Black History Month, which takes place each February, recognizes the struggles, triumphs, and contributions of African Americans in the United States. Throughout the month, we honor the impact Black Americans have made and continue to make throughout U.S. history, from the early 17th Century through today.
You can celebrate Black History Month in your classroom and use lessons from books written by Black authors to further extend literacy activities in grades Pre-K–5. First, it’s important for students to the origins of Black History Month and how it’s evolved over the years.
Why Do We Celebrate Black History Month in February?
The efforts of Carter G. Woodson led to the establishment of Black History Month, which is now celebrated every February since 1976. According to the NAACP, Woodson was inspired to bring attention to the achievements of Black Americans after being denied entry to American Historical Association conferences despite paying membership dues. He realized that to preserve Black history and preserve its importance in American history, he would need to create his own institution. In 1915, he created the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. He later founded The Journal of African American History, which is still published today.
In 1926, Woodson launched Negro History Week in the second week of February to overlap with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. In 1976, this effort expanded into Black History Month when U.S. president Gerald Ford extended the recognition to “honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
Each year, Black History Month explores a theme. According to History.com, this year’s Black History Month theme is, “Black Resistance,” and explores how "African Americans have resisted historic and ongoing oppression, in all forms, especially the racial terrorism of lynching, racial pogroms and police killings," throughout American history.
Sharing Black Stories
By sharing the stories written by Black authors or reading or listening to books written from a Black child’s point of view, your students can learn about African American culture and history throughout the ages. They can also gain a better understanding of the challenges Black children faced and the ways in which they faced injustice and persevered. Your early learners can benefit from hearing these stories read out loud to them, too.
Check out our list of children’s books to read for Black History Month:
1. Let the Children March by Monica Clark-Robinson
Set in 1963 in Birmingham, Alabama, this book tells the story of thousands of brave children who marched to protest segregation laws.
2. Martin's Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by Doreen Rappaport
With breathtaking illustrations, this biography introduces children to the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
3. Mr. Crum’s Potato Predicament by Anne Renaud
Did you know the potato chip was an accidental invention? Delight students with the story of George Crum, a chef who created one of our favorite snacks.
4. Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library by Carole Boston Weatherford
Arturo Schomburg is a collector of African art, books, and music. Read to find out what happens when his valuable collections begin to overflow his house!
5. Anna Carries Water by Olive Senior
Anna can’t carry water on her head quite like her siblings can. This story shows how Anna perseveres and achieves her goal to bring water from the spring.
6. Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly
The true story of four black women who played critical roles in one of NASA’s greatest successes.
7. Molly, by Golly! The Legend of Molly Williams, America’s First Female Firefighter by Diane Ochiltree
Spunky, brave, and little-known, Molly Williams was the first female firefighter in the U.S.
8. Henry's Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad by Ellen Levine
This award-winning book tells the story of a slave determined to gain his freedom and his dramatic struggle to reach the North.
9. The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson
Two young girls begin a friendship, but there’s one major problem: they live on opposite sides of their segregated town.
10. Ruby Bridges Goes to School: My True Story by Ruby Bridges
The remarkable true story of the first African American child to desegregate a Louisiana school, written by Ruby Bridges herself.
How Can You Incorporate Black History Month into Literacy Lessons?
Black History Month can spark lively discussions that can extend your students’ learning through a variety of activities.
- Reflective writing - After reading or listening to a story, you can ask a series of questions that can later serve as writing prompts. For example, what might it have felt like to be separated from other students due to the color of your skin? Why is it important to acknowledge and celebrate the achievements of early Black leaders? Why do you think some of this history wasn’t recorded? You can ask students these questions verbally or create a lesson that strengthens students’ independent writing or handwriting skills. Learning Without Tears’ grade-level journals provide one organized tool for strengthening handwriting and independent writing skill, for example. To learn more about how you can help your K–5 students with independent writing, be sure to check out our Building Writers student editions.
- Artwork – Student can also celebrate Black History Month by drawing pictures, making posters, coloring murals, or creating other artwork to express what they’ve learned. To develop handwriting and coloring skills, your youngest learners must develop the right pencil and crayon grip.
To learn more about teaching good grip, you can also watch this free webinar.
- Music and movement – Black musicians tapped into the power of song to communicate their thoughts, feelings, and beliefs. For example, Harriet Tubman used spirituals as a secret signal to fugitive slaves on the Underground Railroad, according to The National Endowment for Humanities. In the 20th Century, African Americans composed blues and jazz songs about Jim Crow, WWI, the Great Depression, and WWII. Students can listen and move to this music while they learn about its historical significance.
African American history is our history. Black History Month takes place in February, but you can use these resources and others to celebrate all year long. For more ideas, check out this planner from Rethinking Schools, a nonprofit publisher and advocacy organization dedicated to sustaining and strengthening public education through social justice teaching and education activism.