Black with colors of black history month in stripes across the bottom and in small geometric shapes across the top. Text written in white.

Did you know that February (in the U.S.) is Black History Month? And I propose that we should include some Black history in our homeschooling.

In this post, I want to make you aware of Black History Month, explain why I think we should add it to our homeschooling, provide a short list of important persons in Black history, and then suggest how to incorporate Black history into your homeschooling.

what is Black History Month?

Black History Month is a time to highlight Black Americans’ contributions to our country and the world. And while this recognition started with just a week of emphasis in 1926, President Gerald Ford officially declared February as Black History Month in 1976.

How did Black History Month Get Started?

Black historian Carter G. Woodson came to Chicago in 1915 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of emancipation. The celebration in Chicago highlighted the progress that Black Americans had made since slavery was abolished. Woodson formed an organization to promote the study of Black life and progress.

Why is Black History Month in February?

Many sources state that the founder, Carter G. Woodson, chose February because this month includes the birthdays of President Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, a national leader of both abolitionists and civil rights for Black Americans in the 1800s.

From its beginnings, the emphasis of Black History Week (Month) has been to encourage the coordinated teaching of the history of Black Americans in public schools.  

Too often, and for too long, Black Americans have been pushed to the sidelines. Our history texts have limited space and can include only so much information. Sure, our texts will include a few highlighted Black Americans, like Harriet Tubman, George Washington Carver, Frederick Douglass, and perhaps Phillis Wheatley. But there are so many more who have made important contributions! We should recognize that!

Also, many of the Black Americans had to overcome great adversity and challenges to accomplish what they did. Anyone who learns to overcome and succeed should be recognized!

Here is a small list of some important Black Americans and their accomplishments. Obviously, I had to limit the list! I am sure you will think of names I should have included, and that’s okay. Please don’t be offended if I missed some important names. These names are in no particular order.

