| By Gale Staff |
Historians credit scholar and activist Carter G. Woodson for creating the foundation for Black History Month, and the United States has celebrated the holiday every year since 1976. Black History Month was founded to honor the achievements of African Americans. Highlighting these individuals helps young African Americans learn about and find pride in their heritage and gives other students a more inclusive understanding of American history.
For K-12 educators and public librarians, Black History Month presents an opportunity to feature Black historical figures and the contributions they have made to the culture and story of the United States. No matter what you teach, Gale In Context: Biography has the resources to help you create engaging, curriculum-aligned lesson plans and carry the celebration of Black History Month into any subject.
Discuss Black Authors and Literature
One way to celebrate Black History Month is to discuss Black authors in your classroom. It’s essential for teachers to diversify assigned readings and integrate Black authors. Studying Black writers not only gives African American students an opportunity to see themselves in the work, but different racial perspectives help all students develop empathy and respect. Here are some notable authors to consider, but many more can be found in Gale In Context: Biography.
Missouri native Langston Hughes is one of the most celebrated Black authors in American history. Born in 1902, Langston Hughes was a product of the Harlem Renaissance and successfully published an impressive collection of poems, short stories, magazine and newspaper articles, novels, and plays. Still, his writing remains relevant and provides the opportunity for students to make connections between his themes and the present day. Readers resonate with Hughes’s sense of hope and harmony between all Americans despite the history of racial injustice in the United States.
One of the most prolific American authors of the twentieth century, Toni Morrison published 10 novels and seven nonfiction pieces. In 1988, she won the Pulitzer Prize for the book Beloved, a supernatural story that explores a former slave’s trauma during the post-Civil War era. Morrison went on to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993, becoming the first Black woman to claim the prestigious honor.
Activity Idea: Assign high school students one of Toni Morrison’s novels or Langston Hughes’s poems to read and discuss during February.
Explore Contributions Made by Black Scientists and Mathematicians
Enrich learning in STEM by featuring some of the many Black scientists and mathematicians who have made significant contributions to their subjects. Innovations from Black inventors permeate our daily lives in ways we might not even recognize; chocolate-covered peanuts, folding chairs, and, notably, the Covid-19 vaccine would not exist without African American scientists. Here are just a few to share with your class.
Benjamin Banneker, a man of science, was credited with creating one of the country’s first almanacs. Born in the 1730s, he was a self-taught astronomer who famously predicted a solar eclipse. Banneker was a true intellect of his era and a successful inventor, naturalist, and mathematician. Under the direction of President George Washington in 1791, Benjamin Banneker was selected as an assistant surveyor and helped create our nation’s capital city.
Euphemia Haynes earned a Ph.D. in Mathematics in 1943, the first African American woman to do so. She was passionate about teaching mathematics and helped train other African American educators. In 1966, Euphemia Haynes became the president of the District of Columbia Board of Education, a position that gave her a platform to help fight segregation in her local school district.
George Washington Carver
A former slave turned American hero, George Washington Carver is one of the better-known Black scientists in U.S. history. Carver faced countless barriers and worked all kinds of odd jobs to fund his pursuit of higher education, but he persevered. He received a master’s degree in 1896 before going on to create an agricultural program at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. George Washington Carver pioneered many critical agricultural theories, including those that encouraged crop rotation, crop diversification, and the building of a healthy soil system.
Activity Idea: While George Washington Carver is often incorrectly credited with the invention of peanut butter, he did invent hundreds of other peanut-related products. Encourage students to research one of Carver’s many inventions and present their findings.
Study Key Black Figures in U.S. History
History and U.S. Government teachers can dedicate their February lesson plans to civil rights leaders and other African Americans who helped change the course of our country’s history. Librarians might also dedicate their learning spaces to these important figures or display significant African American biographies at the library entrance. When users enter “civil rights activist” in the occupation field of Gale’s Person Search, they receive hundreds of results. With this tool, let your students discover unsung heroes of the civil rights movement.
Nannie Helen Burroughs
Nannie Helen Burroughs was born in the late nineteenth century in Virginia. Her mother recognized the power that education could provide her young daughter, so the family moved to Washington, D.C., where Nannie would have better academic opportunities. Nannie Helen Burroughs was a hard worker and activist at a very young age. In 1909, she created the National Training School for Women and Girls, an institution dedicated to educating Black women in both vocational training and traditional academic subjects.
Have your students ever heard the name Claudette Colvin? She was a sharp, educated young woman who grew up in Alabama during the Jim Crow era. At age 15, she was arrested for refusing to move to the back of the bus, inspiring a similar act by Rosa Parks nine months later that ignited the civil rights movement.
Activity Idea: Gale In Context: Biography has a rich collection of biographical information on influential leaders like Martin Luther King Jr., W.E.B. Du Bois, Thurgood Marshall, Rosa Parks, and so many more. Ask students to select one African American civil rights activist and develop a one-page summary featuring important events and accomplishments from that individual’s life.
Feature Black Athletes and Musicians in Extracurricular Courses
Librarians and K-12 educators may want to introduce more current Black figures into their lesson plans, and what better way to spark curiosity in your students than with some of today’s most famous Black athletes and musicians? Gale In Context: Biography features interesting, diverse content on popular athletes like Muhammad Ali, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Colin Kaepernick. Your students can also discover factual, relevant entries for their favorite artists like Cardi B and Lil Nas X.
LeBron James is one of the most famous basketball players in the world. He was raised by his mother, Gloria James, who gave birth to LeBron at just 16 years old. LeBron had a difficult childhood, but his love of basketball afforded him structure and stability. By age 18, he was the number one pick for the NBA. LeBron has since won many awards and championships, but he has also committed himself to advocating for Black victims of police brutality.
Students have likely heard many of Houston’s chart-topping hits, but do they know much about her story? Whitney Houston was a model, actress, and singer whose work dominated the 1980s and 1990s. She was a trailblazer for female artists in the Black community. Her time in the spotlight, however, was often marred by rumors of substance abuse and an unstable marriage. Despite this, Houston continued to find success in acting, singing, and directing. After her tragic death in 2012, Houston became the first Black artist to have three albums reach diamond status.
Activity Idea: Using content found in Gale In Context: Biography, have your students research and create a poster about a Black musician, athlete, or cultural figure that has inspired them. You can hang their work around the classroom or library to celebrate throughout the month of February.
Make Learning Easy with Helpful Resources
Gale In Context: Biography has thousands of documentaries, videos, audio clips, and more content types across all different time periods for you and your students to examine. Pursue targeted, relevant queries with our advanced search tools and filters, or customize your search for key figures based on name, nationality, occupation, ethnicity, gender, and more. Gale makes it easy for you and your students to access the resources you need. Within every entry in Biography, you’ll find a photograph of the person, well-organized content, and a list of further articles for those interested in deeper research. Plus, users benefit from Gale’s extensive accessibility tools, translation services, and easy citation resources.