Celebrate and Learn about Influential Black Americans with your Family

Black history is American history - here are 20 ways to help you learn more with your children

By Kristen Wright-Matthews / Brenna Gutell February 18, 2023

It's important for all of us to learn more about and share the impact Black Americans have had in the United States and beyond. February is Black History Month and it can be not just a reminder, but an opportunity for all of us to dig deeper and learn more about the culture and influence Black People have had, and continue to have in America. Your family will find inspiration learning about the people, places and events from the past to the present day. After all . . . Black history is "American history," and we should celebrate it, not only in this Month, but all year long. Here are 20 ideas with information and resources to help get you started to inspire and engage your kids about Black History in America.

Have you ever wondered why Black History Month is in February?

  • Honoring Black History got its start in the United States in 1926 when historian Carter G. Woodson and other prominent African Americans from the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History announced the second week of February to be "Negro History Week," to honor the birthdays of both President Abraham Lincoln and former slave turned abolitionist Frederick Douglass. 
  • However, it wasn't until 1976 that president Gerald Ford officially designated the month of February as Black History Month. Every president since has done the same. 
  • No longer exclusive to the U.S. now other countries worldwide also devote a month to celebrating Black history, including Canada and Germany in February; the United Kingdom, Ireland and the Netherlands in October; and Belgium in March - plus a few more in recent years. 

20 idea to learn more about Black History with your family:

Monkey Business Images via Canva

1. Books and Movies

Reading books and enjoying movies with your kids that feature Black people, Black history and themes is a great way to learn. Anytime you see interesting diverse books consider adding them to you home library to enjoy all year long. Read together and encourage your children to read on their own too. There are so many great books and movies to choose from - I've shared a few to get you started.

Helpful tip:  Your local libraries are a great resource for Free books and Free movies for you to pick up in-person or enjoy online. Also look for free options made available on demand this February for Black History month an well as specially scheduled programs.

2. Honor Black American Veterans

Read about courageous Black American veterans, including the 54th Massachusetts Regiment and the Buffalo Soldiers; along with other Black Men and Women like Milton Olive, III, a U.S. Army soldier who sacrificed his life to save others by falling on a grenade; or Evelyn Greenblatt Howren, an aviator who helped organize the first all-woman squadron of the Civil Air Patrol. Let's not forget the iconic Tuskegee Airmen, including women like Mildred CarterWilla Brown, and Bessie Coleman. Or talk with a Black military veteran you know; let them tell you about their experiences - be sure to tell them how appreciative you are of their service.

3. Literature and Poetry

Read thought-provoking poems by famous Black poets including Maya AngelouToni MorrisonLangston HughesJames BaldwinPhyllis WheatleyW.E.B. DuBois, or Amanda Gorman with your family. Maybe they will inspire your kids to write poems of their own. 

4. Keep it Local

Research important moments, locations and figures relevant to Black history in your community and all over Ventura and Los Angeles Counties as well as our great state of California. Need a good place to start? Local libraries, museums and historic sites.

  • Stay tuned and check back soon for local people and places to learn about

5. Learn through Play

Indulge in some role-playing with your family, get creative with these ideas to start: 

6. Take a Virtual tour

There are many museum and historic places located all over that offer options for virtual tours via their websites and Youtube.

  • Virtually visit the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture here and here
  • NY Public Library provides access to trusted information, interpretation, and scholarship on the global Black experience through online materials at the Schomburg Center created and curated by our staff and librarians

bluestocking from Getty Images Signature via Canva

7. Learn about the Court cases that set precedent

Discover key Supreme Court cases that impacted Black people in the U.S. in the past and today - the good, bad and ugly. Research the prior events that lead up to those cases. Discover if the court decisions sparked any actions, aftermath, reversals, additional cases or legislation. Discuss how these case impact us today. 

Explore beyond the supreme court and learn about case from colonial American, significant State cases and also how many Slaves use the laws in California to win their freedom in Court. 

