February is Black History Month. It's a great time to reflect on the incredible contributions of African Americans to the history and culture of the United States, especially in education. Initially established in 1926 as “Negro History Week” by Carter G. Woodson, this celebration has expanded into a month-long tribute beginning in 1976. Woodson was a renowned Black historian, educator, and publisher who began this annual highlight on the struggles and triumphs of the Black community.
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Specifically in education, many Black educators have played a pivotal role in the advancements of rights and opportunities for students that have shaped the future educational landscape. Many are typically featured during February for their impactful achievements, such as W.E.B. DuBois, co-founder of the NAACP and the first African American to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard University, and Booker T. Washington, who was a thought leader, author, educator, and served as an advisor to several U.S. presidents. But many more Black educators deserve recognition during February.
Influential Black Educators
Carter G. Woodson: Known as the “Father of Black History,” Woodson dedicated his life to history and education through journalism and writing. Not only did he establish “Negro History Week,” but he propelled a diverse look at history and culture into the future, influencing generations to come.
Mary McLeod Bethune: Educator and civil rights leader Bethune founded the Daytona Normal and Industrial Institute for Negro Girls, which would later become Bethune-Cookman University. Bethune’s voice led her straight to the White House where she served as an advisor to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, continuously advocating for African American rights and quality education.
Benjamin E. Mays: As an influential teacher and mentor to Martin Luther King, Jr., Mays also promoted educational advancement in many ways, including serving as the president of Morehouse College. His work significantly impacted the desegregation of schools in the South.
Charlotte Hawkins Brown: Focusing on basic education as well as cultural refinement, Brown established the Palmer Memorial Institute in North Carolina exclusively for African American students.
Marva Collins: A game-changer and innovator, Collins reformed education for African American students with creative teaching methods and refinement of the curriculum in Chicago schools. With high expectations for all students, she introduced both classical education and moral development to her African American students.
Celebrating Black History Month in February and Beyond
Beyond the usual library collection and research reports, educators and administrators can bring Black History into their curriculums uniquely throughout the entire school year. Consider trying the following this year:
Guest Speakers bring an element of humanity to middle grades by relating to students and introducing them to ways of thinking they may not have previously considered.
Collaborative Projects invite students to work together to achieve a common goal.
Literature and Media can create a specific highlight each day of a quote, passage, or image throughout history. Use this to inspire quickwrites or discussions in your classrooms.