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Black History Month

Lessons and Resources for Black History Month


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  |   Harriet Tubman and the End of Slavery

new_icon2The 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.

new_icon2Abolitionists 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.




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 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 more legislation designed to segregate African Americans and deny them rights enjoyed by white Americans, including voting.
Jim Crow |   Race and Voting in the Segregated South  | Ida B. Wells and Her Crusade for Racial Justice



The modern civil rights movement in America took place from the mid-1950s through the early 1970s. This turbulent period transformed America, changing it into a society with greater racial equality.

This huge 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   |   Brown v. Board of Education    The Civil Rights Act of 1964  |  The Voting Rights Act of 1965     Building Constituencies: Case Study of The Montgomery Bus Boycott

new_icon2Martin 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.



The civil rights movement can trace its roots to a variety of leaders and thinkers, and in turn its successes influenced others. 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   | Jackie Robinson


African Americans have enriched every aspect of American society and culture. They have made great contributions to politics, law, business, literature, the arts, entertainment, sports, science, and many other fields.
75 Remarkable African Americans  |  Literature by and about African Americans   Films on the African-American Experience


closereading_webinar1_14_15Reconstruction -Close Reading Webcast

View a free webcast on close reading including a lesson on Reconstruction.

The lesson:

  • Utilizes a primary source document to demonstrate close reading as a Common Core strategy.
  • Explores the era of Reconstruction through a letter written by a former slave, Jourdon Anderson, titled “To My Old Master.”
  • Provides opportunities for students to practice advanced critical-thinking skills.

Click here to take advantage of this online professional development opportunity, watch the webcast, and download the handouts.


Though Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is often remembered as a leader and inspiration in America’s civil rights movement, near the end of his life he also became a strong advocate for peace and for the poor of all races. Among his legacies is that individuals and groups must be willing to sacrifice and work for positive change.

Today, the United States and the world face daunting challenges. To address them, all of us must be informed and engaged in seeking solutions in our neighborhoods, communities, country, and globally.

Let us celebrate the contributions of Dr. King by making our own contributions to positive change.

Guide for Positive Change — Students can make positive changes in their school and communities by working together to plan and conduct projects.


newiconThe 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 quide.