Celebrating Black History Month Through Literature
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Celebrating Black History Month Through Literature

Shanita A. Powell, Ed.D.
Feb 1, 2023

Before joining Newsela, I was a middle and high school ELA teacher for 9 years in Delaware, Georgia, and Texas. I remember those first couple days of the school year being so important in getting to know my students, getting to know their stories, and learning more about their families and their cultures.  What I learned in those early days helped  determine which texts I would have my students read that year. It is so important to give students the opportunity to positively see themselves in novels, poetry, drama, folklore, and non-fiction. 

Students should be able to see themselves in the works they are reading all year long, but Black History Month provides an opportunity to engage students and sharpen our focus on celebrating Black literature in particular. This Black History Month, Newsela is highlighting the literary genius of the African diaspora and celebrating the works of formative Black writers in history (and those who will shape the future). Our curated collection of Novel Studies within the “Celebrating Black Voices” collection features engaging and relevant content to support some of the most commonly taught books, novels, and dramas.

Each text set in the “Celebrating Black Voices” Novel Studies collection provides rich context for popular novels by Black authors. Students can analyze primary sources like Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” as they read The Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963 or explore the Harlem Renaissance while reading A Raisin in the Sun. These articles build students’ content knowledge while helping them gain a comprehensive understanding of what they are reading. 

Celebrating the works of Black authors allows students to learn significant contributions in global societies that were made by Black people. Through articles and primary sources they can learn about the influence of Black people in science, music, aviation, education, art, dance, fashion, that align with iconic books often taught in schools.

Culturally sustaining content reflects students’ own experiences as well as engages them in what they are learning. Having literature that reflects the struggles, triumphs, tradition, and culture of students helps them to build real world connections to texts more quickly. It also gives them a sense of belonging in the classroom, in society, and in the world. Including diverse perspectives in curricula also builds understanding through demonstrating that people are inherently more alike than they are different. 


Here are some of our most popular Novel Studies in the “Celebrating Black Voices” collection: 

  1. Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson. Themes around the civil rights movement, storytelling, and memory, and even some of Woodson’s other works of poetry, help in creating a full picture of the author’s purpose.

  2. The Watsons Go to Birmingham –1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis. Students will make connections to themes and topics, such as courage, resilience and what it means to be an upstander.

  3. The Crossover by Kwame Alexander. As students read or prepare to read The Crossover Newsela articles about basketball, death, brotherhood and poetry will help create a full understanding of Alexander’s novel in verse. 

  4. A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry. Understanding the Great Migration, Black American poetry and art, and the discrimination that makes the American Dream seem out of reach for many like the Younger family in the play, is critical to grasping the full meaning of Hansberry’s work. 

  5. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor. Students can develop content knowledge around The Great Depression, activism, and the harsh realities of racism at the time. 

Literature maintains a record of the past, provides accounts of what is happening in the present, and shares ideals for the future. While Black History Month is a time to celebrate the accomplishments of influential historical figures, these lessons and works deserve to be honored in the curriculum any time of year, and we hope you do just that. 

For more information on how to bring Black History Month into your classroom, click here, and explore the “Celebrating Black Voices” collection in full here.

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