Black History Month is a time to celebrate the amazing achievements of Black Americans. It’s also a time to teach our students about the important roles African-Americans have played in the history of this great nation. By taking a closer look at the character traits of these influential leaders, we hope to inspire our students to be the best they can be. Let’s take a look at some fun and meaningful ways to celebrate Black History Month. . .
Bessie dreamed of one day becoming a pilot, but she couldn’t find anyone that would teach a black woman to fly. This was not allowed at that time in the United States, but Bessie didn’t give up! Instead, she worked hard, saved money, and taught herself how to speak French. In 1920, she moved to France in hopes of learning how to fly. In 1921, Bessie made history! Bessie Coleman became the first African-American female pilot. People would come from all over the nation to watch the airplanes do special tricks. In 1922, Bessie became the star of the show. It was the first air show ever to be performed by a black woman pilot. Bessie encouraged other African-Americans to pursue their dreams of becoming a pilot. Her goal was to one day set up a flight school for other African-Americans to learn how to fly. A few years later, the first African-American flight school called The Bessie Coleman Aero Club opened in Chicago in honor of her. Today, Bessie Coleman is remembered as one of the most inspirational African-Americans of all time. Bessie was one of the bravest and most beloved pilots in our nation’s history.
Character Traits: Courageous, Ambitious, Determined
Benjamin was curious and became fascinated about how things worked. He even built his own clock, from wood. It took him two years to build it. Amazingly, that clock kept the correct time for more than forty years. On April 14, 1789, he made history! He predicted the exact date that an eclipse was going to occur. Several white scientists disagreed with him, but Benjamin’s prediction was correct making him famous!
In 1791, President George Washington hired Benjamin to design our nation’s capitol. It was an incredible opportunity. Benjamin used his skills as a surveyor and began laying out the design of Washington D. C. He was the first Black American to receive a presidential appointment. But that was not all. In 1792, Benjamin used his talent as a writer to publish an almanac. An almanac is a book loaded with all sorts of information including predictions about the weather, dates for important events, and information about the community. Today, Benjamin Banneker is remembered as one of the most important African-Americans in this country. He is admired for his talents and successes in writing, science, and architecture. One of his lasting contributions is the design of our nation’s capitol.
Character Traits: Creative, Curious, Resourceful
“The Little Giant”
Frederick Douglass was born into slavery in February 1818. At the age of 7, he was sent away to a nearby plantation to work for a new master. Frederick wanted to go to school to learn how to read and write, but as a slave that was not allowed. With the help of his master’s wife, he learned how to read in secret. In turn, he taught other slaves how to read. Over the next several years he tried to escape from slavery twice before he finally succeeded. After that, he was determined to put an end to slavery! Frederick was an excellent public speaker, and put his talents to good use by giving many speeches against slavery. He told his life story and what life was like as a slave. Sometimes the crowds were cruel and chased him off the stage.
During the Civil War, Frederick Douglass worked closely with President Abraham Lincoln. Douglass encouraged Lincoln that it was right to free the slaves. All of his hard work paid off. In 1863, President Lincoln passed the Emancipation Proclamation which freed the slaves.
Character Traits: Committed, Confident, Diligent
“The First Lady of Struggle”
Mary also went with her mother each day to deliver white people’s laundry. One day while Mary and her mother were dropping off laundry to a white family, Mary picked up one of the school books she found there. The white girls who lived there grabbed the book away from her. Then they teased Mary because she couldn’t read. This event terribly upset Mary and inspired her to learn all she could. As soon as she was old enough, Mary started going to school. This meant a four-mile walk to school each day. Mary loved learning so much that each evening she taught the rest of her family what she had learned that day. It came as no surprise that Mary dreamed of becoming a teacher. Mary realized at a young age that the only difference between her and white people was education.
She rented an old house in Daytona Beach, Florida for $11 a month. She turned this run-down building into a school by building benches and desks out of old crates. Her first class was made up of her son, Arthur, and five girls. She taught her students reading, writing, mathematics, and home economics. News about this great school spread fast, and within two years she had more 200 students. Mary served as president of the school for ten years. She saw firsthand how education a could improve the lives of African Americans. Mary became a trusted friend and adviser to President Roosevelt. Mary McLeod Bethune was the first African-American woman to work with any president in the White House.
