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Patricia Puentes

What Can These Current Movies Set in the ’60s Teach Us About Black History in America?

black history lessons ks3

I immigrated to this country in 2006 and haven’t stopped playing catch up on its culture and history ever since. I first learned about the Tulsa race massacre by watching the HBO miniseries Watchmen . Even though Lovecraft Country was a horror series that often veered into the supernatural, it was also a good history lesson: Misha Green’s show taught me about sundown towns and the lynching of 14-year-old Emmet Till in 1955 as well as James Baldwin’s thoughts on how the American dream comes at the expense of African Americans .

2020 was a year of racial reckoning and demands for social justice. For many of us, it was also a year of learning about often buried or forgotten chapters of Black history in the United States. We made conscious decisions to read more Black authors, seek out tales by Black storytellers and follow more Black leaders and activists on Twitter.

If, like me, you prefer your lessons in the form of a good movie, 2021 was the perfect time to brush up on your history. These recent titles are set in the 1960s, but shed a lot of light on the United States’ current state of affairs.

Five Titles About the ’60s That Will Teach You About Black History and Its Contemporary Reverberations

black history lessons ks3

Da 5 Bloods (Netflix, June 12, 2020): If anyone knows how to intertwine present-day America with the fight for civil rights from decades past it’s Spike Lee. His latest fiction movie starts with a rapid montage of historical events from the ’60s and ’70s, it reflects the parallels between Black Army G.I.s and Vietnamese soldiers during the Vietnam War in addition to introducing the viewer to historical Black figures like Crispus Attucks and Milton L. Olive III .

Look out for an outstanding monologue by the late Chadwick Boseman. His character is a squad leader very much in favor of reparations: “We’ve been dying for this country from the very get. Hoping one day they’d give us our rightful place. All they give us was a foot up our Black asses. I say the USA owe us. We built this bitch!”

Judas and the Black Messiah (HBO Max, February 12, 2021): If you’ve seen the Netflix movie The Trial of the Chicago 7 , you might recall a poignant conversation in the film about the assassination of the chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party, Fred Hampton. The Trial of the Chicago 7 only briefly refers to it and instead tackles another chapter of American history with its own incarnations of racism .

Judas and the Black Messiah — produced by Black Panther writer and director Ryan Coogler and directed by Shaka King — is inspired by true events and tells the story of how the FBI planted an informant inside the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party to keep close tabs on Hampton. That surveillance would ultimately lead to Hampton’s assassination.

“We’re still fighting the same monsters, we’re still fighting the same system,” Coogler explained during a virtual conference back in August 2020, showing just how the film relates to today’s fight against racism and racist systems.

black history lessons ks3

One Night in Miami (Prime Video, January 8, 2021): Activist Malcolm X, singer-songwriter Sam Cooke, footballer Jim Brown and boxer Cassius Clay all gathered in a hotel room one night in 1964 after Clay took the boxing’s World Heavyweight Championship . The night was real, but this movie’s account of their conversations is fictional. Oscar-winner Regina King directs this story about what it means to be Black in America and the responsibilities successful Black men like the ones portrayed here have toward their community.

“Our people are literally dying on the streets everyday. Black people are dying. Everyday,” an impassioned Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir ) tells Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) emphasizing the need to be vocal about antiracism.

MLK/FBI (Hulu, January 15, 2021): This documentary is the perfect companion piece for all the fiction proposals on this list. It establishes the quasi-obsession FBI director J. Edgar Hoover had with the civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. Hoover — who saw himself as a sort of guardian of the American way of life — collected salacious and sexual material on King obtained via wiretap and bugs. The intent was to damage King’s reputation. But the documentary points out how, despite tracking King so closely, the FBI was unable to warn the Baptist minister about the threats on his life.

Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) (Hulu, July 2, 2021): Another nonfiction feature on the list, this title made our selection of the most impacting documentaries of 2021 . Directed by hip-hop artist Amir “Questlove” Thompson, Summer of Soul is part music film, part historical record. It transports the viewer to the summer of 1969 and the Harlem Cultural Festival, a six-week celebration of Black history, culture, music and fashion.

Hosted in Manhattan’s Marcus Garvey Park, the festival featured performances by Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Gladys Knight and B.B. King. “Much of the film focuses on sharing expertly restored footage of these concerts, but Questlove’s goal with  Summer of Soul  wasn’t just to ignite our imaginations with a visual energy boost,” writes Ask Media Group’s Managing Editor Hannah Riley in her 2021 documentaries compilation. “The director also aimed to uncover why this watershed event was (and still is) eclipsed by Woodstock; its deeper discussions of discrimination against Black artists give the film a level of nuance and immersion concert documentaries rarely achieve.”

Other Recent Titles That Spotlight Black History

Although they aren’t set in the ’60s, here are a few more recent proposals with which to learn about Black history.