  • Bessie Coleman (1892-1926) – She was the first Black American woman to earn a pilot’s license in the U.S.
  • Katherine Johnson (1918-2020) – She was a mathematician whose calculations of orbital mechanics allowed for the success of manned spaceflights. Katherine Johnson was also among the first African Americans to work as a NASA scientist.
  • Fritz Pollard (1894-1986) – Pollard was the first Black American head football coach for the NFL and, before that, one of the two first Black American professional football players in the NFL.
  • Paul Robeson (1898-1976) – Paul Robeson was a professional football player, actor, and concert artist. He became famous for his rendition of “Ol’ Man River” from the musical Show Boat.
  • Alice Coachman (1923-2014) – She was the first Black woman from any country to win a gold medal at the Olympics! (High jump – 1948 Olympics – she set a new Olympic record.)
  • Ronald McNair (1950-1986) – Nationally recognized for his work in laser physics, he was also the 2nd African American to fly in outer space for NASA. He was a mission specialist on the Challenger space shuttle that exploded.
  • Alexa Canady (b. 1950) – was the first Black woman to become a neurosurgeon, specializing in pediatric neurosurgery.
  • Marian Anderson (1897-1993) – Anderson was the first African American singer to perform at the Metropolitan Opera. After discrimination prevented her from singing in Constitution Hall in 1939, President and Mrs. Roosevelt aided her in performing an open-air concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. A later documentary featured that concert: “Marian Anderson: The Lincoln Memorial Concert.”
  • Mae Jemison (b. 1956) – Jemison was the first African American woman to travel into space in 1992 onboard the Space Shuttle Endeavor. She is also a member of the International Space Hall of Fame. She even appeared in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation (1993).
  • Jane Bolin (1908-2007) – Jane Bolin was the first black woman to graduate from Yale Law School and later the first black woman to serve as a United States judge (1939).
  • Wally Amos (b. 1936) – Wally Amos was the founder of Famous Amos Chocolate Chip Cookies
  • Benjamin O David Sr (1877-1970) – He became the U. S. Army’s first African American general officer. His son became the first Black general in the U. S. Air Force.
  • Robert Smalls (1839-1915) – escaped slavery during the Civil War by stealing a Confederate ship, sailing it to the Union blockade, and transferring the ship to the Union army. He later founded the Republican Party of South Carolina and authored legislation creating the country’s first free and mandatory school system.
  • James Armistead Lafayette (1748 or 1760 – 1830 or 1832) – Even though he was a slave then, James Armistead served as a double agent (spy) during the War of Independence. He presented himself to the British as a runaway slave while he was spying for the American forces.
  • Elizabeth Freeman (1744-1829) – Freeman was the first African American woman to be freed from slavery under the Massachusetts constitution in 1781.
  • Harriet Tubman (1822-1913) – After escaping from slavery, she made multiple missions to rescue about 70 other slaves using the Underground Railroad. During the Civil War served as an armed scout and a spy for the Northern Army.
  • Sojourner Truth (1797-1883) – She was an American abolitionist and activist for civil rights and women’s rights. She was the first Black woman to win a child recovery court case against a white man. She was also the first Black woman to have a statue in the Capitol building.
  • Mark Dean (b. 1957) – Dean was an inventor, computer engineer, and co-creator of the IBM personal computer. He was also named the first African American IBM Fellow in 1995.
  • Mamie Johnson (1935-2017) – an American professional baseball player, the first female pitcher to play in the Negro leagues of professional baseball. She had a 33 to 8 win-loss record as a pitcher for the Indianapolis Clowns from 1953-1955.
  • Frederick Douglass (1817-1895) – After escaping slavery, Douglass became a leading abolitionist. He also became famous for his speeches and his writing. His book Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, became a best-seller.
  • Thurgood Marshall (1908-1993) – Thurgood Marshall was the first African American Supreme Court Justice. Before that, Marshall won 29 of 32 civil rights cases he argued before the Supreme Court.
  • Patricia Bath (1942-2019) – A woman of many “firsts”: first woman member of Jules Stein Eye Institute, the first woman elected to the honorary staff of the UCLA Medical Center, the first African American woman doctor to receive a patent for a medical purpose. She was also the founder of the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness.  
  • Phillis Wheatley (1753-1784) – Wheatley was the first African American author of a published book of poetry.
  • George Washington Carver (1864-1943) – One of the most important Black scientists of the early 1900s. He specialized in agricultural science, promoting alternative crops to cotton and ways to prevent or mitigate soil depletion. He is also known for his work with peanuts and sweet potatoes.

OK, so now you have a list of names, what should you do with them? How can you include these people (or any others) in your homeschooling plans? I’ll give you a few ideas, and you can probably think of some others. (Ideas often inspire other ideas!)

  • Teach about these people. Do a lesson on Black Americans you should know, have your older kids take notes, and give them the information.
  • Create a matching game for your kids. Write the names of the people on one set of cards, and what they are known for on another set of cards. Your kids will need to look up the names and match them with the card that correctly describes the person.
  • You could do the matching concept with a worksheet as well.
  • Have each child choose a name from the list and then create a report or presentation about that person and why we should remember them. What was unique or unusual about what that person did?
  • Have your kids work together to create a slideshow presentation or a digital scrapbook about the different people on the list of names.
  • Choose one person from the list and read a biography about that person.
  • Do some research (you or your kids) and then highlight the adversities that the people on the list had to overcome to accomplish what they did.
  • Create a crossword puzzle using the people on the list and their achievements as your clues and answers. Your kids will need to do some research to complete the puzzle!

Discovery Education has a free online puzzle maker site: https://puzzlemaker.discoveryeducation.com/

If you are looking for more information about Black History Month, the following sites are helpful and informative:

National Graphic Kids – https://kids.nationalgeographic.com/history/article/black-history-month

ASALH (Association for the Study of African American Life and History – https://asalh.org/about-us/origins-of-black-history-month/

Also, I used both Black and African Americans to reference the persons listed above. From my research, each term is acceptable for use, although some today may prefer one over the other. I have no intention of hurting, defaming, or causing any harm to anyone.

Carol Rhine Rhine Home School Services

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