Let’s be real, talking about race is hard. It makes us uncomfortable. It challenges us to be real and to come to terms with things we’d rather just avoid.
So, we don’t talk about it. Instead, we stick to the safe topics like Dr. King’s Dream, Rosa’s boldness, and Ruby’s bravery. While it’s incredibly important to never forget these icons of the past, it doesn’t progress us forward to continue to tiptoe around conversations about race.
Well teacher, this Black History Month, I’m challenging all of us, in the Project School Wellness community, to be brave and to boldly create opportunities to talk about race. And to help you out, I’ve gathered 20 Black History Month teaching resources.
Below you’ll find a list of 20 resources. This list is made up of books, movies, podcast, Ted Talks, and articles. Topics focus on issues of the past and present, encouraging students to understand that Black History is being written every day!
Let’s get to the resources…
Before diving into Black History Month or any topic centered on race, I strongly recommend reading this article and the links provided. It outlines some important things to consider.
This is my Black History Month post from last year. In it, I share a few things that I think are important to consider when discussing Black History.
UPDATED 2/11/18 Teaching the Hard History of American Slavery History
After initially publishing this post, a co-worker sent me this link from Teaching Tolerance. Teaching Tolerance has provided must use resources for any teacher looking to teach the hard history of American Slavery. I’ve been especially impressed with their podcast series just for teachers!
3) Little Leaders Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison
Why it’s impactful: This book shares the story of sooo many women I’d never heard of before! The author beautifully tells the stories of over forty amazing women who changed the course of history!
4) The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Why it’s impactful: One of the biggest mistakes we make as teachers is keeping Black History Month focused on the past. Black History is being written every day and we need to acknowledge that in our classrooms. Angie Thomas’ novel, The Hate U Give, is a stunning look into the reality of being an African-American today.
How to use it in middle school: The Hate U Give would be a great whole class novel for upper middle school grades (there are some mature themes). As students read independently, I would have daily book discussions and assign non-fiction reading (about police shootings, what draws people to gangs, current school segregation trends, etc…) to add to the text.
5) Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose
Why it’s impactful: Before Rosa Parks, teenager Claudette Colvin refused to give up her seat on the segregated buses of Montgomery, Alabama. Her decision to sit and the subsequent Browder v. Gayle case forever changed life in the South, yet, her name is rarely mentioned.
In just a few chapters, Hoose makes sure readers remember the name Claudette Colvin. I especially like how he adds boxes with background information to help readers better understand the Civil Rights Movement.
How to use it in middle school: This would be a great read-aloud book for any middle school class. You could also use this book as a launching point to start researching other rarely mentioned names of the Civil Rights Movement.
6) Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult
Why it’s impactful: In keeping with the goal of bringing Black History Month into the present, I can’t recommend this book enough. It is truly transformational. This empathy building story is unlike any I’ve read before. As you read, you see yourself and your own biases (yes, we all have them!) being played out in a way that challenges the reader to acknowledge personal shortcomings and discover a path to forgiveness and a better future.
How to use it in middle school: LikeThe Hate U Give, I would use this book as a whole class novel. I’d also create daily discussion questions and find non-fiction resources to supplement the text.
7) Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement by Carole Boston Weatherford
Why it’s impactful: Yet another Black History hero I’ve never heard of! This picture book is a must read for every classroom. Fannie Lou Hamer was a phenomenal woman and leader of the Civil Rights Movement. Weatherford does a beautiful job of sharing her story.
8) Rosa by Nikki Giovanni
Why it’s impactful: This children’s book tells the famous story of Rosa Parks. Nikki Giovanni adds some important insight into the often retold story.
Why it’s impactful: Selma tells the story of the historic Civil Rights march from Selma to Montgomery to bring attention to the unconstitutional voting practices taking place in the South.
How to use it in middle school: This movie is powerfully educating students about a key moment in the Civil Rights Movement. Viewers understand slavery ending and the passing of the 13th amendment did not ensure equality. In my classroom, I would also use this movie as a spring broad to talk about and research voter suppression issues happening today. Here’s an article overviewing some of the things being done to make it difficult to vote.
Why it’s impactful: The 13th movie brings the conversation of Black History to our present day as it explores the “intersection of race, justice and mass incarceration in the United States.”
How to use it in middle school: This is not an easy watch and it deals with heavy, sorrowful content. However, that is no reason to shy away from showing this to your students. As you watch, be prepared to stop and provide students with historical context. Afterwards, I would ask students to research and discuss some of the hot-button issues addressed such as privately owned prisons, mandatory sentences, and the disenfranchisement of convicted individuals.
11) Hidden Figures
Why it’s impactful: This is an outstanding story of three brilliant women. Once again, three women, I’d never heard of before watching this movie. Hidden Figures share the story of how these three women played a role in launching John Glenn into space.
