Each February, the United States celebrates Black History Month to commemorate the history, achievements, adversities, and lived and shared experiences of the Black community. The Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) chooses an annual theme for the month, with the theme for 2023 being Black Resistance. (For an in-depth look at this year’s theme, visit the ASALH website.)
Since its inception, the goal of Black History Month has been to not need the month at all, but to integrate Black history as a key part of American history with no need for separation (Scott, n.d.). Black History Month provides a reminder of this objective while presenting a valuable learning opportunity for all.
What are the Origins of Black History Month?
In February of 1926, Carter G. Woodson established Negro History Week to address an ongoing need for Black representation and awareness within the field of history. He expressed that the Black community could reach greater heights and accomplishments going forward by gaining a deeper understanding of the past. Woodson selected February as abolitionist Frederick Douglass and President Abraham Lincoln both celebrated birthdays during that month.
He believed that awareness of Black history should be expanded to include all of those who had contributed to advancing human civilization whether they were famous or not, such as the numerous Black Union soldiers who fought during the Civil War. He tirelessly advocated for the inclusion of Black history into school curriculum, stating that its contribution to American history was too important to the United States to be taught only during Negro History Week.
In 1976, Black History Month was established as a response from a new generation pressuring the ASALH to modernize and celebrate connections to African heritage through its language (Scott, n.d.).
How Do Different School Districts Celebrate Black History Month?
Upon the creation of Negro History Week, the ASALH worked to develop lesson plans and materials to support teachers in educating their students on Black history (Scott, n.d.). Celebrating Black History Month within your school district, and ensuring Black history is integrated into the standard curriculum, provides students with a holistic and inclusive understanding of our nation’s past.
Austin (n.d.) highlights the importance of using Black History Month as an opportunity to teach students about both historic and contemporary achievements rather than focusing solely on slavery and Jim Crow, which could cause African American students to feel isolated.
These celebrations can look different. Here are just a few ways that school districts around the country are observing Black History Month:
- Fayetteville-Manlius School District (New York): In FMSD, students at elementary and middle schools highlight a Black American, such as a poet or political activist, each morning during daily announcements while high school students hold an annual performing arts assembly in honor of Black history.
- Duval County Public Schools (Florida): Students at Wolfson High School focused their Black History Month celebration on honoring historical figures and highlighting Historically Black Colleges or Universities (HBCUs). They also challenged each teacher to decorate their classroom door in a way that celebrates Black history.
- Coppell Independent School District (Texas): The students at Victory Place @ Coppell created a virtual gallery walk in which they highlighted their research and projects on both historical and contemporary Black Americans.
- San Marino Unified School District (California): San Marino USD focused on identifying similarities between the past and present Black experience, including teaching elementary students to distinguish between fact and fiction by comparing various sources.
- Plum Borough School District (Pennsylvania): Math students at Holiday Park Intermediate learned about the contributions of Black mathematicians each day while Plum Senior High School students rallied to start a Black Student Union. PBSD also updated its social media accounts with information on prominent Black figures in U.S. history throughout the month.
- Montclair Public Schools (New Jersey): Bradford, Hillside, and Northeast Schools took students on a virtual field trip to the Yogi Barra Museum to teach students about the history of the Negro Leagues in baseball. Montclair High School students planned and held a Black History Month Spirit Week with activities such as “Rep an HBCU Wednesday” and “Market Monday,” both which focused on supporting Black-owned businesses.
The possibilities for celebrating Black History Month within your school district are virtually endless. Leadership might also consider holding a district-wide essay writing contest focused on a Black history-related topic, coordinating a volunteer event with a relevant community service organization, leading an assembly to discuss the topic, and sending out newsletters to parents (Yates, 2018; Hernandez, 2021).
Black History Month is an opportunity for all Americans to recognize and learn about the importance of Black individuals in our nation’s history, as well as reflect on how Black history could be better incorporated into district-wide history curricula. Being intentional and proactive about Black History Month in your school district can help our nation move forward and aid in equality, inclusion, and representation for all students.
What is your school district doing this year to celebrate the contributions and history of Black Americans?
Please share your stories in our comments section below!
Austin, S. (n.d.). 3 Ways to Honor Black History Month in Your Classroom. Educational Service Center of Central Ohio. https://www.escco.org/3_Ways_To_Honor_BHM.aspx
Hernandez, R. (2021). 30 Ideas for Celebrating Black History Month in Schools. LinkedIn Pulse.
Scott, D.M. (n.d.). Origins of Black History Month. Association for the Study of African American
Life and History (ASALH). https://asalh.org/about-us/origins-of-black-history-month/
Yates, M. (2018). How Should Schools Acknowledge Black History Month? We Are Teachers. https://www.weareteachers.com/black-history-month-in-schools/