What does education policy and Black History have in common?
This month’s article is about how we, as Rennie Education Policy Fellows1, learned about the city of Boston’s history. The fellowship is a learning experience for professionals from various fields with an interest in learning more about education policy. The primary objectives are;
- Learning about the meaning of policy and how past and current policies have shaped the education systems;
- Building leadership strengths and skills;
- Identifying opportunities to improve the education system through policy, individually and collectively.
As part of the year-long fellowship, one of our first activities was the Black Heritage Tour in Boston. The walking tour experience provided more context and foundation for our understanding of how policy, advocacy, and education intersect historically and as part of our current systems. As educators, it is important for us to bring these experiences to our students. Wright2 (2021) explained in her article about teaching Black History to High School students,
“Having students learn local Black history helps to connect them to the communities they are a part of. Students will develop academic English language with relatable information they can see as evidence in their surroundings in the neighborhoods they live in or go to school in.”
This is true for adults as well. How can we serve racially and linguistically diverse student populations without knowledge of a community’s history? Highlights from the walking tour include;
Abiel Smith School6 – the first school for African American children and adults. The house also served as a community meeting space.
Romney (2023) stated, “we, as educators, have a role to play in correcting some of these injustices, if our role is to teach the truth and respect for the truth.” This walking history tour was an example of how we can educate ourselves as part of diverse learning communities. How are Black History and other Heritage months taught in language classrooms? How can these experiences, field trips, book and film studies support oral language development, a deeper appreciation for history, and knowledge of self?
The Legacy Museum, Montgomery
The Legacy Museum provides a comprehensive history of slavery in the US, including: the Transatlantic Slave Trade, the Domestic Slave Trade, and Reconstruction. Lynching, codified racial segregation, and the emergence of over-incarceration in the 20th century are brought to life through the various exhibits.
Crenshaw Wall, Los Angeles
This colorful mural spans a full city block. An artistic testament to African-American unity, this work of art was created by Tony Riddle, who started scribbling poetry on the side of the wall 30 years ago. This inspired other artists to express their cultural pride painting and writing along the length of the wall. The colors and stories reveal a part of African-American history.
Ruins of slave quarters, Fort George Island-Kingsley Plantation
Located East of Jacksonville, these cabins were built in 1820’s out of cement tabby. The plantation was named for Zephaniah Kingsley who lived there with his African wife, Anna Madgigne Jai, from 1814-1830’s.
The Martin Luther King Jr. Historic Site, Atlanta
Only one block away from the Ebenezer Baptist Church of Dr. King’s boyhood, The MLK Historic Site exhibits tell the story of his childhood and visitors get a tour of the first floor of the King home. Rangers tell of how King spent most of his childhood playing baseball, sometimes getting into normal boyhood trouble even.
The John Lewis Mural, Atlanta
This 65-foot portrait of the late Congressman was painted by artist Sean Schwab and is now surrounded by a park called the “Good Trouble John Lewis Memorial Park.”
Tribute to the Great Migration, Chicago
Tens of thousands of African-Americans fled the brutal treatment and laws of the American South, moving Northward looking for opportunity and freedom. This memorial was erected by Aaron Sarr in 1996, depicting a man who has packed up and is headed northward toward a new life.
Congo Square, New Orleans
New Orleans remains an important cultural and historical city representing Black History, because it is where slaves were most commonly bought and sold. Yet, one section of the French Quarter remains a symbol of hope and unity, for Black Americans. African slaves used this Congo Square to gather, dance, and sing. There is still an African American cultural and artistic community there today.
The Museum of African American History, Boston & Nantucket
This Museum includes two historic sites and two Black Heritage Trails, telling the story of the organized Black community located in Beacon Hill during the Colonial Period up through the 19th century.
The Black Heritage Trail7, Boston
This 1.6-mile trail features 14 historical sites on Beacon Hill including the homes of notable Black Bostonians from the earliest years of this nation. The 54th Regiment Memorial, the Abiel Smith School, African Meeting House, and other sites make up this historic walk through the past. The stories of struggle, persistence, and progress are around every corner of this neighborhood where Black Bostonians raised children, hid fugitive slaves, and organized to fight for the freedom the American ideal promised all of us.
W.E.B. Du Bois Boyhood Homesite, Great Barrington
Writer, W.E.B. Du Bois lived here until he was 17. His family had lived there for more than 200 years and as an adult he often used the home as a retreat. Only the ruins of the original house are visible. Located on the north side of Route 23, two miles west of Great Barrington, Massachusetts.
National Museum of the Tuskegee Airmen, Detroit
This museum remembers the African American Air Force troops who served in World War II. Retired Tuskegee Airmen are often present and on-site at the museum to speak with students about the experiences of air battle in WW2.
African Burial Ground, New York
The African Burial Ground in Manhattan is the largest and oldest known burial ground in the US. Both free and enslaved Africans are buried there, showing the scope of how both free and enslaved Africans contributed to the development of Lower Manhattan during the 17th and 18th centuries.
Louis Armstrong House, Queens
Home of influential Jazz musician, Louis Armstrong from 1940 to 1971.It is located at 3456 107th Street.
