Best Lessons and Activities for Teaching Black History Month

Lithograph illustration depicting African americans from slavery through space travel.
(Image credit: Pixabay/clker-free-vector-images)

In 1926, Black historian Carter G. Woodson created the forerunner to Black History Month, Negro History Week.

Since that time, the recognition of Black history as integral to American history has grown tremendously. At the same time, old habits and old-fashioned curricula die hard, keeping Black History Month a relevant necessity. 

The following are some of the best digital resources for teaching Black history. Be sure to start with number 1,  “Do's and Don'ts of Teaching Black History.”  Here teachers can learn ways to integrate Black history into the American History curriculum—where it belongs—all year long.   

  1. Do's and Don'ts of Teaching Black History (opens in new tab)
    Learn how to teach Black history—and how to integrate it into your curriculum year round. 
  2. American Experience: Freedom Riders Film (opens in new tab)
    From award-winning filmmaker Stanley Nelson, Freedom Riders explores the 1961 Freedom Rider movement to desegregate Southern bus and train travel. Featured are multiple short clips from the movie, focusing on the people, strategies, inspiration, music, and much more. A terrific teaching resource. 
  3. The 35th Annual Brooklyn Tribute to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr (opens in new tab).  
    This year’s tribute to King is all-virtual and includes notable musicians, poets, and politicians.  
  4. Association for the Study of African American Life and History: Virtual Black History Month Festival (opens in new tab)
    From the group founded by Dr. Carter G Woodson in 1915 comes a month-long virtual examination of this year’s theme,  The Black Family: Representation, Identity and Diversity.  
  5. BackStory: Blackstory (opens in new tab)
    From BackStory, the weekly podcast that explores the historical roots of current events, this episode delves into lynching, racial expulsion, passing as white, and Martin Luther King. Includes questions to test students’ comprehension and additional teaching resources for each section of the podcast. 
  6. Bay Area Veterans of the Civil Rights Movement: Civil Rights Movement Archive (opens in new tab)
    An extensive archive of photos, documents, letters, articles, speeches, poetry, and more related to the 1950s-60s Civil Rights movement. Check out the Teacher Resources, which provide lessons, activities, and a how-to for connecting students virtually with freedom movement veterans. 
  7. 50 Black Writers Whose Impact Went Beyond the Page (opens in new tab)
    A great jumping-off point for studying a diverse group of Black American writers, from Toni Morrison to August Wilson. Theologian James Cone, suffragist Mary Church Terrell, and academic Barbara Christian are just a few of the many Black writers who have helped to shape American letters. 
  8. Black History Milestones: Timeline (opens in new tab)
    Take a journey from the arrival of slavery in 1619 to Kamala Harris’ inauguration as the first Black Vice President in 2021. Photos, video, and explanatory text cover the landmark events in this timeline. 
  9. Black History Month is Every Month Book List (opens in new tab)
    The early literacy non-profit Reading Partners has published a reading list designed to encourage kids and parents to read and discuss Black history all year long.
  10. 31 Highly Influential African-American Scientists (opens in new tab)
    Go beyond the oft-cited George Washington Carver to learn about many other African-American scientists, past and present, whose work has been instrumental in the making of the modern world. 
  11. The Kennedy Center: Blues Journey (opens in new tab)
    This look at the “most important American music” of the 20th century delves into the history and musical characteristics of the blues in four narrated audio recordings, complete with classic blues songs. 
  12. Library of Congress: Freed People Tell Their Stories (opens in new tab)
    A remarkable set of interviews with former slaves done between 1932 and 1975, in nine states. The original recordings are accompanied by transcripts. 
  13. Library of Congress: The African-American Mosaic (opens in new tab)
    Online resources related to The African-American Mosaic: A Library of Congress Resource Guide for the Study of Black History and Culture. Topics include colonization, abolition, migration, and the WPA.
  14. Library of Congress: African American History Month For Teachers (opens in new tab)
    A wealth of digital and digitized primary resources, with links to teacher-created activities and lessons. Includes resources from the National Archives, National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Gallery of Art, the National Park Service, and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial museum.  
  15. Major League Baseball: The Negro Leagues (opens in new tab)
    Explore the history of the renowned baseball league, with photos, videos, and a detailed look at featured players and teams. 
  16. The National Archives Educator Resources: The Slave Trade (opens in new tab)
    Resources for educators to investigate the slave trade in American history, including primary source documents, teaching activities, and document analysis worksheets.
  17. National Education Association: Black History Month Lessons & Resources (opens in new tab)
    Lesson plans and activities to help educators teach Black history, organized by grade level and topic. Quizzes, printables and videos are provided. 
  18. National Geographic Kids: Black History Month (opens in new tab)
    Learn how Black History Month came to fruition in the U.S. 
  19. Negro Leagues Baseball Museum: 22 Stories about the Negro Leagues (opens in new tab)
    These 22 compelling video stories about the Negro Leagues—spotlighting not only the players, but also the business behind the game—offer a great opportunity for students to understand the critical role African Americans played in the rise of our national pastime. 
  20. The New York Times: Unpublished Black History (opens in new tab)
    A fascinating and visually arresting series of previously unpublished photos about Black history from the New York Times. Each photo is accompanied by explanatory text and links to the original news articles.
  21. PBS: Africans in America (opens in new tab)
    This four-part history of American slavery includes a narrative, resource bank, and teacher’s guide for each section. 
  22. Scholastic: Celebrate African American Heritage
    (opens in new tab)Explore this wide-ranging repository of African-American life, organized into the topics of slavery and freedom, arts and culture, civil rights, and influential leaders. 
  23. Slave Voyages (opens in new tab)
    Analyze the Atlantic slave trade via interactive maps, timelines, and animations. A visually impressive site, incorporating 3D video of a slave ship and a timelapse map illustrating the movement of 31,166 slave ships over hundreds of years. 
  24. The Smithsonian American Art Museum: Oh Freedom! Teaching Art and the Civil Rights Movement (opens in new tab)
    Teach Civil Rights by exploring artwork from the collections of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History and Culture. Search by artwork (opens in new tab) or artist (opens in new tab)
  25. Smithsonian/National Museum of African American History and Culture (opens in new tab)
    Explore African-American history through such diverse topics as civil rights, justice, music, literature, and many more. Searchable by topic, era, name, place, and object type (letters, lithographs, postcards, etc). 
  26. Smithsonian Learning Lab (opens in new tab)
    The Lab is a free, interactive platform for discovering millions of authentic digital resources, creating content with online tools, and sharing in the Smithsonian's expansive community of knowledge and learning.