5 Texts for Black History Month (and beyond!)


5 Texts for Black History Month and Beyond

This is Danielle from Nouvelle ELA. Thank you for checking in today. I can’t wait to share these teaching ideas for Black History Month (and beyond!) with you.

Black History Month is a time to celebrate the achievements of African Americans and their role in shaping the United States. That’s a pretty canned answer, I know. However, it reveals problems with how some curricula position this month. Some schools don’t mention Black History Month at all, and others only talk about the Civil Rights Movement. 

We can celebrate Black History throughout the school year and weave in artistic expression, rhetorical accomplishments, and literature throughout our curriculum. 

Here are five texts to get you started. 

  1. “Backlash Blues” by Nina Simone 

This is a protest song from Simone’s 1967 album, “Nina Simone Sings the Blues.” Simone develops two central characters as she tells her blues story: Mr. Backlash, an avatar for the White government who raises the speaker’s taxes, freezes her wages, and sends her son to Vietnam. The second figure is Langston Hughes, who offers the speaker advice to keep going.

Samantha Green from Secondary Urban Legends uses protest songs with The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas to get students thinking about using their voices to affect change. You can check out her excellent resource here. Also, she’ll be joining the blog as a guest blogger later this spring. Stay tuned!

This song doesn’t have to be confined to a social studies unit. Blues is a very specific form of poetry with rules and standards, so you can easily incorporate it into your poetry unit. You can also use this song as part of a personal narrative unit. In a short song, Simone develops both an adversary and a mentor. You can use this song as a model text for characterization.

  1. Oral Histories from “Goin’ North” 

The Goin’ North project gathered oral histories from folx who lived through The Great Migration. Any of these interviews would be amazing to share with your students. The collection has details audio markers that show conversation subjects and segmented transcripts. That way, you can jump to a section that interests you.  

I also recommended this collection in my post, “Teaching the Harlem Renaissance with Intention.” ELA teachers sometimes skip The Great Migration. However, this transition laid the socioeconomic groundwork for the art and poetry of the Harlem Renaissance. 

  1. BeyoncĂ©’s 2020 Commencement 

This speech is timely, motivational, and full of truth from an icon. Your students will appreciate these moments of vulnerability and encouragement from Queen B. 

Aisha Atkinson from The Lit Sensei has an excellent Rhetorical Analysis resource for helping students analyze this speech. One part of this analysis that I enjoy is examining the cultural weight of BeyoncĂ©’s words and digging deeper into the allusions she makes. 

  1. “The Difference Between Cultural Exchange and Cultural Appropriation” by Jarune Uwujaren

This article from Everyday Feminism is vital for two reasons. First, as we study Black history and celebrate Black culture, we must also acknowledge the history of appropriation. Also, as we create more inclusive curricula, we need to hone our judgements on what constitutes exchange vs. appropriation. 

Here’s a concrete example from my life. I’ve been swing dancing since college and I love swing music, even in its newest form of “Electro Swing.” A friend of mine made me realize that, for all the dances and festivals I’ve been to in my life, I’ve never had a Black instructor and I’ve never danced to a Black band. How is that possible when Black dancers invented Lindy Hop? Cultural appropriation. Part of our job as English teachers is to help students think critically about art in order to think critically about our world.

  1. “Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou 

This poem is an anthem and all of our students deserve to hear Angelou perform it. She acknowledges continued struggle, but also celebrates her sense of self.

Tanesha B Forman has an excellent resource to help students analyze this poem. She’s also written extensively about teaching Black History Month at her blog, including this article, Getting Beyond Dr. King.” We’re lucky enough to have her as an upcoming guest blogger next month here on the Coffee Shop. You should definitely check out her work!

Other Thoughts

Remember, Black History Month is just one opportunity to celebrate artistic and cultural accomplishments of African Americans in our curricula. If you’re interested in examining the representation in your curriculum and on your bookshelves, here’s a tool to audit your materials.

We can also increase representation throughout our curricula by rethinking the classics, as I discuss in this post with Sheila Frye.

For more about why representation and celebrating Black culture matters, check out Bettina Love’s book for teachers, We Want to Do More than Survive.

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