The United States vs. Billie Holiday (Hulu, February 26, 2021): This biopic directed by Lee Daniels ( Precious ) is based on the real trial faced by singer Billie Holiday after she was arrested for possession of narcotics. Set in 1940s, the movie depicts the government’s racialization of the war on drugs and the power of Holiday’s protest theme against lynching “Strange Fruit”, which was one of her biggest hits.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (Netflix, December 18, 2020): Based on a theater play by August Wilson ( Fences ), Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is another fictional account with real characters. In this case it portrays a recording session on a hot summer afternoon in 1920s Chicago. Viola Davis plays the blues singer Ma Rainey , the legendary “Mother of Blues.” Chadwick Boseman, in his final film, plays an ambitious cornet player trying to make a name for himself in the music business. But even the successful Rainey struggles to keep control over her career.

black history lessons ks3

All In: The Fight for Democracy (Prime Video, September 18, 2020): Activist and politician Stacey Abrams, who ran as the Democratic nominee for governor of Georgia in 2018, is prominently featured in this documentary about voter suppression in the United States. Produced by Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy tackles gerrymandering, voter ID laws and the purging of voters’ registrations.

Small Axe (Prime Video, November 20, 2020): British filmmaker Steve McQueen directed a film about Black American history — 2013’s winner of three Oscars 12 Years a Slave — before turning the lens on his native London and the city’s West Indian community. With the five-episode anthology series Small Axe , McQueen, the son of Grenadian and Trinidadian immigrants, gets personal about the experience of being Black in London from the late 1960s to the early 1980s. He chooses particular turning points in British history like the trial of the Mangrove Nine as well as the struggles of Black police officer Leroy Logan . There’s also a love story ( Lovers Rock ) that will make you long to go to a party and dance to the rhythm of Janet Kay’s “ Silly Games .” The whole series allows the viewer to establish analogies between some of the realities faced by the Black community on both sides of the Atlantic.

The Underground Railroad (Prime Video, May, 2021): Academy Award-winner and filmmaker Barry Jenkins ( Moonlight ) turned his gaze toward television, serving as showrunner and director of this 10-episode limited series, which was one of our favorites in 2021 . Based on Colson Whitehead’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, the show tells the story of Cora (Thuso Mbedu) after she escapes a Georgia plantation in the antebellum South and discovers an actual railroad and a covert network of tunnels.

You can always count on Jenkins to narrate a story in the most cinematic and exquisite way possible, while also discovering new faces like Mbedu and Aaron Pierre.

And a Selection of Recent Black Biopics

Genius: Aretha (Hulu, March 22, 2021) and Respect (Video on Demand, August 13, 2021): The first one is a limited series starring the Oscar-nominated Cynthia Erivo ( Harriet ) in the role of the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin. The second one is a movie with the Oscar-winning Jennifer Hudson ( Dreamgirls ) as Franklin. Both stories tackle the musician’s fight to find her voice as a singer and become a best-selling artist. As you’ll see, she was gifted with a miraculous voice but had to learn to navigate the music business, garner respect as a singer and songwriter and fight to gain recognition as a producer on her own work.

King Richard (HBO Max, November 19, 2021): Will Smith is at his utmost Oscar-baity here. He plays Venus and Serena’s dad and formative coach, Richard Williams, a man laser-focused on taking his daughters to the highest levels of pro tennis. Director Reinaldo Marcus Green does a good job of establishing that back in the 1990s tennis wasn’t a sport that welcomed many Black players. The movie is especially satisfying not only because you know that Venus and Serena went on to become absolute stars and champions, but also because you see their first steps as activists and role models for girls all around the world.

Of course, movies and even documentaries are just a jumping-off point. Often enough, while watching some of these titles I found myself researching, learning more about the historical figures, and investigating what was real and what was fictionalized for dramatic purposes. Some of the stories gathered here are difficult to process because of the brutality and plain racism that they depict. They’re still necessary.

For more reading on the subject, check out our story on films that examine racism and discrimination in America and our article about movies that celebrate and center Black characters .

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Black History Month resources

UPDATED FOR BLACK HISTORY MONTH 2023

October marks Black History Month in the UK. To help you raise awareness and celebrate the achievements, history and contribution of black people with your students, we've hand-picked this selection of resources including lessons, worksheets, activities and assemblies focusing on key figures, movements and events in black history. From the Civil Rights Campaign, Windrush and Apartheid to significant figures such as Mary Seacole, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela, we have plenty of resources ready for you to download and use with your classes.

Activities and worksheets

A diverse collection of activities and worksheets to share with your students in lessons, form time or for morning work this October. From independent research tasks and comprehension worksheets to creative craft activities, there's plenty to choose from. 