How to use it in middle school: This is a great movie to watch as a class. While the movie has a feel-good ending, there are some potent themes to discuss with the class after viewing.
12) Hiding Behind Free Speech on Hidden Brain
Why it’s impactful: This is another resource aimed to bring the conversation to our present day. We’re living in an interesting time when hate speech seems to be more freely expressed and accepted, just look at what happened in Charlottesville. This podcast takes a deeper look at free speech and how it’s used in our country.
How to use it in middle school: I suggest listening to this as a class. After listening, I would have students research free speech, specifically in terms of hate speech.
Why it’s impactful: In this must listen to podcast, Melba Pattillo Beals tells her story of being one of the first students to be integrated into a white school in the south.
How to use it in middle school: This is a great whole class listen. As you listen, I recommend stopping and debriefing as it’s difficult to believe how harsh and cruel people were to these students simply because of the color of their skin.
14) Miss Buchanan’s Period Of Adjustment on Revisionist History
Why it’s impactful: It’s important that we take time to look back and critically assess history. That’s exactly what Malcolm Gladwell does. In this podcast, he takes a look at the infamous Brown v. the Board of Education Topeka.
How to use it in middle school: Listen to this as a whole class. I suggest using this podcast as a way to start researching Brown v. the Board of Education Topeka and to look into the segregation of schools today.
15) The Problem We All Live With Parts One and Two by This American Life
Why it’s impactful: Building off of the previous resource, in this episode This American Life, takes a look at how segregated schools are today and presents the ideas that integration just may be the key to fixing the American education system.
How to use it in middle school: This whole class listen is another way to bring the conversation of Black History into the present. I suggest supplementing this podcast with research and non-fiction text looking at the rate of segregation in American today. Additionally, I’d challenge students to think critically about how present day segregation impacts the nation as a whole.
16) We need to talk about an injustice by Bryan Stevenson
Why it’s impactful: Bryan Stevenson is doing incredible things for communities being destroyed by mass incarceration. In this talk, he challenges us to radically change our criminal justice system.
How to use it in middle school: I recommend watching this Ted Talk as a class, taking opportunities to stop and provide students with more context when necessary. After watching, students could research more about some of the issues brought up during this talk: mass incarceration, minors being tried as adults, disenfranchised convicts, the death penalty and people who are found to be innocent, etc…
17) How to overcome our biases? Walk boldly toward them by Verna Myers
Why it’s impactful: This is another resource meant to bring the conversations surrounding Black History Month into the present day. We all have biases, it’s just a reality of the human condition. In this Ted Talk, Verna Myers challenges us to be real about our bias and to actively work to overcome them.
How to use it in middle school: I suggest using this Ted Talk as a launching point for talking about bias and understanding that bias means. Here’s a great video explaining bias.
18) Color blink or color brave? by Mellody Hobson
Why it’s impactful: In this Ted Talk, Mellody Hobson challenges viewers to be color brave. In stark contrast to a movement of colorblindness, she presents a bold idea of being color brave and to walk towards our discomfort.
How to use it in middle school: After watching this as a class, I would ask students to get creative about how they can be color brave.
19)Black Lives Matter and America’s long history of resisting civil rights protesters by The Washington Post
Why it’s impactful: This article helps paints a more accurate picture of the Civil Rights Movement. While Dr. King was alive and the Civil Rights Movements was in full swing, he and the movement were highly unpopular. This is important to understand as we study Black History. The fight that Dr. King and his followers took on was not a popular agenda, yet they pressed on.
How to use it in middle school: I would read this together as a class. After reading, students could search for articles opposing the Civil Rights Movement from the 1950s-60s. Students could also research the tactics that were used to bring attention and change such as sit-ins, protest, marches, boycotts, etc…
20) Hanged, Burned, Shot, Drowned, Beaten by The Atlantic
Why it’s impactful: Later this year, The Memorial of Peace and Justice, a national monument to the victims of lynchings, will open in Montgomery, Alabama. From 1877 to 1950, over 4,000 “black Americans were hanged, burned alive, shot, drowned, beaten, or otherwise murdered by white mobs.” This article shares a little bit of the background behind this memorial.
How to use it in middle school: Wouldn’t it be great if we could take our students on field trips to the important memorials and museum around the country. But of course, we don’t have the budget for that. However, there’s nothing stopping us from bringing the memorials to our classrooms. After reading this article with students, I would ask them to identify a memorial, monument, or museum dedicated to a piece of Black History and share it with the class. If time allows, I would ask students to create a replica to show classmates.
Another idea would be for students to create a new memorial to honor someone or a piece of history.
Well, that’s all I’ve got for you today! Of course, there are countless more resources that you could use. And if you have some to share please comment below!