  • Elizabeth Key was the first woman of African ancestry in the American colonies to sue for her freedom from slavery and win.
  • Almost a decade before the U.S. Constitution was signed into law, Mum Bett (Elizabeth Freeman) was the first African American woman to successfully file a lawsuit for her freedom won in the state of Massachusetts.
  • Cases presided by Thurgood Marshall, our first Black Supreme Court justice
  • The Dred Scott case, also known as Dred Scott v. Sandford, was a decade-long fight for freedom by a Black enslaved man named Dred Scott.
  • Plessy v. Ferguson was a landmark 1896 U.S. Supreme Court decision that upheld the constitutionality of racial segregation under the “separate but equal” doctrine.
  • Loving v. Virginia was a Supreme Court case that struck down state laws banning interracial marriage in the United States
  • Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka was a landmark 1954 Supreme Court case in which the justices ruled unanimously that racial segregation of children in public schools was unconstitutional
  • The Scottsboro Boys:  learn about their case and the U.S. Supreme Court overturning the convictions in 1932, in Powell v. State of Alabama; also unfair and unequal court proceedings led to two additional groundbreaking Supreme Court decisions in 1935 on jury diversification: Patterson v. State of Alabama and Norris v. State of Alabama
  • Library of Congress Collection:  Slaves and the Courts, 1740 to 1860
  • Wysinger v. Crookshank brought before the Supreme Court of California, it's the first case in the state to abolish school segregation of African Americans in California on January 29, 1890. This case would be used as legal precedent in the U.S. Supreme Court case Brown vs. Board of Education, enabling school integration nationwide.
  • C.A. Stovall v. Archy:  Archy Lee, a slave brought to California from Missouri with his owner Charles Stovall who later planned to return with Archy back to Missouri. Archy took his case to court later going before the California Supreme Court where he won his freedom in 1858.

8. Explore the Explorers

Learn about the Black trailblazers who've explored this country and the world. Ask your kids how these stories inspire them and where or what they would like to explore?

9. Be Dramatic

Read or watch the works of playwright August Wilson, referred to as the "theater's poet of Black America." Wilson is best known for a series of ten plays collectively called The Pittsburgh Cycle, each set in a different decade of the 20th century, chronicling the African-American community's experiences and heritage. He won Pulitzer Prizes for two of them: Fences and The Piano Lesson. Fences was turned into a movie in 2016 starring Denzel Washington and Viola Davis; rated PG-13.

10. Who was First?

Learn about some of the many famous African American "firsts" including the first Black:  combat pilot, Nobel Prize winner, Oscar winner, Miss America, President and V.P. of the United States. Learn about other early Black pioneers.

11. Enjoy the Music

From the early days in this country on to today there are so many Black voices for us to listen and dance to. You'll find influential and groundbreaking Black musicians touching every genre of music. Introduce your children to your favorites, discover some new voices and learn their backstories together. Then crank the tunes and get your groove on!

12. Get Stylish

Discover the Black people who were innovators and influencers of fashion from designers to models, singers and more. 

13. Let's get Cooking

Cook a traditional soul food meal for or with your family. Take inspiration from the many Black chefs and food influencers.

14. Play a Game

Learn about and play a traditional African game. Mancala is just one of many - DIY your own Mancala game board with things you have around the house.

15. Increase your aspirations

Learn all about successful Black American from the early days to today. Gain inspiration from their struggles and their achievements.

16. Science - Technology - Engineering - Mathematics

African American contributions to STEM fields have greatly impacted society. Explore Black innovators in STEM who changed the world, such as George Washington Carver, who was born into slavery and went on to become arguably the most famous Black scientist and inventor, and Dr. Marie M. Daly, a biochemist and the first Black woman to obtain a Ph.D. in chemistry in the United States.

17. Be a good Sport!

18. Follow their lead

Learn about important Black Leaders in the U.S., past and present, including some elected and appointed

19. Travel Back in Time

Go back to the beginning and explore significant events and people that over time shaped our country's Black History. Here are some people and events to get you started, but don't stop here.

20. Don't Stop

There is so much to learn as information from the past comes to light and new events and leaders emerge.

Keep searching, learning, and growing!

This previously published article has been updated February 26, 2023

Macaroni KID Conejo Valley - Malibu - Calabasas