slavery, abolition, and equality.
Mission US 2: Flight to Freedom: In Mission 2: “Flight to Freedom,” players take on the role of Lucy, a 14-year-old slave in Kentucky. As they navigate her escape and journey to Ohio, they discover that life in the “free” North is dangerous and difficult.
The Battle Over Reconstruction: This lesson sequence examines the nature and extent of the social, political, and economic conditions, and how they worked to shape the debate about restoring southern states to the Union as well as their lasting impact in shaping the national debate in the years following the Civil War.
Teacher’s Guide: The Reconstruction Era: This Teacher’s Guide provides compelling questions to frame a unit of study and inquiry projects, along with activity ideas on Reconstruction that include use of newspapers from the era and resources for social studies, ELA, and music education.
Jim Crow and War
Birth of a Nation, NAACP, and Balancing of Rights: Why did the NAACP challenge the showing of Birth of a Nation? The lesson asks students to analyze the efforts of the NAACP and evaluate the decision to not censor the film.
NAACP's Anti-Lynching Campaigns in the 1920s: This lesson sequence engages students with the deeply serious issues of Jim Crow and lynching in the United States during the inter-war period.
African American Soldiers in World War I: The 92nd and 93rd Division: Students combine their research using a variety of sources, including firsthand accounts, to develop a hypothesis evaluating contradictory statements about the performance of the 92nd Infantry Division in World War I.
African American Soldiers after WWI: Had Race Relations Changed?: Analyze archival photographs and archival newspaper accounts about race relations in the United States to evaluate different points of view about post-war riots in Chicago.
African Americans and the New Deal's Civilian Conservation Corp: Students considers documents that present the CCC from the perspective of black participants in order to evaluate the impact of this New Deal program on race relations in America.
Civil Rights and Now
The Green Book: African American Experiences of Travel and Place in the U.S.: How have the intersections of race and place impacted U.S. history and culture? This inquiry-based lesson combines individual investigations with whole or small group analysis of primary sources and visual media.
Civil Rights and the Cold War: This lesson plan attempts to dissolve the artificial boundary between domestic and international affairs in the postwar period to show students how we choose to discuss history.
The Freedom Riders and the Popular Music of the Civil Rights Movement: Through collaborative activities and presentations, students will find the meaning behind the music, and compare and contrast the major figures, documents, and events of the day to better understand the political and cultural messages.
Malcolm X: A Radical Vision for Civil Rights: This essay examines the conflicting points of view surrounding how best to advance the civil rights movement in the U.S. during the 1960s with a comparative analysis of the philosophies of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X.
Black Separatism and the Beloved Community: Malcolm X: This lesson will contrast the respective aims and means of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. to evaluate how best to achieve black American progress in the 1960s.
JFK, Freedom Riders, and the Civil Rights Movement: Resources provided in this lesson support student analysis of the critical role of activists in pushing the Kennedy Administration to face the contradiction between its ideals and the realities of federal politics.
Grassroots Perspectives on Civil Rights: Focus on Women: This essay not only looks at the work of the Student Non-Violence Coordinating Committee (SNCC), but specifically the role of women within the activism of this student-led civil rights organization.
Revolution 67: Protest Why & How?: The intent of this lesson sequence is to help students comprehend and explain the changes in how the people of Newark, New Jersey viewed government and how those attitudes affected political change in the 1960s and 1970s.
Competing Voices of the Civil Rights Movement: This lesson sequence presents the views of several important black leaders who shaped the debate over how to achieve freedom and equality in a nation that had long denied a portion of the American citizenry the full protection of their rights.
Let Freedom Ring: The Life and Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: Students will learn about the life and work of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. by listening to a brief biography, viewing photographs of the March on Washington, and reading a portion of King's "I Have a Dream" speech.
The Election of Barack Obama: This lesson focuses on the relationship between the Civil Rights Movement and Obama's election, but it also asks students why they think Barack Obama's election is "historic."