Observing Black History Month
In 1964 the author James Baldwin reflected on the shortcomings of his education. “When I was going to school,” he said, “I began to be bugged by the teaching of American history because it seemed that that history had been taught without cognizance of my presence.”
As an immigrant to the USA, Black History Month (introduced in 1976 to rectify the situation that James Baldwin and Black Americans had experienced in education) has afforded me the opportunity to learn about history shakers and makers. Some of the names were familiar to me, as in this blog post, but often I had to dig deep to research pioneers, inventors and people who have made a difference. Finding suitable activities for students to go alongside this research has been revealing, in that unless you are studying George Washington Carver, there simply isn’t a lot available. The following African Americans are noteworthy for not only their civil rights contributions, but the inroads they made into inventions, business and healthcare. I have included a link to more information, links to books, if available, and a craft/writing activity that reinforces learning.
((Disclosure: Some of links below are affiliate links, which means that at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.)
Dr. Daniel Hale Williams
Daniel Hale Williams qualified as a doctor but was not allowed to work in hospitals because he was black. He established the Provident Hospital, the first hospital to have racially integrated staff. He also became famous as the second surgeon to have successfully performed open heart surgery (without the benefit of antibiotics).
‘Doctor Daniel Hale Williams in Twas the Night of a Miracle’ by Karen Clopton-Dunson is packed with hilarious illustrations and a simple lively text. Just right for young learners, the author playfully retells the events that lead to the first successful open heart surgery, performed by Dr. Williams.
With this fun medical bag, students record pertinent facts about Dr. Williams and enhance his kit bag with medical supplies commonly found in school! From Teachers Pay Teachers.
Learn more about Daniel Hale Williams here.
Madam C.J. Walker
Sarah Breedlove’s rise from picking cotton to become the first African American female millionaire after inventing and marketing her famous ‘C.J. Walker’s Miracle Hair Grower’ across the USA, establishing factories and salons in her name, is nothing short of inspiring.
Lots of people dream of being a millionaire, but Madam C. J. Walker actually became one with her revolutionary hair care system. Learn about Madam C. J. Walker’s life and the discovery of her hair care products. Make your own homemade bubble bath, too, in ‘Who Was the Hair-Care Millionaire?’ by Mary Kay Carson.
Students create a mirror vanity with brush, perfume atomizer, and container of Madam C.J. Walker’s Miracle Hair Grower after learning about Sarah Breedlove’s rise in this craft activity from Teachers Pay Teachers.
Read about Madam C.J. Walker here.
Potato chips may have been around since the 1820s, but it is thanks to a chef named George Speck that they became popular across America. Speck got the name Crum because a customer in the restaurant where he worked could not remember his name, so decided to call him Crum. Legend has it that the diner was non other than Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt!
In Anne Renaud’s story, ‘Mr Crum’s Potato Predicament’, the disgruntled customer is not Vanderbilt. When Filbert P. Horsefeathers walks into George Crum’s restaurant, he tells the waitress, “I have a hankering for a heaping helping of potatoes.” Fine cook that he is, George prepares a serving of his most scrumptious, succulent and sublime potato wedges, only to have Filbert send them back.
In this craft activity, students make their own ‘potato chip’ bag book complete with information about George Crum and his snack surprise, with pages for students to design their own flavor combinations. Available from Teachers Pay Teachers.
You can learn more about George Crum and his potato chips here.
The Greensboro Four
On February 1, 1960, four young men from NCAT university sat at the counter in Woolworth’s department store and asked for coffee and a doughnut. They were refused service and asked by the management to leave. The photograph that appeared of them in the newspaper the next day quickly became global news. Less than a week later, 1000 people protested at Woolworths and other local stores and the movement rapidly spread. Six months on, Woolworths integrated its counter service.
In ‘Freedom on the Menu’ by Carol Boston Weatherford, there were signs all throughout town telling eight-year-old Connie where she could and could not go. But when Connie sees four young men take a stand for equal rights at a Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina, she realizes that things may soon change. This event sparks a movement throughout her town and region. And while Connie is too young to march or give a speech, she helps her brother and sister make signs for the cause. Changes are coming to Connie’s town, but Connie just wants to sit at the lunch counter and eat a banana split like everyone else.
This poster craft activity for students allows them to display their research after learning about the counter sit-ins. Available from Teachers Pay Teachers.
Learn more about the four brave young men and their actions that sparked a nation-wide protest here.
I hope you are inspired to do some research of your own to make Black History come alive in your classroom the month of February and every month. And be sure to check out these pioneers in history!
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