Preparing for African American History Month: Ways of Honoring Heroes

This post is co-authored by Earnestine Sweeting and Danna Bell-Russel.

Since the early 1900s, February has been dedicated to raising awareness of the contributions made by African Americans. One way to introduce African American History Month is by facilitating a discussion about the ways in which African American achievement has been recognized in the nation’s past. This unique lithograph, created in 1881 during Reconstruction, is titled Heroes of the Colored Race and shows images of Frederick Douglass and former senators Blanche K. Bruce and Hiram Revels. In addition, it depicts scenes from African American life as well as some other noted Americans. An article from the Cleveland Gazette from October 1884 identifies many of the people and events shown.

Heroes of The Colored Race

Students may benefit from focusing on the individual images in the lithograph. Print a large version of the image, cut it into pieces and hand each student or pair of students a piece of the image to study. Have them record their observations, reflections and questions on the primary source analysis tool. Then have students put their pieces together and see what they gain from seeing the entire image. Select questions from the Teacher’s Guide: Analyzing Photographs and Prints to guide and deepen student thinking and analysis.

Teachers can have students:

  • Explain why they think this particular image was created and why the events documented on this image were selected to be included.
  • Describe the characteristics of the people represented as heroes.  Explain why one or more of the people shown in this image might have been considered heroes in 1884.
  • Make recommendations about historical figures they would add or remove from this lithograph.  Make sure students use historically based evidence to defend their answers.
  • Create a collection of heroes for African American History Month. What images would they use? Who would be the heroes shown? Why did students make the choices they made?

Additional Information:

What teaching activities do you use to engage students during African American history month?

8 Comments

  1. Latechia
    January 20, 2012 at 5:23 am

    Glad to see the above image. My students just finished reading Tonya Bolden’s “Finding Family” and that lithograph was featured. It allowed for discussion and exploration on the topic of heroic African American heroes. I will use the recommended activities during black history month.

  2. Garnet Wind
    January 21, 2012 at 8:59 pm

    I really like the links to resources, but was having trouble finding modern day African American heroes. Which link(s) will take me to some living African American heroes? Thanks.

    • Danna Bell-Russel
      January 23, 2012 at 11:58 am

      Hi Garnet,

      The African-American History month portal will lead you to some material on living heroes. However you may wish to work with your local librarian to access materials such as Current Biography, Biography in Context or the upcoming Biography Source to locate information on current African American heroes. You may also wish to see if the people you are thinking of have their own websites where they might provide information on themselves or have students search newspaper indexes to locate current articles on their heroes. You may also wish to review the links here and here to see if some of them meet your needs. Good luck.

  3. Jacqueline Brathwaite
    January 21, 2012 at 10:52 pm

    Your collaboration is a great welcome to the educational community. Busy teachers are very appreciative of the resources provided here!

  4. Cathi Franchino
    January 22, 2012 at 12:55 pm

    Thank you for your wonderful references in this post to your African American History portal. Many resources that are new to me, and that will be useful for our teachers in efforts to promote inquiry and deep reading of complex texts and images.

  5. Vivian
    January 22, 2012 at 10:09 pm

    I’m creating a collaborative blog and I need to know if I can transform a blogspot blog into one where anyone can add content and edit or change the text. Maybe there is another type of blog whee you can do this.. Thanks everyone..

  6. Shelley
    January 27, 2012 at 9:48 pm

    Earnestine, it is refreshing to see different images used to enhance the study of African American history. Thought provoking and stimulating.

  7. somasundaram subbiah
    January 29, 2012 at 3:29 am

    Being non-aligned is a peaceful way of giving tribute to great leaders of national and international stature.

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