Character Traits: Dedicated, Compassionate, Helpful
“The Plant Doctor”
George Washington Carver was born in 1864 on a farm in Missouri. Plantation owners, Moses and Sue Carver, took George in and treated him as one of their children. George did many experiments with plants and soil. His family called him the “plant doctor” because he could grow anything. Carver went to college to study agriculture. Professor Carver had his class do some science experiments where they planted sweet potatoes instead of cotton. George believed that the land needed to rest, and he was right. George taught farmers that planting peanuts and then sweet potatoes would improve the earth and keep it from wearing out. His crop rotation methods proved to be incredibly valuable. So many farmers followed his advice that the market became flooded with peanuts. Carver set to work and invented more than 300 new peanut products. His nutty inventions included shampoo, gasoline, ice cream, and coffee all made from peanuts. It wasn’t long before he had created more than 160 new products made from sweet potatoes including flour, ink, and glue.
He gave inspirational speeches to African-American students encouraging them to follow their dreams. Even though George became wealthy and famous, he didn’t own much. In fact, he believed it was wrong to make money from his inventions. Instead, he freely gave them away so everyone could benefit from his work. George Washington Carver is considered one of the greatest scientists of all time!
Character Traits: Creative, Generous, Resourceful
“Mr. Civil Rights”
While growing up, Thurgood would go with his dad to court and listen to law cases. Watching these trials captured his attention, and soon enough he dreamed of becoming a lawyer. First, he attended Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. Then he applied to the University of Maryland for law school. Sadly, the university rejected his application because of the color of his skin. Marshall didn’t let that stop him! Marshall’s first big case was against the University of Maryland. Marshall had heard of another student who had been turned away because of his race, just like Marshall was. The case went to court, and Marshall won. Now they would have to let African-Americans attend the school.
Marshall quickly became well known for his skills as a lawyer and his dedication to civil rights. In 1954, he worked on a case which made him famous! In the Brown vs. Board of Education case, Marshall fought to end segregated schools. Segregation means to separate one thing and place apart from others. During that time there were separate schools for black children and white children. He argued that schools should not be segregated. He believed that all children regardless of race and skin color should go to the same schools. Marshall proved in court that segregation in the schools was “unconstitutional” meaning that it went against the U.S. Constitution. In 1967, Marshall became the first African-American Supreme Court Justice. He served for 24 years.
Character Traits: Honest, Dedicated, Confident
**Depending on the time allotted for this unit you could focus on a new person each week for 6 weeks or let the students choose which 3 or 4 influential Black Americans to learn about. Giving students a choice creates an enthusiasm for learning!**
Setting up Your Black History Learning Stations:
Station #1: Read All About It!
Have students read the passages where they will meet each influential Black American and learn about his/her life story. The reading passages are written in 2 different formats depending on your level of your students and time you have allotted for this unit. *For younger students have them read the passages with the questions and scenes to color and connect to the information. Then have students answer the questions on the biography organizers to check for understanding and evaluate their reading.
Station #2: Create a Biography Mini-Booklet
Biography Mini-booklets are a fun activity where students write 3 facts, cut and sort important dates, color, and glue to assemble these booklets. After reading about these famous African-Americans, students write three facts about him or her on the inside of the booklet. Cut out the booklet. Next, cut and sort the 5 important dates and glue them in the correct order on the inside flap of the booklet. Color the front cover. Last, fold in half to create a mini-booklet. Mini-booklets fit perfectly inside student notebooks, too!
Station #3: Take a Closer Look at Character Traits
Studying character traits in others teaches students the values of caring about other people, honesty, responsibility, and other important traits that make for an upstanding citizen. Have students read the famous quote and determine its meaning. Using the articles and character traits vocabulary photo posters have the students write the definition and give an example of how that person was “dedicated, honest, curious, etc.”
Station #4: Make a Black History Month Scrapbook
Have students put together a Black History Month Scrapbook with short passages and fill in the blanks. This is a great way to review the important facts about each person. The last page is the “Who Am I?” activity page so that it is 8 pages in all!
Keep it Short Please!
If you have limited time to spend on this unit, then I recommend reading the passages and then completing the Black History Scrapbook activity. This will introduce the 6 famous Black Americans and create a fun scrapbook in a short amount of time.
Learning about influential and inspirational Black Americans has never been more fun! This BUNDLE has a variety of activities to celebrate and learn about six influential African-Americans: Bessie Coleman, Benjamin Banneker, Frederick Douglass, George Washington Carver, Mary McLeod Bethune, and Thurgood Marshall. Happy Teaching!