Polls indicate that in the wake of George Floyd’s tragic death last summer, millions of people attended Black Lives Matter or police brutality protests. Estimates suggest that the number participating may have been 4-5 times as many as attended the 2017 Women’s Marches, which held the record previously. This data suggests that more than ever before, Americans understand that what happens to Black Americans matters for all Americans. Their success and struggles are a reflection of our country’s values and a part of our rich and complex history. And teaching about race and racism is important and especially critical at this moment in American history. The nomination of the Black Lives Matter movement for the 2021 Nobel peace prize recognizes the significance of its work worldwide.

As always, we hope that teachers recognize Black History Month with students this year. It is a time for students to contemplate our nation’s history and develop a deeper sense of cultural consciousness. In his essay, “A Talk with Teachers,” James Baldwin wrote: “The paradox of education is precisely this—that as one begins to become conscious, one begins to examine the society in which he is being educated.” This captures the value and the challenge of leveraging Black History Month in the classroom. It is a time for students to contemplate our nation’s history and develop a deeper sense of critical consciousness. 

Consider the following questions about what happens in your classroom from Teaching Tolerance:

  • How often do your students learn about the contributions of black individuals to U.S. society?
  • Are your students able to explain to someone else the contributions that black individuals have made in the United States?
  • How many books or other texts by black writers do your students read during the academic year?
  • How many books or other texts do your students read during the academic year that highlight black experiences?
  • If your students’ readings have black characters, do these characters have positions of power?

This month offers an opportunity to deepen cultural responsiveness in both content focus and teaching practice. We support your efforts with these lesson ideas and resources that can be used to address black history and its relevance to current events and to highlight underrepresented groups within the curriculum all year round. Read more about the history of Black History Month, and consider using the lessons and resources below this month or any time.

Listenwise Resources

Listening to audio stories featuring people’s voices can connect students to specific moments in time and promote understanding of others’ perspectives. One teacher asked students to listen to an audio story describing the desegregation of Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas during the Civil Rights Movement. The teacher said:

The violence and struggle to gain voting rights became real after listening to the emotions of the speakers and sounds from the event. It really helped students develop empathy, which is harder to do through traditional texts.

The Listenwise stories below can be integrated into classroom lessons in a variety of ways:

Black Youth In Action

12-Year-Old College Student Loves Space

Debate: Should 16-year-olds be allowed to vote?

Teaching Black History as American History

All-Black Rowing Team Wins in Life

Diversity in Children’s Literature

Young Inaugural Poet on her Journey

A Teenage Executive Producer

Teenage Olympic Speed Skater

Celebrating Individuals

Past

Chinua Achebe – Achebe on Heart of Darkness

Marian Anderson –Marian Anderson and Our Nation’s Capital

Muhammad Ali – Remembering Muhammad Ali

Maya Angelou – Maya Angelou’s Life and Legacy

James Bladwin James Baldwin: Writings on Race, Class and Civil Rights 

Frederick Douglass – How Photography Helped Abolition

Ernest J. Gaines – Ernest J. Gaines: Fighting Illiteracy with A Lesson Before Dying

Lorraine Hansberry – Motivation for Writing A Raisin in the Sun

Langston Hughes – Letters From Langston Hughes

Zora Neale Hurston – A Guide To Florida From Zora Neale Hurston

Katherine Johnson – Black Women Math Heroes at NASA

John Lewis – Remembering Civil Rights Icon John Lewis

Toussaint Louverture Haitian Revolution for Freedom Led by Former Slave

Phyllis Wheatley – Phyllis Wheatley: America’s First Black Poet

Wangari Maathai – First African Woman To Win Peace Prize

Nelson Mandela – Nelson Mandela’s Fight for Freedom in South Africa

Piye – Nubian Pharaohs

Jackie Robinson – Jackie Robinson and Integrating Baseball

Harriet Tubman Honoring Harriet Tubman; Harriet Tubman’s Birthplace; Harriet Tubman’s Story

Perry Wallace – Integrating College Basketball in the South

Richard Wright Richard Wright’s Life Informed His Writing 

Malcolm X The Unfinished Life of Malcolm XRemembering Malcolm X

Present

Joshua Bennett – A Poet Celebrates the Owed

Kamala Harris – VP-Elect Kamala Harris Inspires Youth

Kerry James Marshall – African Americans in the Art World

Michelle Obama – Michelle Obama On Becoming 

Claudia Rankine – Hair Color and Racial Identity

Tracy K. Smith Connecting through Poetry

Angie Thomas – Angie Thomas: The Hate U Give and the Call to Activism

Kehinde Wiley Rumors of War Sculpture 

History of Resistance

Slavery, Abolition, and Reconstruction

1619: Anniversary of Slavery in America

Experience the Life of a Slave

Slaves and the American Revolution

Great Negro Revolt

The Power of Slave Narratives

Reenactment of a Slave Revolt

Civil War’s First African American Infantry

40 Acres and a Mule

Censoring Huck Finn

New Museum Captures History of African-Americans

Debate: Should Congress Consider Reparations for Slavery

Debate: Should Statues of Historic Figures with Complex Legacies Be Removed?

The Civil Rights Movement 

How Martin Luther King, Jr. Channeled His Anger

Martin Luther King: I Have A Dream

New MLK Recording Discovered

Forgotten Civil Rights Activist

Racial Integration at Little Rock Decades Later 

Integrating Central High: A Pivotal Moment in the Civil Rights Movement

George Wallace at the School Door

Lunch Counter Protests of Civil Rights Era

Selma and Civil Rights 

Selma 50 Years Later

Civil Resistance Movements

Historic African-American Neighborhood Remembered

Sears Catalog and Jim Crow

Race and Maniac Magee

Black Lives Matter

Systemic Racism Drives Protests

Marching on Washington: Then and Now

Understanding Systemic Racism

Comparing Black Lives Matter to Civil Rights Movement

Protests Now and In the Past

Protests in Baltimore

Race and Equality in Policing 

Debate: Should Social Protest Affect Football?

Verdict in St. Louis Ignites Protests 

Racial Issues on College Campus

Valedictorian Speech Causes Controversy

Black Activists Fight Racism

Other Black History Resources

Online Articles

Lessons/Teaching Materials

Contemporary Literature on Antiracist Pedagogies

  • Schooltalk: Rethinking What We Say About and To Students Every Day, by Mica Pollock
  • Culturally Responsive Teaching and The Brain: Promoting Authentic Engagement and Rigor Among Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students, by Zaretta Hammond
  • We Want to Do More Than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom, by Bettina Love
  • Rethinking Ethnic Studies, edited by R. Tolteka Cuauhtin, Miguel Zavala, Christine Sleeter, and Wayne Au
  • Teaching For Diversity and Social Justice, 3rd Edition, by Maurianna Adams