Black History Month: Writing Activities

Black History Month: Writing Activities

Windrush Reading List

Windrush Reading List

Black History Month: Research Activities for Teens

Black History Month: Research Activities for Teens

Black History Month Quiz

Black History Month Quiz

Black British Firsts

Black British Firsts

Black History Month POP-UP Craftivity

Black History Month POP-UP Craftivity

Black History Month Activity Sheet

Black History Month Activity Sheet

Black History Month Female Firsts Chatterboxes

Black History Month Female Firsts Chatterboxes

Black History Month Word Search

Black History Month Word Search

Black Inventors Pelmanism Game (Black History Month)

Black Inventors Pelmanism Game (Black History Month)

Black History Month

Black History Month

Mary Seacole Comprehension

Mary Seacole Comprehension

Famous Black Scientists, Engineers & Inventors Crossword Puzzle

Famous Black Scientists, Engineers & Inventors Crossword Puzzle

UKS2 Rosa Parks Reading Comprehension Activity

UKS2 Rosa Parks Reading Comprehension Activity

Black History Month Quiz

Lessons and units of work

Whether you are looking for subject-inspired content or simply looking for something to share with your students we have black history lessons and units of work covering a range of topics and themes. 

Black History Month

The Race Issue in America

Black history month lesson

Black history month lesson

Hidden Figures Pretty Curious classroom resource

Hidden Figures Pretty Curious classroom resource

Civil Rights: The Jim Crow Era

Civil Rights: The Jim Crow Era

Black Tudors

Black Tudors

African nurses (in the NHS and earlier)

African nurses (in the NHS and earlier)

KS3 and KS4 English - 'Checking Out Me History' by John Agard

KS3 and KS4 English - 'Checking Out Me History' by John Agard

Black History Month

Black History Month UK

KS2 Lubaina Himid Art activities Black History Month

KS2 Lubaina Himid Art activities Black History Month

Empire Windrush: Early Black Presence

Empire Windrush: Early Black Presence

What was the significance of Rosa Parks in the Civil Rights Movement?

What was the significance of Rosa Parks in the Civil Rights Movement?

Assemblies and display resources.

Presentation and display resources to support you in celebrating Black History Month with your students and spark discussions in assembly or smaller group settings. From exploring what Black History Month is and how and why we celebrate it to breaking barriers and challenging stereotypes, there's something for everyone. 

Black History Month Classroom Door Display

Black History Month Classroom Door Display

Black History Month Assembly

Black History Month Assembly

Black History Month Assembly - October

Black History Month Assembly - October

Hidden Figures Breaking Barriers assembly

Hidden Figures Breaking Barriers assembly

Black History Month

Black History Month Classroom Decor Poster Set, African American History, History Classroom, Classro

Black History Month Listening Calendar

Black History Month Listening Calendar

Black History Month - Black Scientist Trail

Black History Month - Black Scientist Trail

The (incomplete) Lit in Colour book list 2022 Edition: KS3-5

The (incomplete) Lit in Colour book list 2022 Edition: KS3-5

Black experiences hub.

We've partnered with BBC, Into Film and The Black Curriculum to bring you a selection of resources on black British history, anti-racism and much more.

Penguin Lit in Colour

Resources and research from the Penguin and Runnymede Trust Lit in Colour campaign, which aims to support schools to make the teaching and learning of English literature more inclusive of writers of colour.

black history lessons ks3

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black history lessons ks3

Black History Month activities – Best 2023 resources for KS2 and KS3

Black History Month activities

Celebrate Black History Month in October with these lessons, assemblies, recommended movies and more…

Teachwire

Browse this list of recommended Black History Month activities to find the perfect way to cover this important event in your classroom this year…

  • When is Black History Month?

Black History Month takes place in October in the UK.

  • What is Black History Month?

In the UK, Black History Month is a national celebration that aims to promote and celebrate the contributions black people have made to society. It’s also an opportunity to promote an understanding of black history more widely.

  • Black History Month theme 2023

This year the focus of Black History Month activities is on celebrating the exceptional achievements of black women. This is encapsulated by the theme ‘Saluting our sisters’.

Black History Month activities and resources

How to avoid the ‘siloing’ effect of black history month, whose history should we teach, black history month activities – poetry competition.

Boy taking part in Black History Month activities

This poetry competition is open to all students from primary age onwards, with separate categories for different age groups.

Pupils need to submit a poem about a pioneering black woman who has made an impact in their chosen field – whether famous or not. The deadline is 15th November 2023.

Winners will be announced on World Poetry Day and the top 32 poems will be printed in a special publication.

Black History Month art lesson plan

black history lessons ks3

Use this KS2 art lesson to look at the life and work of Jean-Michel Basquiat, arguably the most influential Black artist of all time. Basquiat gained recognition as part of the New York graffito duo SAMO and went on to receive critical acclaim.

