Black History 

Introduction: Black History should be of interest to every classroom teacher! What a wealth of information to teach!  Use these links to entwine reading, English, social studies, history, math, and technology.  

Goal:  Students should be familiar with those individuals that have been involved and responsible throughout our country's history.  Students should be exposed to different cultures and develop an appreciation for those contributions of others to all of our lives.  

Objectives:  Students will understand what biographies are.  Students will learn about many black individuals that contributed to our lives.  Students will enjoy technology as a tool to improve reading skills as they research and seek answers to questions. 

Duration:  The teacher could spent from 1 day to 10 days on such a unit, especially if other resources were brought in for the class.  


Day 1:  At Sidney Harris, we generally look to the history of our school for an introduction to this unit.  Resource people come to talk to our students.  (See the history of our school)

Day  2:  Use the paragraph at the bottom of this page to begin discussion and research into this topic.  

Day 3-4 Use the links presented as students explore the topics and decide on a subject or person on which students can create a PowerPoint Presentation.  

Day 5 and 6- Students will be grouped into two's for researching their chosen topic. One person will take notes while the other reads from the screen and mouses.  They will take turns. 

Day 7-12 Students will prepare a presentation for other students in the class to watch.  The two in the group will be ready to present this.  

Day 13:  Students will watch presentations made by students in the class.  

Resources and Links of interest for the classroom teacher and students:  

MLK Web   Celebrating MLK  
A Scavenger Hunt   Interactive Quiz  
K-12 Activities   Civil Rights Museum  

The Speech "I Have A Dream"

  Live Audio of that Speech  
MLK Trivia Game   Civil Rights Train Game  
Black History Month Celebrated (Lots of links to biographies, important dates, and many research resources)   The Best Black History Sites!  
Lesson plans on the WWW   The Black History Story from the Encyclopedia  
The Underground Railroad lessons   The African-American Teachers' Lounge (Lesson plans galore)  
Good links for researching Black History   Black History Month  
Frederick Douglas and Booker T. Washington   Another great site for Black History Month  
Good school sites      

*Where Would We Be Without Black People?
(Author Unknown)


This is a story of a little boy name Theo who woke up one morning and asked his mother, Mom, what if there were no
Black people in the world?

Well his mother thought about that for a moment, and then said, "Son, follow me around today and lets just see what it
would be like if there were no Black people in the world. Now go get dressed and we will get started.

Theo ran to his room to put on his clothes and shoes. His mother took one look at him and said, "Theo, where are your
shoes? Son, I must iron your clothes. Why are they so wrinkled?

When she reached for the ironing board it was no longer there. You see, Sarah Boone, a black woman, invented the ironing board and Jan E. Matzelinger, a black man, invented the shoe lasting machine.

"Oh well," she said, "please go and do something to your hair." Theo ran in his room to comb his hair, but the comb was not there. "

You see, Walter Sammons, a black man, invented the comb.

Theo decided to just brush his hair, but the brush was gone. Lydia O. Newman, a black female, invented the brush.

Well, this was a sight. Theo had no shoes, wrinkled clothes, his hair was a mess, even Mom's hair was a mess, without the hair care inventions of Madam C.J. Walker! Well, you get the picture.

Mom told Theo, "Let's do our chores around the house, and then take a trip to the grocery store."

Theo's job was to sweep the floor. He swept and swept and swept. When he reached for the dustpan, it was not there. You see, Lloyd P. Ray, a black man, invented the dustpan.

So he swept his pile of dirt over in the corner and left it there. He then decided to mop the floor, but the mop was gone. You see, Thomas W. Stewart, a black man, invented the mop.

Theo yelled to his Mom, "Mom, I'm not having any luck.

"Well son," she said, "let me finish washing these clothes and we will prepare a list for the grocery store."

When the wash finished, she went to place the clothes in the dryer but it wash not there. You see, George T. Samon, a black man, invented the clothes dryer.

