8 Great Ways for NJ Teachers to Celebrate Black History Month

This February, to celebrate Black History Month, NJ educators have an abundance of great ways to recognize the contributions of African Americans from the Garden State as well as so much of the rich cultural history that has transpired right here in New Jersey. From curriculum resources addressing Black history to historical sites and museums, the following list contains some ready-at-hand ways to enrich your teaching now and throughout the year.

1. Learn About New Jersey’s role in the Underground Railroad

While the Underground Railroad is an important part of black history often taught in classrooms, there are a many opportunities to connect this part of history to locations right here in the Garden State. In Lawnside, NJ, you are invited to visit the Peter Mott house, a location on the Underground Railroad. Peter Mott was a farmer and “conductor” in the early 1800s. To learn more about his role in the emancipation of slaves, visit the Lawnside Historical Society’s website. You can also visit Saturdays from 12-3pm or by appointment.

You can read more about New Jersey’s role in the Underground railroad on NJ.com, and from Women History Blog.

2. Learn About the Music of The Harlem Renaissance.

Check out the Kennedy Center’s “Musical Harlem” lesson plan to teach elementary school students about the Harlem Renaissance and 1920s Jazz in New York City. Click here for the full lesson plan.

This lesson plan includes song clips and information about musical instruments sure to keep your kids engaged.

3. Listen to Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” Speech.

Encourage students to write something of their own inspired by Martin Luther King Jr.’s Speech. They can take this and perform at the ‘I Have a Dream’ Open Mic night on February 17th at South County Regional Library. Anyone age 9 and up can perform, and prizes will be awarded to the audience’s favorite performers. Click here for more info.

4. Visit the African American Heritage Museum of Southern Jersey

With locations in Newtonville and Atlantic City, the African American Heritage Museum of Southern New Jersey has several permanent art and history exhibits, such as “Stereotypes: From Little Black Sambo to Aunt Jemima and Beyond” and “Portraits of a People.” It also displays the work of local African American artists.

If a visit to the museum itself isn’t in the cards, the AAHMSNJ offers the Traveling Museum, an “entertaining and interactive experience with curricula specially tailored to schools and non-profit organizations.” You can choose from three different presentations (one is on Civil Rights in New Jersey) and schedule a visit to your school by calling (609) 350-6662 or emailing rhunter@aahmsnj.org.

5. Teach Middle School Students About Revered American Poet Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes is one of the country’s greatest poets, and you can educate your students on him by using  EDSITEment’s lesson plans, dubbed “The Poet’s Voice.”

With interactive writing activities that include journaling, and culminate in a final assignment that asks students to write a short poem in their own voice, these lesson plans offer insight into poetry analysis as well as the struggle of African Americans in the United States.

6. Visit the Afro-American Historical Society Museum in Jersey City.

Located in the Greenville Public Library in Jersey City, the Afro-American Historical Society Museum is home to historical documents pertaining to African American History. Founded by Captain Thomas Taylor, the committee is dedicated to “keeping our culture in focus” through “research, collection, preservation and exhibition of Afro-American history and culture.”

7. Teach Your Students About (and listen to!) Red Bank’s Own Count Basie.

The first African American to win a Grammy, Count Basie is one of the most famous names in jazz music. A pianist, bandleader, and composer, Basie is responsible for classics such as “Blue Skies” and “One O’Clock Boogie.” After attending high school in Red Bank, Basie moved to New York City, where he contributed the legendary music scene of the Harlem Renaissance. Read about his life and work here

8. Learn About the Paintings of Jacob Lawrence, a New Jersey Native

Jacob Lawrence (1917-2000) “chronicled the story of black life in America.” He is most well-known for a series of paintings, “The Migration of a Negro.” His paintings are a great jumping off point from which to talk about the mass relocation of African Americans known as “The Great Migration.” Lawrence was the first African American artist to have his work acquired by the Museum of Modern Art.

Read about his life and work on MoMA’s website

If you have any classroom suggestions for Black History Month, let us know in the comments.

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