Children will enjoy accessing his art because it feels familiar – his drawing style is very childlike, and his work has a sense of freedom.

Black British History lesson plan

Black History Month activities ideas

It’s not always easy to find Black History Month activities that help children learn about black  British  history.

Patrice Lawrence’s novel  Diver’s Daughter  offers a valuable opportunity to help pupils discover more about the diversity of the people who lived in England during the Tudor times.

By exploring the experiences of characters whose stories are not always told, and contrasting them with their own rights and freedoms, this Black History Month KS2 lesson plan for schools enables children to develop empathy alongside their historical knowledge and understanding.

Inspirational people comprehension and writing activities packs

Marcus Rashford Black History Month activities

Teach LKS2 students about influential footballer, Marcus Rashford. This Black History Month activities pack from Plazoom covers introduces Marcus and explains how he’s using his influence to campaign for political change.

It contains text and comprehension questions, a PowerPoint, discussion cards and a writing task sheet. There are similar packs for KS1 ( Rosa Parks ) and UKS2 ( Barack Obama ).

Inspirational posters art activity

black history lessons ks3

This KS2 art idea involves children working together to produce inspirational portraits of significant people. The posters make an inspiring display when placed together.

Empire Windrush lesson plan

black history lessons ks3

During this KS2 Black history lesson , children will become aware of the discrimination that black people faced as they arrived in Britain on the Empire Windrush in 1948.

It also provides opportunities for pupils to explore important historical events, demonstrate empathy and discuss issues relating to current affairs involving discrimination.

Once you’ve explored what the Empire Windrush was and the reaction passengers received when they arrived, complete the lesson by writing a diary entry.

The lesson plan and all accompanying resources are included in this download.

Books for topics – Look Up!

black history lessons ks3

Join science-mad chatterbox Rocket and learn about Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman in space, with this KS1/2 Black history book topic .

Every child has a dream – they want to be ballet dancers, football players, vets, pop stars. Rocket, star of  Look Up!  by Nathan Bryon and Dapo Adeola, wants to be an astronaut more than anything in the world (and the solar system).

This story follows the aspirations of a very passionate and tenacious little girl who is desperate to follow in the footsteps of Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman in space.

This title won Waterstones Children’s Book Of The Year and will entertain and enthuse young readers with its thoughtful, bold, bright illustrations and charming protagonist.

Floella Benjamin drama lesson

black history lessons ks3

When planning your Black History Month activities, there are many people whose struggles, achievements and inspirational stories could be shared with our children.

Floella Benjamin is certainly inspirational, but has the added advantage of having recorded her experiences in a beautifully written and accessible book,  Coming to England .

This KS2 Black history drama lesson plan uses drama to explore some of Floella’s experiences, while giving the children the opportunity to discuss and express their views on discrimination, inequality and injustice.

Schools resource pack

Black History Month activities pack

This Black History Month schools resource pack 2023 costs £54.50 and contains:

  • Black History Month posters
  • Assembly notes
  • Lesson plans
  • Supporter logos, artwork and more

The importance of Black History Month assembly

black history lessons ks3

This Black History assembly from TrueTube is designed to celebrate (and discuss) the event. You can download the assembly plan which includes links to include related videos.

Black History Month magazine

Black History Month magazine covers

The 2023 edition of Black History Month Magazine will features a wide range of writers, from sportspeople and entertainers to educators and businesspeople, all talking about how to elevate black people and be an ally. 

Find out how you can get this year’s edition and read older editions .

Empire Windrush education resources

black history lessons ks3

These two massive Empire Windrush education resources , published by Windrush Foundation, include more than 200 pages of information, activities, photographs and data for students, teachers, parents, guardians and anyone keen to know some of the interesting post-war stories of Caribbean people in the UK.

Into Film recommended movies

black history lessons ks3

As per usual, Into Film has you covered with topic-related films and accompanying teaching resources.

This list ranges from films like  The Princess and the Frog  for young students to the seminal  To Kill a Mockingbird  and the harrowing  12 Years a Slave .

Many come with film guides for teachers or related resources to help teach children in your classroom.

Influential Black Britons illustrated book

black history lessons ks3

This resource from UK Parliament contains stories of influential black Britons who have impacted UK laws and equal rights . Use it to embed stories of important black Britons across your KS1 and KS2 curriculum.

Black history timeline of resources

black history lessons ks3

At  Black History 4 Schools  you’ll find a whole list of links to useful resources all separated into historic sections:

  • Black presence in Tudor times
  • Transatlantic Slave Trade and Abolition of slavery
  • Black presence in the 18th, 19th and 20th century

Black British history lessons with Professor David Olusoga

With only 8% of people reporting ever learning about the colonisation of Africa in schools, resource website iChild has partnered with Professor David Olusoga and his sister Dr Yinka Olusoga to create resources focuses on black history as an integral part of British history, not an add-on.

