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. 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 2023, 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 “Black Resistance,” as a “call to everyone… to study the history of Black Americans’ responses to establish safe spaces, where Black life can be sustained, fortified, and respected.”
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.
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
- Hair Love, by Matthew A. Cherry; illustrated by Vashti Harrison
- 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
- Princess and the Peas, by Rachel Himes
- Ruth and the Green Book, by Calvin Alexander Ramsey and Gwen Strauss; illustrated by Floyd Cooper
- 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
- 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)
- As Brave as You, by Jason Reynolds
- The Book Itch: Freedom, Truth, & Harlem’s Greatest Bookstore, by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson; illustrated by R. Gregory Christie
- Dayshaun’s Gift, by Zetta Elliot; illustrated by Alex Portal
- 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
- The Magic in Changing Your Stars, by Leah Henderson
- 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
- 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)
- 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
- Ophie’s Ghosts, by Justina Ireland
- 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
- 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
- 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
- Kneel, by Candace Buford
- Let Me Hear a Rhyme, by Tiffany D. Jackson
- Pride: A Pride and Prejudice Remix, by Ibi Zoboi
- Stamped: Racism, Anti-Racism, and You, by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi
- The Stars and the Blackness Between Them, by Junauda Petrus
- 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. Sora also has even more great suggestions to read in and out of the classroom in their collection, “Black History Month Collection: Remembering the Past and Shaping the Future.” 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.
The DOE, 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 was also recently made available, and tells the story of Bayard Rustin.
- “Barrier Breaker” is another new comic, intended for middle and high school students, which tells the story of the history making baseball player, Jackie Robinson
Events, Exhibitions, and Places to Visit
- The New York Public Library has many resources available online, both from digital collections and archived from their past physical exhibitions. A few of the exhibitions you may be especially interested in for this month include:
- Traveling While Black a digital exhibition from the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture which examines the history of Black travel
- Freedom Founders an exhibition about many of the nation’s most prominent abolitionists and their fight to end slavery
- A Ballad for Harlem, which explores the history of the neighborhood often called a “Black mecca.”
- “Boundless: 10 Years of Seeding Black Comic Futures:" an online collection of photographs, memorabilia, creator highlights, and more drawn from the Schomburg Center’s archival collections that “illuminates the long history of Black comics and their motivations to render humor, justice, irony, and futurism in Black aesthetic and liberatory practices from the Golden Age of comic books (1938-1956) to the present.”
- The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture has a number of upcoming family friendly events for kids of all ages: for more information on what’s going on throughout the month, check out the calendar on their website: https://www.nypl.org/events/programs/schomburg
- On Thursday, February 16, 2023, the Schomburg Center will also host the 15th Annual Black History Month Celebration at 6:30 PM, featuring a free concert by the Harlem Chamber Players.
- In addition to their online and in-person exhibitions, the New York Public Library and the Brooklyn Public Library will also be hosting events at branches across all five boroughs throughout the month.
- Celebrate at the King Manor Museum with their free program “Hands On History: Supreme Black History,” highlighting Supreme Court Justices Thurgood Marshall and Ketanji Brown Jackson, being held Saturday, February 18, 2023 from 1–4 PM.
- The Brooklyn Children’s Museum is hosting their annual “Black Futures Festival” to celebrate Black History Month from February 19–26, 2023.
- The New-York Historical Society will have family programming related to Black History all month long, from their Little New-Yorkers and Sunday Story Times for younger learners, to their Reading Into History event series for older children. While you’re at the museum, you can see their ongoing installation, “Our Composite Nation: Frederick Douglass’ America,” dedicated to one of the abolitionist’s most famous speeches, accompanied by their digital family guide.
- From rebellions led by enslaved people, to the birthplace of hip hop, there is a centuries-long connection between Black History and New York City parks – all month long, you can visit a park where Black history was made and attend events and showcases, including:
- "Heritage: Exploring the Past, Present, and Future in Black Art," an exhibition on display at Central Park's Arsenal Gallery
- Free concerts with the National Jazz Museum in Harlem
- A celebration of the "Birthplace of Hip-Hop" with the Urban Park Rangers at cedar Playground in the Bronx, on Saturday, February 18, 2023 from 1–2 PM.
- Identifying plant species in Fairview Park in Staten Island while learning about the life and work of agricultural scientist and environmentalist George Washington Carver on Sunday, February 19, from 1–2 PM.
- A day of service in Herbert Von King Park in Brooklyn, spent learning the neighborhood's history while cleaning up the park , from 1–2 PM on Sunday, February 26.
- Take a walk along the Flushing Freedom Mile in Queens to see a number of important historical locations, including multiple sites that were rumored stops along the Underground Railroad. A free guided tour with the Urban Park Rangers will be held on Saturday, February 25, 2023 from 11 AM–12:30 PM. For more walking tours, explore the abolitionist history of Brooklyn throughout different neighborhoods with the In Pursuit of Freedom initiative.
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.
- 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.
- “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.
- The DOE has several lesson plans and curriculum resources available through WeTeach that are especially relevant during Black History Month, including:
- Hidden Voices: Untold Stories in New York City History, which includes profiles of significant Black figures like Maria Van Angola, Eliza Jennings Graham, David Ruggles, and Elsie Richardson, and Hidden Voices: LGBTQ+ Stories in United States History, which features prominent Black members of the community among its profiles, like Rebecca Primus, Addie Brown, Ma Rainey, Bayard Rustin, and Audre Lorde.
- The 1619 Project: Connections to the Passport to Social Studies and Civics For All Curricula: This resource 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 Lamar, and 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, to various movements that emerged in the civil rights era, as well as literature, music, 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.
- 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 Guides and lesson plans that are 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.”