African American History and Culture
Through children's books, interviews with African American children's authors and illustrators, classroom activities, online history resources, and powerful documentaries, we celebrate and learn about the lives and contributions of African Americans. We encourage educators and librarians to look for opportunities to include these stories throughout the year and across the curriculum.
Find information about:
Writers, illustrators, and storytellers
Video interviews with children's book authors and illustrators
Watch Reading Rockets' interviews with celebrated African American children's book authors and illustrators, and children's literature historian, Leonard Marcus, who talks about the history of multicultural children's books in the U.S. from the 1960s onward.
Watch full interviews with these award-winning authors and illustrators:
On her Poetry for Children website, Sylvia Vardell showcases wonderful poetry created by African American poets who write for young people, including Marilyn Nelson, Nikki Giovanni, Carole Boston Weatherford, Nikki Grimes, Ashley Bryan, Charles R. Smith, Jacqueline Woodson, Walter Dean Myers, Kwame Alexander, Eloise Greenfield, Maya Angelou, and others.
To celebrate Black History Month in February — and the rich tradition of African American poetry all year long — browse essays on literary milestones and movements, find important books on black history and poetics, look for lesson plans for Black History Month, read archival letters from classic African American poets, and search poems about the African American experience by both classic and contemporary poets.
Celebrating Black History Month (Poetry Foundation)
Poems, articles, and podcasts that explore African American history and culture. Discover poems from Langston Hughes, Nikki Giovanni, Maya Angelou, Rita Dove, Gwendolyn Brooks, and many others.
A Griot (pronounced gree-oh) is a storyteller, a position of honor in West African tradition, who hands down family and community history from one generation to the next. StoryCorps Griot is an initiative to ensure that the voices, experiences, and life stories of African Americans will be preserved and presented with dignity. The Griot Initiative also documents the varied voices of people with roots in the African Diaspora living in the United States. Griot recordings are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.
Browse the booklists below, or find more great titles related to African American history and culture in our Book Finder tool.
Activities for the classroom, home, and the community
Do's and Don'ts of Teaching Black History (Southern Poverty Law Center, Teaching Tolerance)
Here are some suggestions to ensure students get the most out of black history and Black History Month. Number 1: Incorporate black history year-round, not just in February. Use the month of February to dig deeper into history and make connections with the past.
The National African American Read-In (NCTE)
The National Council of Teachers of English asks schools, churches, libraries, bookstores, community and professional organizations, and interested citizens to make literacy a significant part of Black History Month by hosting and coordinating Read-Ins in their communities. Find more ideas for Read-In activities from ReadWriteThink.
National Museum of African American History and Culture
Browse the rich online resources of this new national museum located on the Mall in Washington, D.C. Learn about significant moments in African American history, culture, and community — as well as the people who helped shape this history. The website also offers educator, family, and student resources. Collection Stories invites NMAAHC staff to share their interpretation of the collections they find most powerful.
The Underground Railroad (National Geographic)
You are a slave in the South before the Civil War. Should you risk escape with Harriet Tubmans help through the Underground Railroad to Canada? Take an interactive journey on the Underground Railroad.
African American History Month for Teachers (Library of Congress)
Put the power of primary sources to work in the classroom. Browse ready-to-use lesson plans, student activities, collection guides, and research aids.
Black History Teaching Resources (Smithsonian Institution)
Collection includes reading lists for young people, lessons about African American artists, writers, and pioneering aviators, a virtual history tour, videos — and music, and spoken-word recordings (along with lesson plans) from the Smithsonian Folkways archive.
EDSITEment's Guide to Black History Month Teaching Resources (National Edowment for the Humanities)
Multimedia resources to help understand the more than 400 year long history of African Americans, and investigate more deeply the struggles, challenges and achievements of African Americans. Resources are arranged cronologically. See also Celebrate African American History Month.
Celebrate Black History Month (New York Times Learning Network)
Open access to historic front pages, news stories, lesson plans, and much more.
Black History Past and Present (Middle Web)
An updated roundup of online resources related to important moments in the history of African Americans; teaching materials from the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian and other federal agencies; literacy resources; African Americans in the sciences; and more.
Embracing Black History (PBS Parents)
Browse this collection of booklists and activities that celebrate culture and family and teach diversity — such as growing a family tree, planning a family reunion, or making African vegetable stew with Maya and Miguel.
13 Ways to Celebrate Black History Month (Scholastic)
Explore exceptional African American achievements with these cross-curricular activities. See also Celebrate Black History With Gee's Bend Quilts.
Culture and Change: Black History in America (Scholastic)
Meet famous African Americans, listen to jazz music, publish your own writing, and explore history with the interactive timeline.
Best Websites to Teach and Learn About African-American History (Education Week)
A rich collection of online sources for teachers, from Larry Ferlazzo.
