Teaching African American History: Lessons learned from the past

Teaching African American History: Lessons learned from the past

by BJ Riley
Andersen Elementary School

Although it is important to teach Black History during the month of February, I incorporate Black History throughout the school year and integrate the diversity of all cultures in my lessons.

There are three projects that I have my class do in February to set it apart as the official month of Black History; a living museum, a day in the life of a slave child and the middle passage drawing.

Black history is not only Civil War to Civil Rights, but it is about the sacrifices, triumphs and contributions that African Americans have given to this great nation of ours.

The living museum gives my students the opportunity to showcase themselves by portraying African Americans who have made great strides for our country. Each child reenacts how their person dressed and spoke, while reciting facts about them and their lives. It is an engaging activity that students, faculty, staff and the public look forward to viewing each year.

In order for my students to understand why Black history is important, I decided that it is necessary for them to relate to the children of that era and thus was born “a day in the life of a slave child.”

How did they get here? Just like the immigrants from other lands crossed over the oceans to arrive in the new promise land, so did the majority of the African Americans at that time. The maps that the students draw depicting the “middle passage” puts a face to the millions of slaves that were brought to our shores by force. Nevertheless their descendants love this country and call it home. The resiliency of these people and their ability to make a way out of no way is astounding.

There was no Black History Month, and it was not incorporated in our American history when I was a young child in school. Teachers, during my time, would often apologize if what they were about to say offended anyone in class. Typically the only part mentioned was the Civil War, the slaves in the cotton fields and how they helped the South emerge, and the freeing of the slaves by President Lincoln.

To honor all the cultures I do a major project called the culture quilt, where every student brings in a square with stories, pictures, mvementos, items or drawings that are then made into a glorious finished product. It keeps us all focused on the belief that we are all the same and we are all one in body. I am so proud to be an educator where I can teach my students that our history Black, Asian, Hispanic, Latino, Native American and all other races are interwoven in the fabric of who we are as a people. To study one without the others is a travesty to the legacy of the people of the United States.

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