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.
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?
- The Civil Rights Themed Resources page provides links to a variety of resources, including primary source sets on Jim Crow and the NAACP.
- Visit the African American History portal for links to resources from the Library and other federal cultural institutions that document the life and history of the African American community.
What teaching activities do you use to engage students during African American history month?