Black History Month Essays About Life

Integrating African-American Culture & History into Your Curriculum

By Phil Nast, retired middle school teacher and freelance writer

Found In: language arts, social studies, 6-8

To help you integrate Black History Month into your classroom, we offer a selection of lesson plans that cover a variety subjects and that can be adapted to fit grades 6-8.

Lesson Plans & Activities

Lesson Plans

African American Scientists and Inventors
Students in grades K-12 learn about and celebrate the contributions of African American scientists using a link from this page to The Faces of Science: African Americans in the Sciences.

In Motion: The African American Migration Experience
Students in grades 6-8 participate in lessons and activities organized around thirteen defining migrations that have formed and transformed African America and the nation.

Jacob Lawrence's Migration Series: Removing the Mask
Students in grades 6-8 analyze and compare visual and poetic works by Jacob Lawrence, Helene Johnson, and Paul Laurence Dunbar and consider how they represent changing roles of African Americans.

The Poet’s Voice: Langston Hughes and You
Students in grades 6-8 investigate “voice” in Hughes’s poetry, develop their own distinctive voices in journal entries, and write an original poem or critical essay on an aspect of Hughes’s poetic voice.

The Illusion of Race
Students in grades 6-8 investigate both genetic and societal consequences of the often-artificial and evolving classifications of race and ethnicity. Student and teacher materials are included.

Activities

Smithsonian Jazz Mixer
Students in grades K-12 can explore a jazz timeline, world map, and a virtual mixer that lets them listen and observe the elements of jazz.

Notable African Americans from the 18th-century to the present
In this Jeopardy-type quiz game students in grades 5-12 can choose from three levels of difficulty to test their knowledge of famous African Americans. Spelling counts, for example Billy Holiday rather than Billie Holiday would be marked incorrect.

The Underground Railroad: Journey to Freedom
To play, install free software. Play as a slave escaping from a Maryland tobacco plantation.

Background Resources

Social Studies

African American History Month Exhibits & Collections
Resources covering art and design, baseball, civil rights, culture, folklife, military, music and performing arts, religion, slavery, and resource guides.

EDSITEment's Guide to Black History Month Teaching Resources
Investigate the contributions African Americans have made in the history and cultural development of the United States.

W. E. B. Du Bois: Online Resources
Includes digital materials related to W. E .B. Du Bois and links to external Web sites.

The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow
Stories, interactive maps, activities and tools, and lesson plans and activities for grades 6-12.

Black Labor History
Lessons and links on the life histories of people whose struggle was part of a larger social and economic movement to improve the lives of the working class.

Separate Is Not Equal - Brown v. Board of Education
History, images, and other resources covering the historic Supreme Court ruling ending segregation and ensuring opportunity in education.

Africans in America
Images, documents, stories, biographies, and commentaries. The site provides teacher’s and youth guides. The four part series may be in local libraries.

Black History - Biography - Celebrate Black History Month & People
Biographies, timelines, photos, video, game, quiz, and 101 fast facts.

Arts

Poems to Celebrate Black History Month
Poems and articles by African-Americans.

Jazz: A Film by Ken Burns
Online activities and biographies, transcripts of many interviews with musicians, K-12 lesson plans, and a music study guide for grades 5-8.

Jazz in Time
Students in grades 5-12 can read this interactive timeline about the development of jazz (about 30 minutes) and listen to imbedded audio clips.

The History of Hip-Hop
A collection of interviews from National Public Radio (NPR) that chronicle the seminal people and events in the hip-hop movement.

African American Visual Art and the Black Arts Movement
The Black Arts Movement (BAM) began in the mid-1960s to provide a new vision of African Americans. This site provides images galleries a theoretical essay, timeline, and links to other online art sources. Note: the top banner links are dead but the bottom links are functional.

Gordon Parks
A brief look at the life and work of Gordon Parks, novelist poet, painter, composer, pianist, and photographer. The site includes a brief biography, image gallery, and interview video clips.

The Black Past: Remembered and Reclaimed
African American History by region.