It’s part of the Captivating Classrooms collection, which features more than 250 digital resource units. The resources include editable PowerPoints, teacher notes, worksheets, keyword flashcards, posters and certificates. Find out more about subscribing.

Read more about David Olusoga’s schooldays and the racism he endured.

Black history in the army

black history lessons ks3

The National Army Museum has created source packs and teacher notes with suggested activities) to highlight black history and support an inclusive curriculum. Students will learn about:

  • The origins of African and Caribbean soldiers in the Army
  • Conflict and resistance within the British Empire in Africa 
  • The contributions of black men and women to Britain’s efforts in the First and Second World Wars

black history lessons ks3

I want to be honest and open with all who read this. I spent years getting diversity and inclusion wrong.

As a teacher and curriculum leader, I was certain that because I featured the lives of Black people, women and other under-represented groups in my curriculum via dedicated lessons, assemblies, tutor time posts or even homework, I was getting it right.

However, I now know that I was being naïve. I’d fallen into the same narrative traps that have ensnared many others. I write these words having since educated myself, researched widely and spoken to a number of Black educators, including Emily Foloronshu ( @MissFolorunsho ) and Thandi Banda ( @STEMyBanda ), who were gracious enough to assist with the writing of this article.

Deeper thinking

Black History Month (BHM) is a well-intentioned celebration of the invaluable contribution made by Black peoples from the African Diaspora to British society. To be clear, I’m not going to argue here that we should scrap BHM. Indeed, it must be made an integral part of the school year.

I am, however, keen to explore the need for us to think more deeply about the time we allocate in the history curriculum to studying the contributions and developments made by Black people.

With big, one-off events such as BHM in place, do we risk treating the contribution of Black people as merely an add-on, for one month only?

Are BHM and other similar events just tokenistic attempts at inclusivity? Should we instead be looking to seamlessly connect the perspectives of broader, more inclusive groups, in order to arrive at a more thorough understanding of life in the past?

“Do we risk treating the contribution of Black people as merely an add-on, for one month only?”

Where we are

In recent years, some schools have adopted a more diverse and inclusive curriculum in which they connect the contributions and developments of Black people to the perspectives and contributions of non-Black people. But, at least in my experience, this is far from the norm.

In primary schools, Black History Month will typically involve a themed assembly and a month of topic-related activities. These may celebrate the contributions of individuals like Martin Luther King or Jesse Owens.

This is a start, but does it really show that we value the contributions made by Black people to the country and world we live in today? To what extent does such activity meaningfully help students understand cultural diversity?

In secondary schools, BHM tends be delivered through assemblies, workshops and PSHE lessons. But again, it’s activity that’s limited to one month. It’s often not linked to any other current learning, resulting in its purpose being lost amongst students.

Surely we can do better than this?

The power of history teachers

We history teachers have a superpower – a knowledge of the past that enables us to shape the minds and perspectives of all the children who pass through our classrooms.

I often think about the hundreds of students who have left school knowing that ‘Hitler invaded Poland in 1939’ or that ‘William the conqueror used castles as a form of social control’ because I told them so.

We create a legacy of knowledge in our classrooms. The perspectives and viewpoints we consider in our lessons will live on in the minds of the next generation, and possibly the generation after that.

So it follows that we have an enormous responsibility to ensure that what we teach is as well thought out, representative and accurate as it can be.

So, with that in mind, how many of our students could name a Black inventor? How many could name a Black man or women who has led social change in the UK? Very few, would be my guess.

And yet, history is full of Black people who contributed to the development of the world we currently live in. Yes, Martin Luther King was a globally important figure within the Civil Rights Movement. But don’t children in the UK deserve to also learn about more relatable individuals who have contributed in some way to the development of the country they know today?

This issue extends beyond the history curriculum. Every subject area, across all Key Stages, can do more to value and celebrate the contributions of Black people. If we don’t, we perpetuate the narrative that non-Black individuals almost exclusively shape and tell history.

Rethinking curriculum design

While there has been some progress in ensuring history curriculums reflect wider perspectives, we must do more. Consider how most schools will examine women’s fight for universal suffrage in one unit, and then the experiences and struggles of Black people during the height of the slave trade in another. I would argue that by isolating such topics, we present the groups concerned in a very particular way.

Instead, let’s look at how we can design our curriculums so they reflect the perspectives of said groups within all topics. In place of standalone lessons, let’s encourage a more organic reflection of different groups at each curriculum stage. At the same time, we shouldn’t give our students the impression that Black people ‘began’ as slaves. Instead, we should look more widely at African kingdoms, and the roots of humanity in Africa.

