Lessons and Resources for Teaching About Black History

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Beginnings

The ancestors of many black Americans came to America not as willing immigrants, but as captured slaves. As such, the promises of the Declaration of Independence for “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” were denied them and except for purposes of state representation, they were ignored by the original Constitution. Victims of a vicious system of slavery, they endured, resisted, and made many contributions to the United States, but the struggle for freedom and equality had just begun.
An Overview of the African American Experience  | The Constitution and Slavery  |  Slavery in the American South  | Moving Toward Equality Under Law     

Abolitionists and the Constitution  
Two great abolitionists, William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass, once allies, split over the Constitution. Garrison believed it was a pro-slavery document from its inception. Douglass strongly disagreed.

The Fugitive Slave Law of 1850   
In 1850, Southerners succeeded in getting a new federal law passed to return fugitive slaves who had escaped to the North. The U.S. government enforced this law, but some Northern states passed laws to resist it. Sometimes, free blacks and sympathetic whites joined to rescue captured fugitive slaves. The idea of returning fugitive slaves to their owners originated at the Constitutional Convention in 1787.

How Should We Judge Our Nation's Founders
The legacy of slavery forces us to confront this question: How do we judge the founders of our nation who owned slaves? Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence and our third president, owned slaves. George Washington,war hero and first president, was one of the largest slave owners in the nation. James Madison,the prime architect of the Constitution and fourth president, also held slaves. Download the reading and also the Civil Conversation guide.
 
Harriet Tubman and the End of Slavery

Nicknamed the ‘Moses of her People’ for leading runaway slaves to freedom in the north, Harriet Tubman was the most famous member of the Underground Railroad. She became a celebrity in her lifetime and a hero of the Civil War.


Civil War

During the Civil War, the future of the Union and African Americans hung in the balance. Blacks made a significant contribution to the eventual Union victory by providing some 180,000 troops out of the approximately 2.2 million men who served the Northern cause. One of the fruits of victory was the passage of the so-called Civil War amendments to the U.S. Constitution, one of which, the 15th Amendment, promised black males the right to vote.
Black Troops in Union Blue  |  15th Amendment


The Era of Legal Segregation

The end of slavery did not bring equality to African Americans. Almost immediately, Southern states began passing laws to oppress black people, and the end of Reconstruction in 1877 spurred even more legislation designed to segregate African Americans and deny them rights enjoyed by white Americans, including voting.
A Brief History of Jim Crow | Race and Voting in the Segregated South   

Ida B. Wells and Her Crusade for Racial Justice
The abolition of slavery after the Civil War became the foundation of Ida B. Wells's life work as a teacher, anti-lynching activist, community organizer, and woman suffragist.


The Civil Rights Movement

The modern civil rights movement in the United States took place from the mid-1950s through the early 1970s. This turbulent period transformed the country. This sprawling movement can be divided into three parts.

One is social activism—the protests, demonstrations, and boycotts. Another is the legal struggle that took place in courts. The third occurred in the legislative arena to enact civil rights laws.
Social Protests  |  In the Courts  |  The Civil Rights Act of 1964  |  The Voting Rights Act of 1965 

Brown v. Board of Education  
This lesson explores the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision which led to the end of legal school segregation and other forms of legal segregation throughout the United States.

Building Constituencies: Case Study of The Montgomery Bus Boycott
This lesson introduces students to the importance of building a constituency to support or oppose public policies using the case study of the Montgomery Bus Boycott as an example. 

Martin Luther King and the Philosophy of Nonviolence
Martin Luther King, Jr. is remembered for his achievements in civil rights and for the methods he used to get there — namely, nonviolence. More than just a catchphrase, more than just the “absence of violence,” and more than just a tactic, nonviolence was a philosophy that King honed over the course of his adult life. It has had a profound, lasting influence on social justice movements at home and abroad.

Voices of Change

The civil rights movement could trace its roots to a variety of leaders and thinkers from different eras and regions; its successes, in turn, influenced leaders of other movements that would follow it. At the turn of the 20th century, W.E.B. Du Bois, Booker T. Washington, and Marcus Garvey outlined different visions for the future of blacks in America. Martin Luther King Jr. found inspiration for the tactics of civil disobedience in the works and actions of Henry David Thoreau and Mahatma Gandhi and in turn influenced Cesar Chavez. Thurgood Marshall, perhaps best known for being the first African-American U.S. Supreme Court justice, was an untiring lawyer who litigated many significant civil rights cases leading up to Brown v. Board of Education.
Frederick Douglass  |  W.E.B. Du Bois | Booker T. Washington | Marcus Garvey | Henry David Thoreau  | Mohandas Gandhi  |  Cesar Chavez  | Thurgood Marshall  


The Contributions and Experiences of African Americans in the United States

African Americans have enriched every aspect of American society and culture since even before this nation's founding. They have made great contributions to politics, law, business, literature, the arts, entertainment, sports, science, and many other fields.
African Americans Who Helped Shape the U.S.  |  Literature by and about African Americans  |  Films on the African-American Experience