Writing activities from Reading Rockets
Writing prompts inspired by James Ransome
Quilts are a recurring theme in Ransome's books, from a charming folk art ABCs (Quilt Alphabet) to the story of an African American girl's escape from slavery (Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt). Imagine a quilt that tells your family's story. What colors, patterns, and images would it have, and why? Ransome is also deeply interested in folktales, particularly African American stories and their origins in African storytelling traditions. In A Pride of African Tales, Ransome contributes richly colored watercolors to illustrate a classic trickster tale, cautionary tale, fable, pourquoi story, and more. Try writing your own pourquoi story, explaining to your friends how your animal got to be the way it is today. Let your imagination go wild!
Writing prompts inspired by Patricia and Fredrick McKissack
In their award-winning folktale collection, The Dark-Thirty: Southern Tales of the Supernatural, McKissack's have written creepy ghost stories and legends to give you a chill. Dark-Thirty is that time just before dark, when it's neither day nor night and mystery lurks in the shadows. Write a story set at dark-thirty that will give us all a good scare.
Children can learn about family heritage at the same time they are improving their literacy skills. Using family-based writing projects, you can build a connection with parents, and help children see the value in their own heritage and in the diversity around them.
Literacy activities can take on a new meaning when students are reading and writing about their own community. Children learn the true value of print when they document the oral histories of the elders in their town.
People and events
Rosa Parks Bus (Henry Ford Museum)
Learn more about Rosa Parks and her brave actions on December 1, 1955, the story behind the bus, and a chronology of the Civil Rights movement.
African Americans in the Postal Service and Philately (National Postal Museum)
Learn all about the black experience through the lens of American postage stamps. Find out about the 1940 Booker T. Washington stamp, the Negro Baseball League stamps, letter writing during the Great Migration, the history of African American postal workers, and more.
Famous African Americans
Find out more about African Americans who have changed history, achieved greatness, and made a significant mark on our culture, including Julian Bond, Medgar Evers, Mae Jemison, Lorraine Hansberry, Zora Neale Thurston, Mahalia Jackson, Spike Lee, Tyler Perry, Mos Def, Serena Williams, Muhammad Ali, and many others.
Meet Amazing Americans (Library of Congress)
A great introduction to famous Americans, this website offers energetically written stories about Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. DuBois, and Duke Ellington among others.
Celebrate Black History Month (The History Channel)
This multimedia site includes a brief overview of the civil rights struggle, biographies of key players, and video clips of Martin Luther King, Jr., Muhammad Ali, and other famous Americans.
African-American Negro Baseball League
Are you a baseball fan? Visit the website for the African-American Negro Baseball League Museum to learn about the league's history, players, and teams.
African American Achievements in Film and TV (DirectstarTV)
An interactive timeline celebrating of the achievements of African American directors, writers, actors, producers, and more.
Online guides to African American history
African American History Resources (Library of Congress)
Celebrate the contributions of African Americans throughout U.S. history. Learn about Harriet Tubman, John Hope Franklin, the Tuskegee Airmen, African Americans in the military, African American band music and recordings, and the Emancipation Proclamation. Find a number of primary documents and resources for teachers.
African American Odyssey (Library of Congress)
This site showcases the African American collections of the Library of Congress. Displaying more than 240 items, including books, government documents, manuscripts, maps, musical scores, plays, films, and recordings, this is the largest black history exhibit ever held at the Library of Congress.
PBS television programs
The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross
This Emmy Award-winning series premiered in 2013 and looks at more than just Black history, it explores Black identity and what it means to be an African American in the U.S. today. Unveiling different religious and social perspectives, a multiplicity of cultural perspectives, and the evolution of the African American people, this series spans five hundred years and two continents as Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. takes viewers on a journey of the Black experience throughout the United States.
Slavery By Another Name
Did Slavery really end with the Civil War? This 90-minute documentary explores how in the years following the Emancipation Proclamation, systematic approaches were taken to re-enslave newly freed Blacks in the United States. This system included new brutal methods of forced labor in which men were arrested and forced to work without pay, bought and sold, and coerced to do the bidding of masters.
Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson
Jack Johnson — the first African-American Heavyweight Champion of the World, whose dominance over his white opponents spurred furious debates and race riots in the early 20th century — enters the ring once again in this PBS documentary by acclaimed filmmaker Ken Burns. The website includes a teacher's guide.
Slavery and the Making of America
The first slaves were bought in 1619, the last freed in 1865. In the intervening 250 years, slaves labored to make America what it is today. This television series was produced by WNET. The website includes a K-12 Learning section.
This program, part of the American Experience series on PBS, pushes past the myths that have obscured Martin Luther King's story to reclaim the history of a people's leader. Using the personal recollections, diaries, letters, and eyewitness accounts of friends, family, journalists, law enforcement officers and historians, this film brings fresh insights to King's difficult journey, his charismatic — if at times flawed — leadership, and his truly remarkable impact. The website includes a teacher's guide.
Eyes on the Prize
The landmark documentary series. Through contemporary interviews and historical footage, the series covers all of the major events of the civil rights movement from 1954 to 1985. On the extensive website you'll find a wealth of ideas for classroom activities at different grade levels.