The amazing work of Katie Amery and Teni Gogo in this area is worthy of high praise. Earlier this year they authored a textbook for Oxford University Press, titled  KS3 History Depth Study :  African Kingdoms – West Africa Student Book , which reshapes the curriculum work schools have previously done on African heritage.

It prioritises the responsibility we have as teachers to maintain a legacy of knowledge that challenges racism and preconceived stereotypes around Black people.

The standalone problem

Looking back, I now shudder to think of those lessons, homework assignments and other tasks I planned and delivered to ensure I’d essentially ‘ticked the inclusion’ box. Because whatever it was, it certainly wasn’t an inclusive curriculum.

The fact that we were having to even consider how to ‘add’ the perspectives of different groups into our topics illustrates just how naïve we’ve been in this area.

We should carefully weave and sequence such perspectives throughout curriculum content. As history teachers, we should considering more widely those sources and interpretations that might help to broaden the knowledge base.

“Looking back, I now shudder to think of those lessons, homework assignments and other tasks I planned and delivered”

For example, you can easily use diary entities and letters from Black soldiers serving in WWI regarding their experiences of the trenches alongside sources from white soldiers.

Alternatively, when covering the recruitment of soldiers in WWI, we could cast our topic net more widely by directly comparing recruitment drives on the home front with those pursued across the wider Commonwealth.

Pertinent and explicit

When I started researching this topic, I was shocked to find that some schools don’t celebrate BHM at all, but celebrate it we must.

In Emily Foloronshu’s view, BHM can be made both pertinent and explicit by going beyond just the US Civil Rights Movement. It’s about thinking more deeply about how the event links to Black people’s lives in the UK.

Above all, collaborate and connect with other educators and academics. Because there’s so much good work being done nationwide to ensure we all reflect on our responsibilities, as history teachers, to devise an inclusive curriculum that accurately and consistently reflects the perspectives of different communities.

Lindsay Galbraith is assistant vice principal – teaching, learning and curriculum at a school in Telford; follow her at  @MsGHist

What to do next

  • Spark debate among your teams. Is your curriculum inclusive, in terms of there being seamless connections between the experiences of wider communities and your current perspectives?
  • Reflect on whether your curriculum feeds into stereotypical ideas about Black people. Are you only teaching the history of Black people from the slave trade and beyond?
  • Read widely. A great place to start would be Emily Folorunsho’s chapter in the recently published  What is History Teaching, Now?  handbook edited by Alex Fairlamb and Rachel Ball (£18, John Catt)
  • Recruit a team of teachers and students to help you with your planning for Black History Month
  • Consider cross-curricular links beyond the history curriculum and spark debate across your school

black history lessons ks3

Events over the last few years have highlighted the need for school history lessons to adopt a much wider, more global perspective, says history teacher Gemma Hargraves…

As monuments fell across the world in 2020, some of us felt compelled to ask – are our young people seeing themselves and their cultures reflected in the history curriculum? And does it matter?

The answer to the first question remains unclear. Many schools have made great strides in recent years to make their history curricula more diverse and representative. As for the second question, the answer is an emphatic ‘yes’. It matters.

Not just symbolically, but because the inclusion of world history, and the histories of groups previously overlooked in the curriculum, will make our subject richer. It will enable us to tell a fuller story, in bright technicolour.

This discussion isn’t about tokenism. Rather, it’s about how to make a rigorous and just curriculum fit for purpose in our globalised world.

I don’t intend to suggest any distinct routes to curriculum reform here. But I do believe that it’s worth exploring further the issues around whose history is being taught and how.

Regimes and racism

From the killing of George Floyd to the storming of the Capitol building, international events over the last few years have prompted us to think again about the content of the lessons we teach.

One can’t ignore the work of the National Trust’s fantastic Colonial Countryside project , the beginnings of Joe Biden’s presidency and the wonderful poem from Amanda Gorman that she read at the inauguration: “Somehow we’ve weathered and witnessed a nation that isn’t broken, but simply unfinished.”

As Sarah Maza argues in  Thinking About History , history changes all the time because it’s driven by the concerns of the present. She observes that history can be described as “What the present needs to know about the past”. And in this particular present, we’ve seen efforts at toppling monuments worldwide.

Statues topped

Protestors damaged statues of Christopher Columbus in Boston, Minnesota and Virginia. A statue of Andrew Jackson located near the White House survived an attempt by protestors to pull it down in June 2020.

Jackson served as the seventh US president from 1829 to 1837, owned slaves and enacted policies that forced Native Americans from their land, resulting in 15,000 deaths.

Closer to home, authorities removed statues of Leopold II of Belgium from locations near Brussels and a public square in Antwerp.

Almost 85,000 people signed a petition calling for the removal of all statues of Leopold from Belgium, as the country continues to grapple with its colonial past.

