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Observing Black History Month

Black Heritage stamp

While February has many notable holidays, the entire month is known as Black History Month. This monthly celebration is the brainchild of historian Carter Woodson (1875-1950) who is commonly called “the father of black history.” The son of former slaves, Carter Woodson earned his Ph.D. in history from Harvard and dedicated his life to preserving the heritage of African-Americans. He wrote many books on African-American history and founded the Association for the Study of Negro (later African-American) Life and History. Woodson chose the month of February for the celebration because of the proximity of the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln (February 12) and Frederick Douglass (February 14).

Black History Month is a great opportunity for your students to study another strand of America's rich cultural heritage. By highlighting notable African-American Christians, you can point out their distinct contributions while illustrating and reinforcing biblical principles.

Instead of just focusing on facts, try to expose your students to the African-American culture—it’s a profitable and enlightening topic. Their spirituals, such as “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” and “Deep River,” were a type of religious music that arose out of the slavery experience. Students can explore more deeply the poetry and emotions of the people and times by listening to and singing spirituals. Published collections of spirituals or recordings are available from most public libraries.

Another expression of African-American culture that can enrich a child's education is literature. Many people are already familiar with classic works, such as Booker T. Washington's autobiography Up from Slavery and the pioneering work of colonial poet Phillis Wheatley. An interesting source of study for the Christian in particular is James Weldon Johnson's poetry collection God's Trombones. Johnson was an influential figure in the Harlem Renaissance, an important literary and intellectual movement among African-Americans in the early part of the twentieth century. The poems themselves are the vivid retelling of biblical stories in the deeply moving, wonderfully expressive imagery of the preachers Johnson heard as a child.

Suggested Works

Inclusion of the books in this list does not indicate that the author or BJU Press approves of the entire contents of these works. They are cited as works having significant value in the study of African-American culture and history.

For Kindergarten and Elementary

  • Charles Drew by Roland Bertol (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1970).
  • Follow the Drinking Gourd by Jeanette Winter (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1988). [A children's book on the Underground Railroad]
  • George Washington Carver by Sam and Beryl Epstein (1960; reprint, New York: Young Yearling, 1993).
  • James Weldon Johnson: "Lift Every Voice and Sing" by Patricia and Frederick McKissack (Chicago: Children's Press, 1990).
  • Phillis Wheatley: Young Colonial Poet by Kathryn Kilby Borland and Helen Ross Speicher (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1968).
  • A Picture Book of Rosa Parks by David A. Adler (New York: Holiday House, 1993).

For Teens

  • Amos Fortune, Free Man by Elizabeth Yates (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1950). [A winner of the Newbery Medal for children's literature]
  • Benjamin Banneker: Genius of Early America by Lillie Patterson (Nashville: Abingdon, 1978).
  • Breakthrough to the Big League: The Story of Jackie Robinson by Jackie Robinson and Alfred Duckett (1965; reprint, Lakeville, Conn.: Grey Castle Press, 1991).
  • Dust of the Earth by Donna Lynn Hess (Greenville, S.C.: Bob Jones University Press, 1994).
  • Famous American Negroes by Langston Hughes (New York: Dodd, Mead, and Company, 1954). [Written by a famous black poet; older book but still useful]
  • Free Indeed: Heroes of Black Christian History by Mark Sidwell (Greenville, S.C.: Bob Jones University Press, 1995).
  • Richard Allen: Religious Leader and Social Activist by Steve Klots (New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1991).
  • Ronald McNair by Corinne Naden (New York: Chelsea House, 1991).

For More Mature Readers

  • George Washington Carver: The Man Who Overcame by Lawrence Elliott (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1966).
  • The Life Experience and Gospel Labors of the Rt. Rev. Richard Allen by Richard Allen (New York: Abingdon, 1960).
  • Harriet Tubman: Conductor on the Underground Railroad by Ann Petry (1955; reprint, Lakeville, Conn.: Grey Castle Press, 1991).
  • Let Justice Roll Down by John Perkins (Glendale, Calif.: Regal Books, 1976).
  • Samuel Morris by Lindley Baldwin (1942; reprint, Minneapolis: Bethany Fellowship, n.d.).

Reprinted from Teacher to Teacher January 1997.

 Updated October 21, 2015.

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