Celebrating Black History Month

Information, Resources, and Online Activities

Martin Luther King Memorial
Walter Bibikow/Photolibrary/Getty Images

While the accomplishments of Black Americans should be celebrated all year long, February is the month when we focus on their innumerable contributions to American society.

How Black History Month Began

The roots of Black History Month can be traced to the early part of the 20th century. In 1925, Carter G. Woodson, an educator and historian, began campaigning among schools, journals, and Black newspapers calling for a Negro History Week to be celebrated. This would honor the importance of the achievement and contributions of Black Americans in the United States. He was able to institute this Negro History Week in 1926 during the second week of February. This time was chosen because Abraham Lincoln's and Frederick Douglass' birthdays occurred in that month. Woodson was awarded the Spingarn Medal from the NAACP for his accomplishment. In 1976, Negro History Week turned into Black History Month which we celebrate today.

African Origins

It is important for students not only to understand recent history of Black Americans, but also to understand the past. Before Great Britain made it illegal for the colonists to be involved in the trade of enslaved people, between 600,000 and 650,000 African people were forcibly brought to America. They were transported across the Atlantic and "sold" into bondage and forced labor for the rest of their lives, leaving family and home behind. As teachers, we should not only teach about the horrors of enslavement, but also about the African origin of Black Americans who live in America today.

Enslavement has existed throughout the world since ancient times. However, one big difference between enslavement in many cultures and what was experienced in America was that while those enslaved in other cultures could gain freedom and become part of society, Black Americans did not have that opportunity. Because almost all of the Africans on American soil were enslaved, it was extremely hard for any Black person who had gained freedom to be accepted into society. Even after enslavement was abolished following the Civil War, Black Americans had a difficult time of being accepted into society.

Civil Rights Movement

The barriers facing Black Americans after the Civil War were numerous, especially in the South. Jim Crow Laws such as Literacy Tests and Grandfather Clauses kept them from voting in many southern states. Further, the Supreme Court ruled that separate was equal and therefore Black people could legally be forced to ride in separate rail cars and attend different schools than Whites. It was impossible for Black people to achieve equality in this atmosphere, especially in the South. Eventually, the hardships that Black Americans faced became overwhelming and led to the Civil Rights Movement. Despite the efforts of individuals such as Martin Luther King, Jr., racism still exists in America. As teachers, we need to fight against this with the best tool we have, education.

Contributions of Black Americans

Black Americans have affected the culture and history of the United States in every way. We can teach our students about the contributions to music, art, literature, science, and many other areas.

The Harlem Renaissance of the 1920's is ripe for exploration. Students could create a "museum" of the accomplishments to increase awareness for the rest of the school and community.

Online Activities

One way to get your students interested in learning more about Black history and culture is to utilize the many great online activities that are available. You can find web quests, online field trips, interactive quizzes, and more.