Black History Month

Overview

Each February, the United States celebrates Black History Month, a national commemoration of the contributions and achievements that Black people have made throughout the history of the United States. 

Red, green, and white text on a black background that reads "Black History Month." Shapes and designs in the same colors border the image.

Every president since Gerald Ford in 1976 has recognized this monthlong celebration, but beginnings of Black History Month date back even further, to the first “Negro History Week” in 1926, an event created by Dr. Carter G. Woodson, a founder of an organization that was then-called the Association for Negro Life and History. At the time, few people studied Black history, and it was largely absent from textbooks and the classroom, and Dr. Woodson intended to bring awareness to often overlooked historical events and important figures from the Black community.

The second week of February was chosen by his organization to build upon existing traditions within the Black community of celebrating the birthdays of President Abraham Lincoln and abolitionist Frederick Douglass, while also aiming to reform and expand the focus of these celebrations from beyond these two men towards a broader recognition of the entire Black community.

Now a monthlong celebration—not just in the United States but also in places like Canada, the United Kingdom, and Germany — Black History Month celebrations today are a reminder of how far things have come since Dr. Woodson first began his work, and also of the progress still to be made.

In 2024, Dr. Woodson’s organization, now called the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), will center their Black History Month celebrations on the theme of “African Americans and the Arts,” to acknowledge that “African American artists have used art to preserve history and community memory as well as for empowerment.”

This month, and all year long, we encourage our students, families, and teachers to explore the resources below to learn more about this important part of our nation’s history and the Black Americans that helped shape the world we all live in today.

Events, Exhibitions, and Places to Visit

Reading List

The following book suggestions, by grade, are about Black history and the Black experience that families and educators can read with their students in 3K through grade 12, this month and beyond. We hope you will enjoy and learn from these outstanding titles—some are historical and non-fiction by nature, while others are original works of fiction that feature Black characters and perspectives that are often not reflected in other popular works.

Early Readers (3K—Grade 2)

  • The 1619 Project: Born on the Water, by Nikole Hannah-Jones and Renée Watson; illustrated by Nikkolas Smith
  • Game Changers: The Story of Venus and Serena Williams, by Lesa Cline-Ransome; illustrated by James E. Ransome
  • Going Places: Victor Hugo Green and His Glorious Book, by Tonya Bolden; illustrated by Eric Velasquez
  • Hair Love, by Matthew A. Cherry; illustrated by Vashti Harrison
  • Harlem’s Little Blackbird: The Story of Florence Mills, by Renée Watson; illustrated by Christian Robinson
  • Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad, by Ellen Levine; illustrated by Kadir Nelson
  • My Daddy, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., by Martin Luther King III; illustrated by A.G. Ford
  • Nina: Jazz Legend and Civil-Rights Activist Nina Simone, by Alice Brière-Haquet; illustrated by Bruno Liance
  • Only the Best: The Exceptional Life and Fashion of Ann Lowe, by Kate Messner and Margaret E. Powell; illustrated by Erin K. Robinson
  • Princess and the Peas, by Rachel Himes
  • Shirley Chisholm is a Verb, by Veronica Chambers; illustrated by Rachelle Baker
  • Sugar Hill: Harlem’s Historic Neighborhood, by Carole Boston Weatherford; illustrated by R. Gregory Christie
  • Sulwe, by Lupita Nyong’o; illustrated by Vashti Harrison
  • This Is the Rope: A Story from the Great Migration, by Jacqueline Woodson; illustrated by James Ransome
  • The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a Young Civil Rights Activist, by Cynthia Levinson; illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton

Elementary (Grades 3—5)