Leopold’s forces seized Congo in the late 19th century and ran an exploitative regime that led to the deaths of as many as 10 million Africans.

For decades, teachers have barely taught colonial history in Belgium. You can still find the famous (and racist) cartoon book  Tintin in the Congo  in many Belgian classrooms.

In June 2020, however, Belgium’s education minister announced that the country’s secondary schools would teach colonial history from 2021.

Colonial past

Britain was forced to confront its own colonial past when protesters forcibly removed a statue of the slave trader Edward Colston and threw it into Bristol Harbour. Colston transported at least 80,000 people from West Africa to the Caribbean, almost 20,000 of whom died on the voyages.

The statue was eventually retrieved, though not restored to its former location. Since then, debate has continued to rage around those schools and streets that bear his name.

Two days after Colston’s literal downfall, local authorities removed a statue of Robert Milligan outside of the Museum of London Docklands. He too was a slave trader. By the time of his death in 1809, he owned two sugar plantations and 526 slaves in Jamaica.

In January 2021 we saw the government’s response to these protests. Communities minister Robert Jenrick announced plans to change the law in to protect historic monuments and ensure “We don’t repeat the errors of previous generations.”

Representative history

Are we, as Chris Husbands argues in What is History Teaching? , as concerned with concepts of humanity and inhumanity as we are with evidence and change? For that may fundamentally alter the nature and purpose of history in schools, regardless of whose it is.

An understanding of the current discussion around statues may appeal to those drawn more to the humanity and inhumanity part of that equation. Or it might appeal to those drawn more to evidence and change. However, the concept of the former doesn’t fit as neatly into exam board specifications as the latter.

More recently, monuments erected to Churchill and Nelson have come in for especially heavy criticism. But there’s one thing I’d take from both men before their statues are potentially destroyed, moved, contextualised or forgotten.

220 years ago, Nelson stated that “The boldest measures are the safest,” with Churchill later using the same phrase himself. Perhaps sound and timely advice with respect to our history curriculum planning. If the question we’re asking is ‘ Whose history? ’, well – we must be bold.

We must acknowledge, for instance, that Black British history is all our history. Our present day UK is one shaped by immigration, even prior to the  Empire Windrush . More than one in five British people have a disability. We have evidence of homosexuality as far back as Roman times.

“If the question we’re asking is ‘ Whose history? ’, well – we must be bold”

We need to realise that diverse history is representative history. We must be global, not parochial; ambitious, not conservative. Curious, not close-minded.

Warts and all

Our globalised experiences show just how interconnected the people of the world now are. Though our historical knowledge should remind us that this isn’t new.

Global histories may now have the potential to edge out national narratives. With limited teaching time available in schools, we must make choices.

One can’t claim to teach the history of every possible group in school; to attempt to do so would be superficial, misleading and lead to an incoherent history curriculum.

“One can’t claim to teach the history of every possible group in school”

Still, as Husbands argues, pupils’ ideas of the past are linked to ideas they already have regarding human motivation. This works alongside various ideas and experiences that they’re exposed to beyond the school gates. Local history has its place too.

We can perhaps take inspiration from books like  The House by the Lake  (Thomas Harding) or  House of Glass  (Hadley Freeman), and broaden our timeframes to more of a breadth study, albeit while shining a spotlight on certain individuals, stories and evidence.

Or we could add some of Miranda Kaufmann’s  Black Tudors  to the established Tudors unit – a ‘slot-in’, as some schools are currently doing to rapidly diversify their existing units. But we must then build to do more, and do better.

Complex past

One may well agree with Jenrick when he said “It is our privilege in this country to have inherited a deep, rich, fascinating and, yes, often complex past. We are mature enough as a society to understand that, and to seek to pass it on – warts and all. To do otherwise would leave our history and future diminished.”

Indeed, it’s the duty of history teachers to teach that history, warts and all. To borrow a further line from Amanda Gorman – which could relate to the UK as much as the USA – “It’s the past we step into and how we repair it.”

“It’s the duty of history teachers to teach that history, warts and all”

All that’s left is to continue carefully pondering whose history it is that we’re teaching, and after Brexit and COVID-19, whether that history can help us heal.

Further reading

  • Natives  – Akala
  • Queer City  – Peter Ackroyd
  • The Hill We Climb  – Amanda Gorman
  • Brit(ish)  – Afua Hirsch
  • What is History Teaching?  – Chris Husbands
  • Thinking About History  – Sarah Maza
  • Silencing the Past  – Michel-Rolph Trouillot

black history lessons ks3

Download this audit tool to identify gaps and areas for development in your own history curriculum.

Gemma Hargraves is a history teacher, A Level examiner and secondary committee member of The Historical Association.

