In the United States, February has been known as “Black History Month” since the mid-1970s. Black History Month is a time period where black historical figures, cultural and historical events, and movements are studied. Though Black History Month is an event that, especially considering academic and educational areas, can be considered controversial because of the idea that only one race is being celebrated in an entire month, it is seen as a time where multiculturalism and tolerance can be celebrated. In the spirit of Black History Month, a time where tolerance can be explored, there are a few lessons that could be taught during this time period that would flow nicely in history courses:
1. Emancipation of the slaves and the Thirteenth Amendment
Seen as one of the most important times in African-American history, the Emancipation Proclamation was an executive order signed by Abraham Lincoln on January 1st, 1863. This executive order was the order that freed all of the slaves in territories that had rebelled against the Union during the American Civil War. Over three million of the four million slaves in the United States were proclaimed free, though Border States who had not seceded from the United States were not required to free their slaves.
A complex issue, looking at the build up to the Emancipation Proclamation helps to give insight into the document that freed millions of slaves. The Thirteenth Amendment of the United States, adopted in 1865, abolished slavery in the United States. Using the Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment, both brilliant primary documents to look at during class, a teacher is presented with any multitude of research projects to educate students about a turning point in African-American History.
2. Jim Crow Laws – Challenges and an End to Segregation
The Jim Crow laws were a number of state and local laws put into effect after the Civil war that promoted racial segregation in the public sphere. The prominent phrase for Jim Crow laws was “separate but equal,” but in practice this de jure segregation did not provide black Americans with adequate accommodations. Economic, social, and educational aspects of society were rarely “equal” to those provided for whites. For higher level courses, looking at court cases that challenged this “separate but equal” status may help students to get a better understanding of the legal challenges. Additionally, a group project could include looking at examples of Jim Crow laws, which provides additional possibilities for activities. Discussing Jim Crow Laws and how it may make students feel if they were in that situation may help to impose empathy and tolerance.
3. The Roaring Twenties
For African-American history, the 1920s provide a rich time for lesson plans that can be assimilated right into the normal unit plan. There are a large number of topics and activities that can be taken from the time period of the 1920s, including the rise of the Jazz Age, the Harlem Renaissance, and the Great Migration. The Great Migration was a time, even before the 1920s, where African-Americans moved from the South to the North, looking for jobs in industrial areas and cities where jobs had been left vacant as a result of white men going to Europe to serve during World War I. Looking at the causes and effects of the Great Migration, students may gain a better understanding of backlash against African-Americans and immigrants after World War I.
The Harlem Renaissance and the Jazz Age provide a lot of opportunities for activities in the high school classroom. Because the Harlem Renaissance and Jazz Age each had many people involved in the movements, students could be broken up into groups to research and present their findings on different members of each movements. In terms of the Jazz Age, it is a good opportunity for the students, or the teacher, to use music in the classroom to help better understand the movement.
4. The Civil Rights Movement
A topic that is often talked about during Black History Month, the Civil Rights movements provides a great opportunity for effective lesson plans. A number of different Civil Rights leaders, including Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr., could be individually researched by groups of students and then presented to the rest of the class. With each student group giving presentations to the class, “students teaching students” is a useful way to effectively teach students and have them teach themselves. One of the most discussed topics in high schools during Black History Month, the Civil Rights Movement is a great way to bring tolerance learning to a classroom.