  • The Book Itch: Freedom, Truth, & Harlem’s Greatest Bookstore, by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson; illustrated by R. Gregory Christie
  • Bread for Words: A Frederick Douglass Story, by Shana Keller; illustrated by Kayla Stark
  • Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race, by Margot Lee Shetterly and Winifred Conkling; illustrated by Laura Freeman
  • Ice Breaker: How Mabel Fairbanks Changed Figure Skating, by Rose Viña; illustrated by Claire Almon
  • In Her Hands: The Story of Sculptor Augusta Savage, by Alan Schroeder; illustrated by JaeMe Bereal
  • The Magic in Changing Your Stars, by Leah Henderson
  • Maritcha: A Nineteenth-Century American Girl, by Tonya Bolden
  • My Story, My Dance: Robert Battle’s Journey to Alvin Ailey, by Lesa Cline-Ransome; illustrated by James Ransome
  • The People Could Fly: American Black Folktales, by Virginia Hamilton; illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon
  • Root Magic, by Eden Royce
  • Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library, by Carole Boston Weatherford; illustrated by Eric Velasquez
  • Star Child: A Biographical Constellation of Octavia Estelle Butler, by Ibi Zoboi
  • Strange Fruit: Billie Holiday and the Power of a Protest Song, by Gary Golio; illustrated by Charlotte Riley-Webb
  • The United States vs. Jackie Robinson, by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen; illustrated by R. Gregory Christie
  • Young, Gifted, and Black: Meet 52 Heroes from Past and Present, by Jamia Wilson; illustrated by Andrea Pippins

Middle Grade (Grades 6—8)

  • As Brave as You, by Jason Reynolds
  • Black Brother, Black Brother, by Jewell Parker Rhodes
  • The Crossover, by Kwame Alexander
  • The Girl from the Tar Paper School: Barbara Rose Johns and the Advent of the Civil Rights Movement, by Teri Kanefield
  • King and the Dragonflies, by Kacen Callender
  • The Only Black Girls in Town, by Brandy Colbert
  • Ophie’s Ghosts, by Justina Ireland
  • Passenger on the Pearl: The True Story of Emily Edmonson’s Flight from Slavery, by Winifred Conkling
  • Pet, by Akwaeke Emezi
  • The Stars Beneath Our Feet, by David Barclay Moore
  • Streetcar to Justice: How Elizabeth Jennings Won the Right to Ride in New York, by Amy Hill Hearth
  • Swim Team, by Johnnie Christmas
  • Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky, by Kwame Mbalia
  • We Were the Fire: Birmingham 1963, by Shelia P. Moses
  • The Year I Flew Away, by Marie Arnold

Upper Grades (Grades 9—12)

  • Black Birds in the Sky: The Story and Legacy of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, by Brandy Colbert
  • Chlorine Sky, by Mahogany L. Browne
  • The Cost of Knowing, by Brittney Morris
  • Dear Martin, by Nic Stone
  • The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas
  • I Am Alfonso Jones, by Tony Medina; illustrated by Stacey Robinson and John Jennings
  • It’s Trevor Noah: Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood (Adapted for Young Readers), by Trevor Noah
  • Kneel, by Candace Buford
  • Let Me Hear a Rhyme, by Tiffany D. Jackson
  • Pride: A Pride and Prejudice Remix, by Ibi Zoboi
  • Showtime at the Apollo: The Epic Tale of Harlem’s Legendary Theater, by Ted Fox; illustrated by James Otis Smith
  • Stamped: Racism, Anti-Racism, and You, by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi
  • The Stars and the Blackness Between Them, by Junauda Petrus
  • Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom: My Story of the Selma Voting Rights March, by Lynda Blackmon Lowery, Elspeth Leacock, and Susan Buckley; illustrated by P.J. Loughran
  • X, by Ilyasah Shabazz and Kekla Magoon

Many of these books are readily available via New York’s public libraries, as well as through the Citywide Digital Library available on Sora for our students, where you can also check out the Black History Month: Remembering the Past & Shaping the Future Collection, featuring over 400 titles in e-book and audiobook formats. For even more, the New York Public Library’s “Black Liberation Reading Lists” for Teens and for Kids, curated by the Schomburg Center, has additional titles to enjoy all month long.


The March Trilogy & Other Black History Comics

March is a series of graphic novels by the late Congressman and civil rights activist John Lewis, that many teachers may already be using in their classrooms.