Mom asked Theo to go get a pencil and some paper to prepare their list for the market. So Theo ran for the paper and
pencil but noticed the pencil lead was broken. Well, he was out of luck because John Love, a black man, invented the pencil sharpener.

Mom reached for a pen, but it was not there because William Purvis, black man, invented the fountain pen. As a matter of fact, Lee Burridge invented the type writing machine, and W. A. Lovette the advanced printing press.

Theo and his mother decided to head out to the market. Well, when Theo opened the door he noticed the grass was as high as he was tall. You see, the lawn mower was invented by John Burr, a black man.

They made their way over to the car, and found that it just wouldn't go. You see, Richard Spikes, a black man, invented the automatic gear shift and Joseph Gammel invented the supercharge system for internal combustion engines.

They noticed that the few cars that were moving were running into each other and having wrecks because there were no
traffic signals. You see, Garrett A. Morgan, a black man invented the traffic light.

Well, it was getting late, so they walked to the market, got their groceries and returned home. Just when they were about to put away the milk, eggs and butter, they noticed the refrigerator was gone. You see John Standard, a black man, invented the refrigerator. So they just left the food on the counter.

By this time, Theo noticed he was getting mighty cold. Mom went to turn up the heat; however, Alice Parker,
a black female, invented the heating furnace so they didn't have heat. Even in the summer time they would have been out of luck because Frederick Jones, a black man, invented the air conditioner.

It was almost time for Theo's father to arrive home. He usually took the bus. But there was no bus, because it's precursor was the electric trolley, invented by another black man, Elbert R. Robinson.

He usually took the elevator from his office on the 20th floor, but there was no elevator because Alexander Miles, a black man, invented the elevator.

He also usually dropped off the office mail at a near by mailbox, but it was no longer there because Philip Downing, a black man, invented the letter drop mailbox and William Barry invented the postmarking and canceling machine.

Theo and his mother sat at the kitchen table with their head in their hands. When the father arrived he asked, "Why are you
sitting in the dark?" Why? Because Lewis Howard Latimer, a black man, invented the filament within the light bulb.

Theo quickly learned what it would be like if there were no black people in the world. Not to mention if he were ever sick
and needed blood. Charles Drew, a black scientist, found a way to preserve and store blood, which led to his starting the
world's first blood bank.

And what if a family member had to have heart surgery. This would not have been possible without Dr. Daniel Hale
Williams, a black doctor, who performed the first open heart surgery.

So you don't have to wonder, like Theo, where would we be without Black people in the world. It's pretty plain to see. It would be very bad!

*This is not an original story, but one that certainly illustrates the story of the influence of black history very well!


Students will use a rubric to grade their presentations in class.  This will be a group or self evaluation of the presentation.  

This is an optional lesson that one might use in this unit.

Subject: Literature Unit in Nonfiction Description: The following is designed as an independent lesson to foster critical thinking over Dr. Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream"speech.

This makes an excellent February activity


Concepts: The lesson has individual sections divided into vocabulary development, rhetorical structures (figures of speech), understanding the speech, relating to the speech, and an optional opportunity for students to record the speech.

Background Information: Attached to the beginning of the lesson is background information on the civil rights movement, including Dr. King's leadership role, in order to familiarize students with the context in which the speech was written.

Materials and Procedures:

Run off a copy of Dr. King's biography for each student so that they can refer back to this information as they think through the lesson. Also, run off a copy for each student of the background information included in this lesson plan.

Of course, the lesson can be copied as a whole or with only desired sections extracted. (For example, some teachers may choose only to have students tape record the speech using the accompanying guidelines as a means of encouraging oral presentations.) Teachers would also need a copy of Dr. King's speech. (This lesson is based on an abridged version which includes the first two paragraphs and the last two-thirds of the speech beginning with "...There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, 'When will you be satisfied?'")