Ammons Playground, Pittsburgh
Josh Gibson played on two Negro teams in Pittsburgh, hitting 800 home runs over the course of his extraordinary 17-year career.
Emancipation Park, Houston
Emancipation Park was purchased over 100 years ago in honor of the Juneteenth celebration and is still used for Juneteenth celebrations today. This park is a symbol of the pride of the African American community. It is one of the first parcels of land purchased by a black American in this country. Reverend Jack Yates bought this ten-acre property in the 19th century, in the name of Juneteenth.
Underground Railroad Homes, Kenosha
Four homes in Kenosha served as stops on the Underground Railroad, run by brave people who helped escaped slaves get to Canada. The Underground Railroad was an enormously organized, impressive, and perilous effort.
Pre/Post Field Trip Activities
- Have each student research the life of a historical Black or Brown American who lived in their state and then give an oral presentation to the class.
- Invite a local Brown or Black author, artist, or musician to your class to read from their book, present their art, or play their music. Then, allow students to ask the guest questions.
- Show students clips from the documentary Eyes on the Prize and lead them in a discussion about how much or little America has changed today in light of Government Sponsored Racism.
- Watch the 1970 documentary film depicting Jane Elliott’s famous Blue Eyes, Brown Eyes Classroom Experiment about how racial prejudice is learned. Then, in groups, have students discuss the psychology of racial prejudice.
- Have students in 8 groups, research, create and present 8 different visual timelines of American history, representing:
1. Early Slave Trade
2. The Abolition Movement
3. The Civil War
5. Jim Crow South
6. Harlem Renaissance
7. The Civil Rights Movement
8. Civil Rights law and the Right to Vote
- Structure a fictitious debate in your class, regarding the succession of the South, where students research and then enact the roles of various (historic) members of the US Congress in the 1850’s, debating whether or not the South had the right to succeed.
- Read and review a book written by Black authors such as Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, August Wilson, Lorraine Hansberry, Alex Haley, Tyehimba Jess, Gregory Pardlo, Tracy K. Smith, Rita Dove, Natasha Tretheway, Yusef Komunyakaa, Annie Allen, Ai, Langston Hughes, Thylias Moss, Derek Walcott, Audre Lorde, Phillis Wheatley, Patricia Smith, James Baldwin, E.W. DeBois, Lucille Clifton, Martin Luther King, Marilyn Nelson, Gwendolyn Brooks, Richard Right, Robert Hayden, and Ta-Nehisi Coates.
- Have students conduct primary source ethnographic research projects, using original documents, artifacts, interviews, recordings, and other yet to be interpreted sources to access an understanding of the history of system racism in their town, city, or neighborhood.
- Have students collect, analyze, and interpret the contemporary music, sculpture, visual art, performance art, or SLAM poetry of a black or brown artist for their state.
Books & Other Readings
Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America
Ibram X. Kendi
The book focuses on often overlooked historical events to illustrate the development of racist ideas throughout US history. The themes of racism, assimilationism, and antiracism are highlighted. The book was published in two versions. One for younger children, titled Stamped: Racism, Anti-Racism, and You. This one is for children in grades 4-8, and Stamped (For Teens ): Racism, Anti Racism, and You for children in grades 8-12.
This article is by Congressman John Lewis and was his last message to the nation shortly before his death.
And We Rise
These are poems retelling civil rights history.
Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice
Phillip M. Hoose
This is a dramatic story of a forgotten teen civil rights hero.
The Other Wes Moore: Two Fates
This book compares the lives of two boys with similar backgrounds, but who have two very different fates. One is successful, and one goes to jail. This story is about the effect that poverty in Black community has on a person.
Between the World and Me
Written as a series of letters to his adolescent son, this book shows us the tough neighborhoods of Baltimore from Coates’s youth, to his college days at Howard University and then to other horizons like New York and Paris.
This classic moving autobiography reveals the brutality of Jim Crow South.
The Fire Next Time
This book is part memoir, part essay, written with eloquence, intimacy, and controlled urgency.
In this book, a boy faces racial profiling.
I Am Alfonso Jones
This is a graphic novel depicting police brutality.
The Hate U Give
This is a powerful story of the police shooting of an unarmed Black teen.
Black Birds in the Sky
This book tells an account of the 1921 Tulsa Massacre.
The Black Kids
Christina Hammonds Reed
This is a complex story taking place during the Rodney King riots.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
This is a poetic autobiography revealing the impact of racial prejudice.
X: A Novel
Ilyasah Shabazz & Kekla Magoon
This is a novel about Malcolm X’s troubled youth.
The Color Purple
The book is structured as a series of letters to God, written by a 14-year-old African-American girl living in the post-Civil war South.
The Black Book
This book is like a collage, exploring the history and experience of African Americans in the United States.
Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption
This is the young adult adaptation of the bestseller Just Mercy, which details Stevenson’s efforts as a lawyer to represent people who have no one else in their corner.
To Kill A Mockingbird
Told by six-year-old, Jem, this story takes place between 1933–35 in Maycomb, Alabama. She lives with her widowed father who is a middle-aged lawyer, representing an innocent, black defendant who is accused of raping a young white woman.