Congressman Lewis also appeared at the New York Historical Society — his last stage appearance in his lifetime — to give a talk to NYC public school teachers and students, which is available to watch on YouTube, and pairs with the “Freedom Now” lesson plan on the March on Washington. For more, we also recommend reading and learning more about “Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story,” a civil rights comic originally published in 1957.

NYC Public Schools, in partnership with Good Trouble Comics, has also created several additional comics that are great resources for Black History Month lessons, and all year round:

  • “Action Activists” Volume 2, intended for middle school students, tells the stories of historical figures fighting for change, like David Ruggles, an abolitionist in New York City who was a “conductor” on the Underground Railroad.
  • Volume 1 of "Recognized," a series of LGBTQ+ graphic histories, features the stories of Alain Locke, considered a founding father of the Harlem Renaissance, as well as Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson, two transgender activists who were instrumental figures in the Stonewall Riots.  Volume 2 tells the story of Bayard Rustin.
  • “Barrier Breaker” is a comic intended for middle and high school students which tells the story of the history making baseball player, Jackie Robinson.
  • Volume 1 of “Jali: Literature of Africa and the Diaspora” is a graphic adaptation of a short story by Ethiopian author Haddis Alemayehu, called “When Satiety Marries Avarice, Hunger is Born.” The story, which originally appeared in a 1956 collection of fables, is an allegory for colonialism.
  • "Lukasa: History of Africa and the Diaspora" Volume 1 is the first in a series of graphic histories of the Global African Diaspora. This volume tells the story of Olaudah Equiano
  • "The Graphic History of Hip Hop" Volume 1 is a unique educational resource that analyzes one of the most important cultural revolutions in the context of urban and world history. 

Video and Audio Resources

  • Seizing Freedom is a podcast series that draws on archives of the voices of Black Americans to tell the story of tiny, everyday acts that contributed to the end of slavery in America, telling the “story of the end of the Civil War you’ve probably never been taught.” The Zinn Education Project also has compiled lesson ideas and relevant primary sources into a resource called “Teaching with Seizing Freedom” that educators can use in their classrooms alongside the podcast.
  • Hear from speakers on a wide range of topics in a collection of TedTalks to Celebrate Black History Month.
  • Learn about pivotal figures from literature, sports, science, and more in the Tell Me More series “Paying Homage to Black History Heroes” from NPR.
  • Also from NPR, the "In Black America" podcast profiles a diverse selection of current and historically significant figures to highlight their lives and stories.
  • Watch a video on Victor Green, a New York City postal worker, and the creation of the Green Book which helped Black Americans travel safely throughout the era of Jim Crow
  • The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum has an informative series called “Storied,” which tells the history of Black people in organized baseball throughout 22 short video episodes. For more learning on this topic, educators may be interested in the lesson plan “The Negro Leagues: Joy, Perseverance, & Pride in Black Spaces.”
  • Learn about Seneca Village, an African-American enclave that was once located on the perimeter of Central Park from West 82nd to West 89th Street from 1825 to 1857, and the Williams Family Legacy.
  • Learn more about the history and legacy of jazz music from the National Jazz Museum in Harlem with their video series “Harlem Speaks Oral History.” 
  • “60 Second Civics” by the Center for Civic Education is a collection of podcasts and videos celebrating Black History Month. The site also includes lesson plans teaching the story of the civil rights movement and the power of nonviolent action to effect change.

