Celebrate Black History Month: Resources, Articles, and Key Figures
Each February in the United States, we observe Black History Month, when we honor and celebrate the achievements and important contributions made by black Americans throughout our nation’s history.
Black History Month provides a wonderful opportunity for educators to teach their students about the pivotal role black Americans have played in U.S. history and to help students recognize the importance of social, political, and economic equality as it applies to race.
Black History Month: Resources
To help you celebrate Black History Month in your classroom, we have prepared a Black History Month Classroom Resources toolkit from Edmentum stuffed with fun activities and resources your students will love.
Black History month is also the perfect time to help your students get acquainted with some of the many influential black Americans from our nation’s history, including those who aren’t as well-known.
We’ve compiled this list of outstanding resources to share with your class that spotlight the lives and accomplishments of just a few extraordinary black Americans.
Kick off your lesson with this video on the Origins of Black History Month, which discusses the man behind the movement, Dr. Carter G. Woodson. Then, browse these resources and help your students discover other important figures and historical events to celebrate as you explore black history:
Harriet Tubman: The famous conductor of the Underground Railroad, Harriet Tubman, helped escort over 300 Southern slaves to freedom during the Civil War. She even bragged to Fredrick Douglass that in all of her 19 trips, she “never lost a single passenger.”
Madame C. J. Walker: Madame C. J. Walker was a resourceful entrepreneur and self-made millionaire who sold beauty products for black women. She used her money to make a difference in her community and empower the people around her.
George Washington Carver: George Washington Carver is most famous for discovering over 300 uses for the peanut, but his legacy extends far beyond. He worked tirelessly to improve the lives of Southern sharecroppers and laid the foundations for agricultural scientists to consider the many possibilities available when it came to sustainable agriculture and renewable resources.
Rosa Parks: There’s always more to learn about one of the most influential American civil rights activists and leaders, Rosa Parks. You should also check out this link for 10 Things You May Not Know About Rosa Parks.
Katherine Johnson: Katherine Johnson is a mathematician and former NASA employee whose calculations helped to successfully launch the first American astronauts into space, orbiting around the Earth, and the first-ever human mission to the moon. You may recognize her story from the 2016 film “Hidden Figures,” where Johnson was portrayed by award-winning actress Taraji P. Henson.
Ruby Bridges: Ruby was the first African American child to integrate an all-white elementary school in November of 1960. Even though she was only a child, Ruby’s courage helped to advance the Civil Rights Movement.
Mae C. Jemison: On September 12, 1992, physician Mae. C. Jemison became the first African-American woman in space. She acted as the science mission specialist and conducted several experiments on motion sickness and weightlessness on herself and her fellow crew members.
Bill Russell: Before there were athletes like Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, or LeBron James in the NBA, there was Bill Russell. Not only did Russell win 11 championships over his 13-season career playing basketball in the 1950s and 60s, but he was also the first black coach in the NBA. He is applauded for his impact on professional basketball.
Barack Obama: Barack Obama became the first black man to have been elected President of the United States on November 4, 2008. He served for two terms, and although he is no longer in office, Obama continues to help others and work to make America a better place.
Black History Month: Inventors
To share some inspiring stories on invention and perseverance, go over these fascinating black inventors through history!
1. Thomas L. Jennings
Thomas L. Jennings made history as the first black American to receive a patent in the U.S.
Jennings worked in New York City as a tailor and a dry cleaner. He received a patent in 1821 for his invention of ‘dry scouting’, an early form of dry cleaning.
At the time, U.S. laws prevented slaves from receiving patents for their ideas or inventions, but because Jennings was a free man, there was nothing to stop him.
He used the money from his invention to free the rest of his family and support abolitionists causes.
A few decades after receiving his patent, Congress amended patent laws so that all African Americans were free to receive patents, opening the door for all future black inventors.
2. Lewis Latimer
We all know that Thomas Edison invented the lightbulb, but did you know that Lewis Latimer invented the carbon filament, a vital component of the original lightbulb?
Latimer was an inventor and draftsman from Chelsea, Massachusetts who also helped draft the original patent for Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone, designed an improved version of a railroad card bathroom and early versions of an air conditioning unit. Imagine a hot summer day without Lewis Latimer!
3. Garrett Morgan
Imagine what your ride to school would be like if you didn’t have traffic lights? You might have trouble getting very far!
Garrett Morgan, born in 1877, was an inventor and newspaper man. In his early life, he worked as a handyman and sewing machine repair man, and later owned a garment shop.
By 1920, he had enough money to start a newspaper, the Cleavland Call, which became one of the nation’s most important black newspapers.
Morgan also invented the gas mask to help protect firefighters from the harmful smoke they encountered on the job.
Perhaps his most famous invention, however, is the three-stop traffic signal. Previously, traffic lights only had a ‘stop’ and ‘go’ signal and caused a lot of confusion on busy streets when they would switch back and forth. After witnessing and horse and buggy collide with an automobile, Morgan thought there should be a third signal on a traffic light to give drivers time to slow down between ‘stop’ and ‘go.’
4. Miriam Benjamin
Miriam E. Benjamin was the second black woman to receive a patent in the United States in 1888 for her invention, the Gong and Signal Chair for Hotels. She wanted to invent a way for hotel guests to get the attention of waitstaff without having to clap or wave and disturb other guests.
Her chairs worked by pressing a small button on the back of the chair that would send a signal to an attendant to let them know someone needed assistance. At the same time, a light on the chair would be activated, so that waitstaff could easily find the guest who had called for help.
You won’t find chairs like these in many hotels anymore, but you will find them in the U.S. House of Representatives! The Gong and Signal Chair was also the precursor to the signaling system used on airplanes to call a flight attendant.
5. Shirley Ann Jackson
Not only was Dr. Jackson the first African American woman to receive an Ph.D. from the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), she’s also laid the way for inventions like the portable fax machine, touch tone telephone, solar calls, fiber optic cables, and the technology behind caller ID and call waiting through her breakthrough research.
Without her, the cell phones we know today might not exist!
Dr. Jackson is a highly respected member of the scientific community, and is currently the president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the oldest technological research university in the United States.
Black History Month: Activities and Further Reading
Looking for more? Check out the links below!
PBS curated a list of 20 lesson plans and resources for teachers that cover topics ranging from civil rights events to discussions about race in current events. The resources provide authentic student-driven learning experiences that help all students participate in Black History Month.
Use storytime within your classroom as one of the great ways to teach kids about the accomplishments of black pioneers and trailblazers. With the suggestions from organizations dedicated to embracing diversity in children’s books, Huff Post gathered a list of 24 Children’s books about black figures or that are focused on black culture.
20 Black History Month Activities for February and Beyond, WeAreTeachers
WeAreTeachers created a list of their favorite Black History Month activities for the classroom that allow students to learn the history, discover the cultural impacts, and follow the movements throughout present day.
As part of HuffPost’s Black History Month they created a list of black icons from each state in the United States that feature those who have made monumental advancements in politics, music, sports, literature, and beyond.
Interested in exploring more content to celebrate important events and holidays this month? Check out our other free February classroom resources from Edmentum for fun, interactive toolkits celebrating Safe Internet Day and Presidents' Day, and be sure to check out our blog on five awesome inventors whose inventions we use every day to get to know a few more of the many influential black Americans from our nation’s history.