LESSON: "I Have a Dream"

This speech, which has become one of the most recognized symbols of the civil rights movement, was written more than three decades ago as America struggled with the problems of how to create racial equality for all of her citizens. Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered the speech on August 28, 1963, to more than 200,000 people gathered during a massive demonstration before the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. Called the March on Washington, the demonstration was organized on the hundredth anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation to call attention to the wrongs suffered by African Americans and to push for federal legislation to bring about change.


Before the civil rights movement of the 1950's and 1960's, racial discrimination was deeply imbedded in American society. The reality of life for the great majority of African Americans meant that they lived with gross inequities in housing, employment, education, medical services, and public accommodations. Often they were denied the right to vote and faced great injustices within the legal system.

Segregation was a way of life. Most urban blacks, particularly in the South, lived in isolated apartments because white landlords refused them rent. Blacks had little access to "good" jobs, finding work mainly in positions of service to white employers.Black children attended separate, inferior schools. The result of being denied both employment and educational opportunities was that the great majority of African American families lived in poverty, with nearly 75% earning less than $3,000 a year in 1950. In addition, Southern blacks were denied admittance to such public facilities as hospitals, restaurants, theaters, motels, and parks. Blacks were even denied the use of public restrooms and drinking fountains marked with "For Whites Only" signs. When separate public accommodations for blacks were provided, they were usually inferior in quality and poorly maintained. Most establishments dictated that blacks and whites not share the same facilities, blacks were regulated by law to the back of buses and trains and to the balconies of movies houses and courtrooms. Worse, many African Americans were even denied the right to participate in America's political process. They were kept from voting by state laws, poll taxes, reading tests, and even beatings by local police. Unlawful acts of violence against blacks, such as those perpetrated by the Ku Klux Klan, were ignored by the much of Southern society, and African Americans could expect little help from the judicial system. In fact, instances of police intimidation and brutality were all too common. Change came slowly. Embittered Southern whites carried distrust learned during the years of Reconstruction following the Civil War. However, in the late 1940's following World War II (when America had fought for freedom and democracy abroad and therefore felt compelled to make good on these promises at home), the federal government began to pass laws against racial discrimination. The United States military was integrated for the first time, and new laws and court rulings prohibited segregation in schools, government buildings, and public transportation. However, many of these laws met with bitter opposition in the South or were simply ignored. When members of the African American community tried to break through old barriers, they were often threatened or beaten and, in some cases, killed. Likewise, black homes and churches were sometimes burned or bombed.

It was within this atmosphere that Martin Luther King, Jr., rose as a prominent leader in the civil rights movement. The son of a Baptist minister who was himself ordained, he was inspired by both Christian ideals and India's Mohandas K. Gandhi's philosophies of nonviolent resistance to peaceable confront injustice. King first came into the national spotlight when he organized the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott----during which time he was jailed, his home burned, and his life threatened. The result, however, was the mandate from the Supreme Court outlawing segregation on public transportation, and King emerged as a respected leader and the voice of nonviolent protest. He led marches, sit-ins, demonstrations, and black voter-registration drives throughout the South until his assassination in 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee. In 1964 King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in the civil rights movement. Both Americans and the international community recognized King's contributions in overcoming civil rights abuses without allowing the struggle to erupt into a blood bath. It was King's leadership that held the movement together with a dedication to nonviolent change. Many believe that King's skillful guidance and powerful oratory skills kept the South out of a second civil war, this time between the races. King led the civil rights movement to meet each act of violence, attack, murder, or slander with a forgiving heart, a working hand, and a hopeful dream for the future.

Worksheet Note: All students should answer the following questions using King's speech or the background information. Answer all questions on separate notebook paper.

I. Vocabulary Development

a. Find three words in the background information on the previous page about which you are unsure and look up their meanings. Write the definitions.

b. Read Dr. King's speech. Find seven words about which you are unsure and look up their meanings. Write the definitions.

II. Rhetorical Structure: Figures of Speech

Certain rhetorical devices called figures of speech (similes, metaphors, allusions, alliteration, etc.) are used in both poetry and prose to make ideas more memorable and forceful. For centuries speakers and writers have known that such well said devices affect listeners and readers in powerful ways.