Science

African Americans in Science and Technology
Links from the Library of Congress.

African American Inventors
Brief biographies of African American inventors.

Sport

Negro Leagues Baseball Museum: Electronic Resources for Teachers
Before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball there was Negro League Baseball. This site features history, a timeline, photos, and teacher resources, including lessons for grades 9-12.

African American Athletes
Brief biographies and film clips of outstanding African American athletes. Don’t miss the links to legal and political figures, scientists and educators, activists, artists and writers, entertainers, and musicians and singers.

Quizzes

Printables

Audio & Video

Audio

Science Update: Spotlight on African-American Scientists
Students in grades 6-12 can listen to interviews with a select group of black scientists working in North America today.

Blues Journey (23:17 minutes)
This four part audio series explores the history of the blues.

Video

Legacy: Black and White in America
Compares African-American life today and that of the Civil Rights generation.

Faubourg Tremé: The Untold Story of Black New Orleans (68 minutes)
Considered the oldest black neighborhood in America, Faubourg Tremé is the origin of the southern civil rights movement and the birthplace of jazz. Check local listings to see when it airs on a local PBS station.

Forgotten Genius (120 minutes)
Chemist Percy Lavon Julian struggled against racism as he pursued research with steroids and alkaloids and helped to create affordable and effective treatments for rheumatoid arthritis and glaucoma. A teacher’s guide has student activities. (The program is in 13 chapters and can be watched online.)

African American Lives 2 (240 minutes)
This website for features clips from the series, background on the research, scholarship, and science, and resources for people to trace their own family history. Lessons for grades 6-12 are included. The DVD may be available in local libraries.

Cora Unashamed (93 minutes)
Based on Langston Hughes’ story, this film tells of a Depression-era African-American domestic who lives only for her daughter and the neglected child of her employers. The DVD may be found in local libraries.

last updated: January 3, 2018

The Library of Congress, National Archives and Records Administration, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Gallery of Art, National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum join in paying tribute to the generations of African Americans who struggled with adversity to achieve full citizenship in American society.

As a Harvard-trained historian, Carter G. Woodson, like W. E. B. Du Bois before him, believed that truth could not be denied and that reason would prevail over prejudice. His hopes to raise awareness of African American’s contributions to civilization was realized when he and the organization he founded, the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH), conceived and announced Negro History Week in 1925. The event was first celebrated during a week in February 1926 that encompassed the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. The response was overwhelming: Black history clubs sprang up; teachers demanded materials to instruct their pupils; and progressive whites, not simply white scholars and philanthropists, stepped forward to endorse the effort.

By the time of Woodson’s death in 1950, Negro History Week had become a central part of African American life and substantial progress had been made in bringing more Americans to appreciate the celebration. At mid–century, mayors of cities nationwide issued proclamations noting Negro History Week. The Black Awakening of the 1960s dramatically expanded the consciousness of African Americans about the importance of black history, and the Civil Rights movement focused Americans of all color on the subject of the contributions of African Americans to our history and culture.

The celebration was expanded to a month in 1976, the nation’s bicentennial. President Gerald R. Ford urged Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” That year, fifty years after the first celebration, the association held the first African American History Month. By this time, the entire nation had come to recognize the importance of Black history in the drama of the American story. Since then each American president has issued African American History Month proclamations. And the association—now the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH)—continues to promote the study of Black history all year.

(Excerpt from an essay by Daryl Michael Scott, Howard University, for the Association for the Study of African American Life and History)

Executive and Legislative Documents

The Law Library of Congress has compiled guides to commemorative observations, including a comprehensive inventory of the Public Laws, Presidential Proclamations and congressional resolutions related to African American History Month.

About this Site

This Web portal is a collaborative project of the Library of Congress and the National Endowment for the Humanities, National Gallery of Art, National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.

Other Dedicated Web Sites

Smithsonian Education – Black History Month

National Park Service – African American Heritage

National Archives – African American History Portal

National Endowment for the Humanities – Black History Month

National Park Service – Telling All Americans’ Stories: African American Heritage

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum – Black History Month

Images Used on this Site

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