When it comes to Black history in the United States, some narratives are taught often in American classrooms. We are taught about the violent mass kidnapping that brought Africans to the Americas. We learn about the struggles for emancipation that led to the Civil War. And we study the heroes and heroines of the civil rights movement. Each of those stories is essential to understanding America. However, as we seek to teach about those vital narratives, traditional U.S. history courses sometimes overlook other stories — stories of Black resilience, reinvention, creativity, adventure, spirituality, and innovation through time. For Black History Month this year, we are revisiting some of those events and experiences in Black history in an effort to expand our understanding about Black life in America from its earliest days as a nation. Newsela will publish a text set each week of Black History Month highlighting some of those stories.
In our first week, we travel to the ancestral roots of Black musical traditions in West Africa, tracing their influences on colonial enslaved populations in “The power of a song in a strange land.” Readers will uncover how enslaved communities held on to their own cultural legacies despite the violence and trauma they endured. They’ll also learn how those Black communities merged West African traditions with new influences to develop a new musical artform that also served as a tool of survival and resistance.
Our second week will move from the colonial period to antebellum America, where Black Americans were at work fighting for emancipation in the South and creating safe havens for each other in the North. Some students may be surprised to learn how prominent abolitionists such as Frederick Douglass and John Brown did not just devote their time to the public sphere abolitionist effort, but also supported radical experiments in the redistribution of land and resources to Black communities. “Voices in Time: American Timbuctoo” tells the story of the 120,000 acre abolitionist community that formed in upstate New York in 1946 as an example of one such experiment.
Week three fast forwards to the 1920s and 30s and the famous Harlem Renaissance era in New York juxtaposed against the violence of the Jim Crow South. This era also saw the rise of a Pan-African movement that spread across the global African diaspora and a Black Nationalist movement in the United States. Marcus Garvey was at the helm of this movement – but he did not act alone. Students will have the opportunity to read “The hidden history of Black nationalist women’s political activism” to understand how women like Amy Ashwood and Mittie Maude Lena Gordon were instrumental to the movement’s development.
Finally, in the last week of Black History Month we’ll share some stories from the second half of the 20th century. This was a time when social movements gained traction across the country as those who had been marginalized fought for their rights. Many of these fights included intersectional parts of Black American communities– women, farmworkers, and the LGBTQIA+ community. Our article on Compton’s Cafeteria riot zeroes in on the intersectionality of one such group: Black trans women who rioted against police harassment in San Francisco three years before Stonewall.
If students and teachers find themselves seeking more resources after delving into this content, our newly published Black U.S. History collection offers eight fully developed units exploring the lives, struggles, triumphs, and creations of Black Americans in every era of American history. We hope these stories inspire teachers and students to dig deeper into Black history in the United States and all its richness this Black History Month and in all their studies moving forward.