Educator Resources

  • The 1619 Project: Connections to the Passport to Social Studies and Civics For All Curricula is a resource created by the NYC Public Schools that identifies lessons that can be used to support, amplify, and help students connect and create context for the ideas presented in the New York Times’ 1619 Project, an initiative which marked the 400th anniversary of the arrival of more than 20 Africans at Point Comfort in the Virginia Colony, and which seeks to center the role and agency of African Americans in the larger narrative of United States History.
  • The New York Public Library’s  “Schomburg Syllabus” is an archive of new and recent educational resources relating to Black studies, movements, and experiences, organized in 27 different themes ranging from fashion and music to environmental racism and gentrification.
  • PBS has a collection of resources for grades 6–12 that includes lesson plans and videos that cover topics ranging from important civil rights anniversaries to discussions about race in current events.
  • The  National Archives and Records Administration has a collection of primary and secondary sources, as well as selected resources from other Federal sites such as the National Parks Service and Library of Congress.
  • The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History & Culture  Learning Lab and their  “Discover the North Star” digital collection contain useful classroom resources that use objects, documents, imagery, and videos from the museum to help students learn about a wide range of subjects.
  • Learn about the intersections between education and the Civil Rights Movement through the National Park Service’s  (H)our History Lessons about school desegregation efforts. The NPS also provides informative  “Teaching With Historic Places” lesson plans, including one about the history of the  African Burial Ground National Monument in Manhattan.
  • The "In Pursuit of Freedom"  curriculum guide provides a framework to learn about the abolitionist history of Brooklyn throughout the 19th century. Adaptable for students in grades 4–12, the guide contains primary sources that will help students understand the anti-slavery activism taking place there across all walks of life. 
  • TeachRock has several lesson plans that explore the influence of Black music and musicians, as well as the context in which these genres and stars emerged.  “Alright” and the History of Black Protest Songs tackles protest songs that defined 20th and 21st century political movements, from Marvin Gaye to Kendrick Lamarand  The Gospel Origins of “Chain of Fools” tells story of Aretha Franklin bringing soul music into mainstream culture.
  • The National Endowment for the Humanities has a Teacher's Guide on  African American History and Culture in the United States, in addition to a large range of lesson plans and  curricula, categorized by appropriate grade level, on various topics related to Black history, from  abolition and Reconstruction to the  New Deal, various movements that emerged in the Civil Rights Era, the history and legacy of African American spirituals and more.
  • The New York Times’ Learning Network has an extensive assembly of educational resources, including materials related to the 1619 Project, called  “Celebrating Black History with the New York Times” that contains a collection of historic front pages from the Times dating back to the 1800s, thoughtful essays about topics like how we teach history, relevant culture, sports, and opinion articles, and obituaries for notable Black Americans, among many other helpful primary and secondary sources.
  • Several resources on history-making Black women are available from the National Women’s History Museum, including:
  • From Facing History and Ourselves, students can learn about the  Reconstruction Era that followed the Civil War, and the intense and violent political  backlash that followed earlier progress towards racial equity.
  • Two crowdsourced curricula, the  #BlackPanther Syllabus and the  #Wakanda Syllabus, are resources curated by scholars to help teach the history of Black power, Black nationalism, and more.
  • The Center for Racial Justice has assembled  Resource Guide that is especially useful for educators grappling with questions about why and how to teach about Black history in their own classrooms, and includes several lesson plans and curriculum guides. For additional resources regarding what it means to teach Black History,  Learning For Justice has a resource called “How Are You Teaching Black History?” and  EdWeek has a series called “How to Get Black History Right.”

Hidden Voices

Hidden Voices began as a collaboration with the Museum of the City of New York that was initiated to help City students learn about the countless individuals who are often "hidden" from traditional historical records. Each of the people highlighted in the series has made a positive impact on their communities while serving as outstanding examples of leadership, advocacy, and community service. There are several curriculum options available that are especially relevant during Black History Month, including:

In addition to these lessons, we regularly feature profiles on history-making individuals who could be considered to be “hidden voices.” During Black History Month, check out our profiles on:

  • Victor Hugo Green, a postal worker from Harlem who created the “Negro Travelers’ Green Book,” an annual travel and vacation guide published 1936–67 that helped readers identify and travel to businesses that accepted Black customers back during an era where legalized segregation between the races was the norm
  • Florence Mills, the groundbreaking Broadway and theater legend who helped break jazz music out of the City’s nightclubs and into popular culture during the Roaring 20s

You can find more of our profiles throughout the year on our Hidden Voices webpage.