Since 1976, American educators have officially recognized February as Black History month. However, if February is the only time you mention the contributions of people of color in your classroom, then it’s time to reevaluate. Black history is integral to the story of America, a history that has for too long been skewed to reflect a white European perspective. And, while most Americans are familiar with the names of Dr. Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, there are many other African American leaders who made an enormous impact on our country’s history.
Below you’ll find a short list of some of these leaders and suggestions of how to incorporate their contributions into your curriculum. Remember that the lessons that are most meaningful to students are those that are given all year long, not just during one designated month.
Langston Hughes (1902-1967) was a writer and social activist. He was particularly known as an innovator of jazz poetry and for his role in the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920’s. Hughes was one of the few black writers at the time to express pride in his heritage. He wrote of both the joys and the pain of being black in America. Check out Read, Write, Think for a in-depth lesson centered around his poetry.
Samuel Kountz (1930-1981) grew up in one of the poorest towns in the poorest state of Arkansas. Although the odds were against him, Kountz became the first African American to attend the University of Arkansas Medical School. He was a pioneer in the field of organ transplants. And, in 1961, he performed the first kidney transplant between a recipient and a donor who were not identical twins. Consider using Samuel Kountz on this timeline lesson about American inventors.
Fredrick Douglass (1818-1895) was an escaped slave who became a leader of the Abolitionist Movement, eventually rising to power as the first African American to hold a high US government rank. Besides fighting for equal treatment for African Americans, he was also a champion of women’s rights. In 1848, he was the only African American to attend the first women’s rights convention at Seneca Falls, New York. Urban Dreams has created a lesson plan that ties the biography of Fredrick Douglas to lessons about freedom and social development.
Emmet Chappelle (1925- ) is recognized as one of the 100 most distinguished African American scientists of the 20th Century. His work was primarily in the field of medicine, philanthropy, food science, and Astrochemistry. Some of Chappelle’s most influential advancements were in luminescence, or, light without heat. He was able to show how satellites can monitor luminescence levels to monitor the growth rate and harvest timing of crops. Laser Classroom has an interesting lesson about fluourescence that can be linked to a study of Chappelle’s contributions.
Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988) grew up in the streets of NYC. His difficult childhood fueled an anger in him that he channeled towards graffiti art. His cutting edge artwork propelled him to the forefront of the Neo-Expressionist movement. Graffiti Art provides a lesson plan to show students how artists like Basquiat make art accessible to everyone.
Faith Ringgold (1930 -) is a Civil Rights activist, author, and artist. Her series of paintings-American People-capture the racial tensions of the Civil Rights Era. Her gorgeously illustrated book, Tar Beach, gives a unique perspective of Harlem in the 1930’s through the eyes of a young girl. Here you will find a rich series of lesson plans geared towards grades 3-5 about Ms. Ringgold’s work that integrates reading, writing, social studies, and art.
Marvin Gaye (1939-1984) was a singer, songwriter and music producer. He helped shaped Motown, a record company owned by African Americans that played an important role in the racial integration of popular music. His hit song, What’s Going On was a reaction to police violence towards protestors marching against the Vietnam War. What’s Going On Now is an excellent project that uses history and music to compare the time period that Marvin Gaye sang about to current day issues.
The Teacher’s Academy is proud to provide affordable, convenient Professional Development courses for educators. Our Inspiring Ideas for the 21st Century Classroom course features a TED talk by Rita Pierson, a prominent African American teacher and speaker. Check out this class and many others in our course catalog!