The best way to start teaching yourself about Black History Month is to begin with the definition. What exactly is this 28-day tribute in February? Also known as African-American History Month, Black History Month is an annual celebration of achievements by black Americans and a time for recognizing the central role of African-Americans in U.S. history. The event used to be known as Negro History Week and was extended to a month-long observance in 1976.
If your child is school-aged, he's definitely being taught about the importance of Black History Month in his classroom. But there's a lot you can do to reinforce the learning at home. To educate your little one — and yourself — about Black History Month, head to the library and check out one of the hundreds of books on the subject. Any of these options (and more) can start an important discussion about racial diversity between you and your child.
Teaching isn't just about text books and studying. If your child is like most, he'll love this idea because it involves television and computers! Grab some popcorn, plop down on the nearest comfy couch and curl up with your little one to watch a video or movie to commemorate Black History Month. From Martin Luther King's I Have a Dream speech that you can pull up in a matter of seconds on YouTube to the Alex Haley's Roots film to the adaptation of Kathryn Stockett's novel, The Help, there are endless video clips, films and even documentaries that can help teach us about black history in America. Amazon.com has a good list of black history movies that you can also consider.
Another great way to teach your child to honor Black History Month is to celebrate the many inspiring African-American musical artists. It would be impossible to even come close to naming the multitude of amazingly talented African-American singers, songwriters and musicians, so I'll simply suggest downloading the music of some of the greats: Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Quincy Jones, Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston. With the Grammys during Black History Month on February 10, it's a great way to get your child excited about learning more.
African-Americans you should know
You should read and talk about events in black history from the Emancipation Proclamation to Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka and the Montgomery Bus Boycott to the Birmingham Church Bombing. Parents and children alike should also discuss people who greatly influenced the Civil Rights Movement from Martin Luther King, Jr. to Frederick Douglass and Rosa Parks to Jackie Robinson.
And though it's certainly important to learn about topics like slavery and civil rights, it's equally as important to learn about the African-Americans who have made huge contributions to our country in other ways. It's easy to talk about the celebrities and athletes, but do you know about the black business people, inventors, scientists and teachers that have made a big impact on our country?
Many black athletes and celebrities have gone on to become very successful business people including Shawn Carter (Jay-Z), Sean Combs, Magic Johnson and of course, Oprah. However, you should also talk about other businessmen and women including Rosalind Brewer (CEO of Sam's Club), Chris Gardner (CEO of Gardner Rich & Co. — read his book The Pursuit of Happyness), Berry Gordy, Jr. (Founder of Motown), John H. Johnson (founder of Johnson Publishing) and Ursula Burns (CEO of Xerox).
Learn about black inventors and scientists including Benjamin Banneker, George Washington Carver, Garrett Morgan and Granville T. Woods.
Research about black educators from Marva Collins to W.E.B. Du Bois. Du Bois wasn't just the first African-American to earn a doctorate from Harvard, he also co-founded the NAACP. Learn about these other African-American educators that changed academia.
Thanks to the library and internet, you can explore black history with your children and learn together. Some of our favorite resources for Black History Month include:
After you've read up on civil rights, black leaders and African-American history, quiz yourself (and your kids) to see what you've learned. FamilyEducation.com offers this short quiz to test your knowledge about civil rights heroes. Also check out their quizzes on African-American firsts and black leaders and reformers.
Learn as much as you can about black history and pass on your knowledge to your kids during Black History Month and all year long!
Image credits: Frederick Douglass image: Public Domain due to age; Chris Gardner image: Angela George [CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons]
More about Black History Month
Books to celebrate Black History Month
Black History Month activities for kids
Teaching kids about racial and cultural diversity