This Pulitzer prize winning novel centers on a post-Civil War family once enslaved and now living in a house haunted by events of the past related to the abuses of slavery and The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. Morrison also won the Nobel Prize for Literature, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the National Book Foundation’s Medal of Distinguished Contribution, PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction and was awarded the Jefferson Lecture by the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination
Morrison was also a literary critic in her own right, serving as a professor of English at Princeton for many years. In this work of literary criticism, she examines America’s most prominent white authors through a lens showing the reader how Blackness is symbolized and shaped in their stories, characters, and themes.
How to Be an Antiracist
Ibram X. Kendi
This nonfiction book combines memoir and history to outline the roots of racism in America.
Teaching for Black Lives: Black students’ minds and bodies are under attack. We’re fighting back.
Edited by Dyan Watson, Jesse Hagopian, and Wayne Au
This book discusses ways to teach and organize for racial and economic justice in our schools.
Until Justice Be Done: America’s First Civil Rights Movement, from the Revolution to Reconstruction Hardcover
The author details accounts for the roles of African Americans in shaping the American ideal of equality.
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave
In his memoir, Douglas reveals his life as a slave, his journey to become a free man and his life as one of the most important people in American history. He leads us through his inspirational life, during which he endured years of physical abuse, deprivation, and tragedy. Yet, his determination to free all Americans drove him to overcome obstacles of the past and present to be the leading spokesperson for people enslaved in America. Douglass’s graphic descriptions of his childhood traumatic experiences as an enslaved African and the telling of his escape to the North and eventual freedom, is an extraordinary tale of passion, spirit, and triumph.
Common Ground: A Turbulent Decade in the Lives of Three American Families
J. Anthony Lukas
This well-researched nonfiction book tells the story of the Boston busing crisis through the experiences of three families. The book focused on how the events of forced busing in Boston sharpened existing racial tensions, representative of conflicts across the country.
More Than Freedom: Fighting for Black Citizenship in a White Republic
This book tells of the struggle of many black and white abolitionists in and around Boston, including Frederick Douglass, Senator Charles Sumner, and lesser known but important people. Their activism helped bring about the end of slavery.
The King Center
The National Park Service
Equal Justice Institute
Learning for justice
The Library of Congress
The Civil Rights Digital Library
A Time for Justice (2011)
This film centers on America’s Civil Rights Movement
An Outrage (2017)
By Hannah Ayers and Lance Warren,
This film visits lynching sites in six American states featuring the memories of the descendants of those lynchings, and the perspectives of scholars.
This film documents the historic events of the civil right movement during the 1960s, revolving around the Selma-to-Montgomery march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge where a line of Alabama state troopers on horseback attacked marchers with clubs, tear gas and other weapons.
The Murder of Fred Hampton (1971)
This is a documentary about a 21-year-old Black Panther leader who was becoming one of the great speakers of the 20th century, but was killed by the FBI in the Chicago police department.
Eyes on the Prize (1987)
This award winning and inspirational 14-part documentary unpacks the events of the civil rights movement in the United States in a way that is compelling, educational, and ever-relevant.
Blacks Britannica (1978)
This film examines racism through the lens of black, working-class British people.
Jane Eliott’s classroom exercise was filmed in 1970 and became the central focus of the PBS documentary The Eye of the Storm, a series later aired on Frontline, featuring a reunion of Eliott’s 1970 3rd grade Iowan class of students. In the 1985 reunion episode called A Class Divided, the former students reflected on their behavior in the experiment, how it affected their lives, and what it meant to them.
More Curriculum Resources
The Equal Justice Institute’s Lynching in America curriculum.
This poster from 1851 attempted to warn the people that The Boston Police Department was enforcing the Fugitive Slave Law.
Ayanna Cooper – Ayanna Cooper, EdD is the Pass the Mic series editor, and owner of A. Cooper Consulting. She is the author of And Justice for ELs: A Leader’s Guide to Creating and
Sustaining Equitable Schools (Corwin) and is currently a Massachusets Education Policy Fellow at The Rennie Center in Boston (2022-2023).
John Brown – EdD, is a Clinical Associate Professor of Education at The University of Massachusetts Lowell, owner of Praxis-Group Education Consulting and a Massachusets Education Policy Fellow at The Rennie Center in Boston (2022-2023). Before joining the faculty at Umass Lowell, John was a high school ELA teacher for 19 years.
Ayanna Cooper, EdD, is the Pass the Mic series editor and owner of A. Cooper Consulting. She is the author of And Justice for ELs: A Leader’s Guide to Creating and
Sustaining Equitable Schools (Corwin) and is currently a Massachusetts Education Policy Fellow at the Rennie Center in Boston (2022–2023).
John Brown, EdD, is a clinical associate professor of education at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, owner of PRAXIS Group Education Consulting, and a Massachusetts Education Policy Fellow at the Rennie Center in Boston (2022–2023). Before joining the faculty at UMass Lowell, John was a high school ELA teacher for 19 years.