Originating as part of an initiative by Dr. Carter G. Woodson in 1926, Black History Month has its roots in Negro History Week. It was Woodson’s idea that Negro History Week should always occur the second week of February, bookmarked between the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. Decades later, Negro History Week evolved into Black History Month. Since 1976, every American president has proclaimed February as Black History Month. Honor and celebrate Black History Month with your group with the activity ideas below.
FREEDOM SONGS – Music has always played an important role in African-American culture. Invite members to a freedom song sing-along. Highlight songs that have played a significant role in African-American history, such as “Wade in the Water,” “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” “We Shall Overcome,” or “Life Every Voice and Sing.” Head over to this link at the PBS website for lyrics to many other freedom songs.
CELEBRATE THE ART OF STEPPING – The art of stepping, or step-dancing, originated in the African-American community and has since spread to Latino and Asian cultures. It has been labeled the most exciting dance form to have evolved in the 20th century. Learn more about the art of stepping at Step Afrika! Share videos with your group. Then, create your own stepping dance with your group. Modify so that participants are sitting. Use drums and other rhythm instruments to enhance the experience.
EXPLORE AFRICAN-AMERICAN ART – Feature a famous African-American artist during your next art group, then recreate their work. For example, Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series. Provide your group with a brief biography. Print copies of his work to share with your group or check out a book featuring his art from your local library. Then, recreate his work with participants. Ask participants to select an important moment from their personal history. Instruct participants to use watercolor and paint a vivid background of that historical moment. Then, use brown card stock and cut out silhouettes of the people in that memory. Paste the silhouettes on top of the background once the watercolor has dried.
FARMER’S ALMANAC – Benjamin Banneker was a self-educated scientist, astronomer, inventor, writer, and publicist. Among his many accomplishments, he is best known for publishing six Farmer’s Almanacs. Pick up a current copy of the Farmer’s Almanac and share with your group. Reminisce about its use and reliability throughout the years. Based on your region, what weather can you expect this year? Research more about Benjamin Banneker and his inventions, then share with your group.
MANCALA TOURNAMENT – Mancala is a game that originated in Africa. Organize a Mancala tournament this month. Mancala is a two-person game, so it might take several rounds played over multiple days to determine the ultimate champion. Find the game where board games and toys are sold.
REVISIT MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.’S SPEECH – Find a copy of Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous I Have a Dream speech and print for your group. Break the speech into sections and ask each participant to read a portion to the group. (Another option – watch a video of Dr. King giving his speech.) Afterwards, discuss the speech. Reminisce about memories members have of the speech and of Martin Luther King Jr. Discuss what impact his life had on American history.
THE MARCH ON WASHINGTON – In conjunction with the I Have a Dream speech, or as a separate activity, reminisce with your group about the March on Washington in 1963. What do they recall about the event? Did anyone participate? Discuss segregation laws and the Civil Rights Movement that took place in the 1950s and 60s.
UNDERGROUND RAILROAD – Another interesting topic to discuss is the Underground Railroad. Find a documentary about the Underground Railroad or visit history.com to learn more about its history. Print a copy of the Underground Railroad route and look to see if your location is on the map. Learn more about Harriet Tubman and her efforts to lead runaway slaves to freedom.
VIRTUAL MUSEUM VISIT – Take your group on a virtual trip to the Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History and Culture. Browse various collections by topic and watch the curator chats to learn more about each exhibit.
THE FIRST AFRICAN AMERICAN PRESIDENT – Barack Obama made history in 2009 when he was sworn in as the 44th president of the United States. Since leaving office, both he and his wife, Michelle Obama, have written memoirs. Encourage your book club to read one or both this month, then discuss the books. Alternatively, consider watching the documentary, Becoming (rated PG) on Netflix, which follows Michelle Obama’s history-making book tour.
EVENING SITCOM – Invite members to an after-dinner watch party featuring a sitcom about an African-American family. Choose your group’s favorite family-friendly sitcoms, such as Family Matters, The Jeffersons, or Sanford & Son. Play one or two episodes each evening.
CELEBRATING BLACK HISTORY MONTH TRIVIA
Name the famous person based on the following clues.
- He was the first African-American player to join a Major League Baseball team, starting at first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Jackie Robinson
- She is often referred to as “the first lady of civil rights” and is best known for refusing to give up her bus seat after the whites-only section was filled, in Birmingham, Alabama. Rosa Parks
- He became the first African-American Secretary of State in 2001, serving under George W. Bush. General Colin Powell
- Best known for her talk show that aired for 25 years, this woman began her media career as both the youngest and first African-American female news anchor at Nashville’s WLAC-TV. Oprah Winfrey
- A child prodigy, this singer/songwriter began his music career at age 11. He is one of the most successful songwriters and musicians of the 20th century; most notably he is a one-man band, which is amazing considering he is blind. Stevie Wonder
- Popular actor, comedian, singer, and dancer, this entertainer overcame prevailing racism and became a successful member of the Rat Pack with Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. Sammy Davis Jr.
- Beginning her career as a children’s gospel singer, this Queen of Soul moved into the secular music world at 18 and became the first female performer to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Popular hits of hers include “Respect,” “Ain’t No Way,” and “I Say a Little Prayer.” Aretha Franklin
- A scholar and a minister, this man led the civil rights movement and was the main organizer of the 1963 March on Washington. He was tragically assassinated in 1968, five years after delivering his “I Have a Dream” speech. Martin Luther King Jr.
- An American agricultural scientist, he discovered the crop rotation method in order to prevent soil depletion. He was also called “The Peanut Man” because of his research into uses for that nut. George Washington Carver
- This woman escaped slavery and went on to rescue approximately 70 enslaved people using the Underground Railroad system. She became an armed scout and spy during the Civil War and played a major role in the women’s suffrage movement. Harriet Tubman
CELEBRATING BLACK HISTORY MONTH THOUGHT FOR THE MONTH
“A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.” ~ Jackie Robinson
“Celebrating Black History Month” was written by Erin McCart. Copyright 2021 ElderSong Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.
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