Saturday, January 18, 2014

Black History Month: Its History, Great Reads, Discussions and Lesson Suggestions

With February, Black History Month quickly approaching,  I thought I'd share some great books, links and discussion/lesson suggestions to last you through February.

The history and story behind Black History Month:

Dr. Carter G. Woodson, the son of slaves was the first figure to try to incorporate Black history in to the public discussion. Born in Virginia in 1875, Carter Woodson escaped poverty through education, receiving a Doctorate from Harvard University in 1912. Through his education, Woodson noticed that while Black slaves and freemen were instrumental in U.S. history and economy there was either no information about them and their contributions, are there was misinformation. So, in 1915 he founded The Association of Negro Life and History  (ASNLH) (along with minister Jesse E. Moorland, and in 1916 began publishing The Journal of Negro History (now known as The Journal of African American History.
Dr. Carter G. Woodson

With the encouragement of others, in 1926, Woodson organized the first annual Negro History week for the second week in February, intentionally coinciding with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. In the decades that followed, mayors across the country began to officially recognize Negro History Week. Twenty-six years after Dr. Carter Woodson's death, with the help of the Civil Rights Movement and growing black pride, Black History Week became Black History Month, as part of the Bi-Centennial celebration. President Gerald Ford officially recognized Black History Month in 1976, calling upon Americans to "seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history."

 Here are some of my favorite reading suggestions:

  • The Silence of Our Friends  by Mark Long, Jim Demonakos and Nate Powell (First Second Books, Grades 6+) - a true story about a while male reporter and his family living in Texas during the Civil Rights Movement. The father must make career and life choices while trying to do the 'right thing.' The struggles of segregation and the Civil Rights movement are clearly and sensitively depicted.
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee — an American classic about a town struggling with racism and a trial that brings two families from opposing sides of the civil rights conflict to the forefront.
  • March, a graphic novel by Congressman John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell (Grades 6+) - This first volume spans Lewis’ youth in rural Alabama, his meeting with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the birth of the Nashville Student Movement, and their battle against segregation. (Note: This book has an awesome teacher’s guide, too.)
  • I Have a Dream: Writings and Speeches That Changed the World by Martin Luther King Jr. — the text of King’s famous speech.
  • Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by Doreen Rappaport and Bryan Collier (illustrator) — an extraordinary picture-book biography, incorporating narrative, famous quotes from Dr. King, and powerful collage and watercolor illustrations introducing King’s words and legacy to younger readers.
  • Coming of Age in Mississippi by Anne Moody — an autobiography of a poor Black girl whose parents were tenant farmers on a Mississippi plantation and whose dream of going to college was realized upon winning a basketball scholarship. We get first-hand accounts of her joining the NAACP, CORE, and SNCC and the steps she took in demonstrations and sit-ins, along with her subsequent arrests and jailings.
  • Through My Eyes: Ruby Bridges by Ruby Bridges, Margo Lundell (Editor) — Ruby Bridges chronicles her steps in November 1960 as a six-year-old Black girl, surrounded by federal marshals who walked her through a mob of screaming segregationists into school.
  • For older readers (high school and older):
    • Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston — novel about Janie Crawford, a proud, independent Black woman whose quest for identity and has become a highly acclaimed expression of African-American literature.
    • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou — autobiography about poet and writer Maya Angelou’s early years. She writes about women’s lives in a male-dominated society, and uses metaphors of rape (the suffering of her race) and a caged bird trying to escape throughout the book.
    • In Struggle: SNCC and the Black Awakening of the 1960s by Clayborne Carson — Using primary resources (interviews, meeting transcripts, and recently released FBI papers), Carson describes the SNCC story from its start-up as the earliest civil rights fighters (its sit-ins, freedom rides, organized voter registration) to sparking wider social protests against the Vietnam War. This book goes behind the scene and takes a look at the organizations accomplishments and internal and often bitter power struggles.
    • The Color Purple by Alice Walker — about Celle, a Southern Black woman sold into a live of servitude to her brutal sharecropper husband and her struggle to find her own way.

Here are some links and resources:

General information:

Links to specific events:
  • Underground Railroad - an interactive site by National Geographic that follows the paths taken. Includes some audio component (songs sung) and options and choices to make along the journey.
Links to the civil rights movement:

Suggested kids' books and lessons around specific books
As always, thank you for your visit.  Please leave your own suggestions or favorite Black History Month recommendations in the comments below.


  1. When I was still teaching high school students, we all really enjoyed February because of the rich history of literature that was available, altho we did not confine it to just Black History Month. Kate, ABC Team

  2. I love that quote by Martin Luther King, Jr.

    abcw team

  3. Great to learn our history and keep sharing it on. Thank you for all the general information as well, you have provided us with some great links.
    Have a lovely week!

  4. A rich topic, and a great resource!
    My gripe about BHM is that it tends to allow people to recreate King in particular in their own image.

  5. Thank you for all the references and book listings.
    I think I need to read some of these great stories again. It's been far too long.

  6. I have read a lot of books about slavery in the Southern States, but non of what you have listed. The most famous one was probably "Roots". I also saw the building from where the slaves were shipped from Liverpool in the UK. What surprised me most was, when I was in the States visiting my American aunt, some people didn't even know why there were black people and where they had come from !

  7. Really interesting background info. I will track down some of your suggestions.

  8. Oh If only we had another leader today like Dr. Martin Luther King!!!

  9. Great resources listed here, I've added a couple of the books to my reading list. Thank you!