1. In the dictionary, find and write the definitions of each of the following: alliteration allusion, metaphor, and simile.

2. "Five score years ago," the opening phrase of King's speech, is an allusion to what or whom? Why was this an appropriate and strong way for King to begin his speech?

3. King's speech contains other allusions in addition to the one with which he opens his speech. Find an allusion to the Declaration of Independence and the Bible.

4. Find an example of alliteration in King's speech.

5. Find an example of a metaphor.

6. Find an example of a simile.

7. In the second paragraph, King says that "the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination." What type of figure of speech is this?

8. These words bring up strong images of slavery. Why would this be an effective method of moving his audience?

9. What inference was King making about the progress of African Americans to enter the mainstream of American life in the one hundred years which followed the end of slavery?

10. Another figure of speech is called an anaphora, or the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of a sentence, verse, or paragraph. Besides the famous "I have a dream" phrase, find two other examples of anaphoras.

11. List at least two possible effects upon King's audience of repeating the phrase, "I have a dream."

10. Nearly every line of King's speech is filled with powerful images, or "mental pictures," many created by using figures of speech. Images help audiences to feel what speakers/writers want them to feel, help them remember what they have read or heard, and help them understand difficult material. Write a well-developed paragraph telling which of King's images you find most powerful and appealing and explain why this image had meaning for you.

III. Understanding the Dream

1. Write a paragraph summarizing King's dream in your own words.

2. What are some of the specific acts of injustice against African Americans which King cites in his speech?

3. Besides the Declaration of Independence and the Bible, King cites "the American dream" as a source for his own dream. What is the American dream? Discuss this concept with friends and family members and then write a composite definition for this commonly used term.

4. Near the end of his speech, King names many different states. Why do you think he did this?

5. "I Have a Dream" was a persuasive speech meant to convey to King's audience the need for change and encourage them to work for federal legislation to help end racial discrimination. If you had been in the vast crowd that day, do you think you would have been moved my King's speech? Why or why not?

IV. Relating to the Dream

1. What is your definition of racism?

2. The civil rights movement was met with much opposition, from Southern governors and other elected officials to cross-burning members of the Ku Klux Klan. Unfortunately, Civil Rights opponents sometimes turned to violence against black leaders and members of the black community. Why do you think extreme right-wing organizations such as the Klan would chose violence as a means to fight against the civil rights movement, even though their actions enraged the rest of the country and gained sympathy for the cause of Southern blacks? Why do you think the black community with stood such violent attacks without responding with their own violent retaliations?

3. Today's "skinheads" share the same radical right-wing philosophies and views supporting white supremacy and segregation of the races that had been held by Hitler during World War II and the Klan during the civil rights movement. Do you think today's skinheads are dangerous? Why or why not?

4. King was assassinated for his work in civil rights. A quotation from the Bible on the memorial at his gravesite reads, "Behold the dreamer. Let us slay him, and we will see what will become of his dream." What do you think has become of King's dream?

5. Write two paragraphs: one telling in what ways the dream has been fulfilled and one telling what yet remains to be accomplished.

V. Recording the Dream: Optional, Extra Credit

Tape record King's "I Have a Dream" speech, following these requirements:

1.Introduction: Present a brief introduction to the speech which should last no longer than one minute.

a. You may use any of the material in this assignment as a reference for your opening remarks, but your introduction must be in your own words.

b. Provide your audience with enough background information so that they can understand the context in which this speech was given. Strive to answer the five "W's"--who, what, when, where, and why.

2.Oral Presentation

a. Your expression should communicate the full meaning of King's message through appropriate voice inflection, tone, clarity, and rate of speech. Your interpretation should convey the full power of the speech's underlying imagery.

b. Phrasing of the speech should show that you understand the meaning King intended, including the relationship of one sentence to another and the importance of punctuation by observing appropriate pauses.

c. You should pronounce all words correctly.

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