The rich and complex history of Black history is American history. February is devoted to the study and celebration of Black America. History and traditions, the challenges and triumphs. We’ll shine a light on some amazing Black Americans past and present. In order for our nation to continue to move forward, we must look to the past. The past provides a window of truth through which a sage nation can learn and grow.
What is the History of Black History Month?
We often lose track of the origins of what we are celebrating and observing. I did some research to familiarize myself with the who, what, when, where and why of Black History Month. In my experience, we may think we know all there is to know. However, there is always something new to be learned! If you are a fellow life- long learner, you know this to be truth.
In 1926, Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History established the second week of February as Negro History Week. Several states responded positively to Woodson’s proposal. They supported the teachings in their academic arenas which helped to set the stage for what was to come. Decades later, in 1969, Black students and educators at Kent University in Ohio initiated the celebration of the first official Black History Month. Within 6 years, the observance of Black History Month had grown beyond the walls of academia and onto a National setting.
President Gerald Ford was the first American President to endorse the national celebration and observation of Black History Month in February. Ford encouraged Americans, to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” Each President since Ford has dedicated February as Black History Month.
Each year, Black History Month is centered around a theme. The theme serves to put a spotlight on a specific area of focus for Black Americans. The theme brings public attention to areas of development and advancement of note. Past topics have been The Career of Frederick Douglass (’41), African Civilization and Culture: A Worthy Historical Background (’71), Black Women (’96).
This year the theme is Black Health and Wellness. Mental health and wellness is a huge focus in the current climate, so this is a fitting choice. At the forefront of this theme is the starring role of Black medical and healthcare practitioners. 2022’s theme also urges Black Americans to look inward as well by focusing on their mental health and wellness. The Association for the Study of African American Life and History has curated an amazing suggested reading list focused on Black health and wellness.
During Black History Month, we have a unique opportunity to center our focus on outstanding Black individuals throughout American history. Our team put together a strong list of Black trailblazers from A-Z. Each link is a free printable for you to work on with your children and students! We’ll learn about artists, inventors and athletes through facts, reading comprehension and art.
- A is for Alvin Ailey
- B is for Barack Obama
- C is for Claudette Colvin
- D is for Dorothy Vaughan
- E is for Ella Fitzgerald
- F is for Fredrick Douglass
- G is for Garret Morgan
- H is for Harriet Tubman
- I is for Ida B. Wells
- J is for Jackie Robinson
- K is for Kamala Harris
- L is for Lonnie Johnson
- M is for Misty Copeland
- N is for Nelson Mandela
- O is for Oprah Winfrey
- P is for Phillis Wheatley
- Q is for Quincy Jones
- R is for Ruby Bridges
- S is for Simone Biles
- T is for Thurgood Marshall
- U is for Usain Bolt
- V is for Viola Davis
- W is for Wilma Rudolph
- X is for Malcom X
- Y is for York (Lewis and Clark)
- Z is for Zora Neale Hurston
Do the research
For these activities, work first with your students to read about basic facts for each individual. Take it a step further by doing more research on the person! Have your student select one or two from the list to write up a report or make a poster. Each alphabetical person of note has space for your student to share what they learned and to draw a picture of the person based on the facts provided.
At your schools, arrange a visit with your Library Media Specialist for your students. Your LMS will gladly come to you or open the Library space for your class to visit, take advantage of them! I am the LMS at my school and I promise you that we love to do this with your classes!
As a side activity, have your students explore important vocabulary reflective of Civil Rights. This Martin Luther King Junior word search emphasizes words like equality, leadership and freedom. Have your students complete the word search and go a little deeper by making flashcards and investigating the definitions! What other words can you think of to associate with Civil Rights?
Black History Month globally
Not only does the United States celebrate Black History Month, other countries recognize it as well. Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany and the Netherlands all reflect as a nation on the achievements and accomplishments of Black people in their countries and world- wide.
Our neighbors to the north in Canada recognize the cultural diversity of their nation. One of the first Black Canadians of note was Mathieu Da Costa who was a navigator and interpreter dating back to the 1600s. Canada, like the USA, has a history of enslaved African peoples. Though it was lesser known in the Northern territories than it was here in North America. That being said, the contributions of Black people in the history of Canada is substantial.
How we choose to observe history and speak of the past directly impacts the future and future generations. Some history is grand and joyous. Other periods of history can be shameful and violent. Talk to your kids about Black history, especially in February. Take time to get to know each of our alphabetized figures! Remember that there is always something new to learn. If you didn’t get a chance to see our earlier post honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., click here to read it. There are some great resources and information there as well!
Courtney is an MTT tutor, academic coach, and blog contributor for MTTES. If you check out our FB and Instagram pages, you might see her giving a storytime with her son Jack through the company’s Facebook Live service. Courtney’s love of the English language, learning, and creative writing inspired her to contribute relevant content to teachers, tutors, parents, and homeschoolers seeking support across an array of trending topics. She and her teacher husband have two small children and reside in Baltimore, MD.