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Black British History KS3 Teacher Resource Pack

Shine a light on the importance of Black British history. Help all your KS3 students understand how the past informs the realities of modern Britain - both the successes and continued struggles that exist in race relations.

black history lessons ks3

Fully editable, downloadable and photocopiable so you can teach flexibly and share across the department.

Teaching slides, student worksheets, lesson plans, a detailed narrative and audio and video resources bring history to life.

Embed into an existing KS3 history scheme of work with the flexible and self-sufficient structure and links to the national curriculum.

Black History is British History: How to decolonise your curriculum

How can you integrate Black British History into your existing KS3 History curriculum? Catch up on this free webinar with Simon Henderson, Teni Oladehin and Emily Folorunsho to find out!

black history lessons ks3

Download the course guide

Learn more about this teacher pack and accompanying digital resources.

'The materials engage in Black history in an authentic and powerful way. The videos provide a fantastic point of reference and engagement that will be a learning stimulus for learners and teachers alike. I would heartily recommend this resource for schools.'

Dr Jason Arday, Associate Professor in Sociology, Durham University and Trustee of the Runnymede Trust

Download a sample lesson

Try with your class

Listen to the authors on Teacher Talk Radio

Dr Simon Henderson speaks to Emily Folorunsho on Teacher Talk Radio about the pack and how it can be used in schools

Author Q&A: Black History is British History

Dr Simon Henderson and Teni Oladehin explore why it's crucial that all students learn about Black British history

Meet the authors

Find out more about the amazing team we worked with on this new resource pack

'This set of resources traces and explores the Black presence in Britain from the ancient world to today. The quality and extent of source material is impressive and so useful for classwork. The supporting materials are thoughtful and well researched. The lessons are clear and ready to use. From conversations I have had with teachers across this country, people increasingly want to teach Black British history, and the resources are a great place to start.'

Hannah Cusworth, Teacher and History Education Consultant

Black History Month – lesson plans for secondary schools and colleges

We’ve designed these lesson plans to give you some guidance on having an lgbt-inclusive black history month. choose the activities that best suit the needs and abilities of your class as well as the time you have available..

Each lesson has its own PowerPoint to assist with whole class teaching. Any other suggested resources are be noted in each lesson plan.

We have also developed lesson plans on this theme for students with SEND/ASN .

Click the links to download the resources.

Lesson packs:

Black History Month Lesson Packs KS3 and KS4 S1 to S6

Black History Month Lesson Pack Post 16

PowerPoints:

Black History Month PowerPoint - Key Stage 3 or S1 to S3

Black History Month PowerPoint - Key Stage 4 or S4 to S6

Black History Month - Post-16

black history lessons ks3

Heads Together Mentally Healthy Schools

Celebrating Black History Month: classroom activity

This lesson, created for Black History Month, looks at themes of kindness and resilience by teaching students about Black British humanitarians.

This resource belongs to the resource hub for classroom and wellbeing support .

British Red Cross

  • Format Classroom activities • Lesson plans

A set of activities which will teach students about the contributions of Black British humanitarians to our society, and get them thinking about unconscious bias and celebrating Black history.

Through this lesson, students will:

  • discover the work of Black humanitarians on British society
  • reflect on assumptions about people and challenge stereotypes
  • think about the resilience and kindness of people
  • celebrate people's stories and achievements and reflect on the qualities of a humanitarian

Using this resource

This resource is designed for:

  • use by young people aged 11 to 18
  • use with whole classes or small groups

Curriculum links

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Black history and diversity

Recognising diverse histories.

A collection of activities and worksheets designed to help your students recognise the value of diverse histories. It includes ideas to raise awareness and celebrate the achievements, history and contribution of black people. 

Resources cover key figures, movements and events, as well as timelines, black British history summaries and student fact files. From the Civil Rights Movement, Martin Luther King and the Little Rock Nine to the black presence in Britain through time, there is plenty here to integrate into your curriculum.

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Black History Month resources

Added 30 Sep 2023 | Updated 25 Oct 23

Black History image gallery.PNG

What is Black History Month?

In the UK, Black History Month falls in October each year, and is a great time to learn about and celebrate Black history and heritage. However, Black history can, and should, be recognised and celebrated all year round.

Black History Month free teaching resources

This year for Black History Month we’re celebrating Black literary history and shining the spotlight on some of our favourite Black authors, illustrators and iconic characters from children’s books. The resources have been developed to honour and uplift familiar and inspirational Black authors and illustrators, and are classroom activities that can be delivered anytime in the year.

All resources are free to download on this page.

Activities for pupils aged 5-7 years (KS1): Iconic Black characters and response ideas

  • This classroom activity provides the opportunity for pupils to learn about a selection of iconic Black characters within some of our favourite children’s books. Through character response activities, pupils will increase their familiarity with a wide range of books, take part in discussions about what they have read and hone their inferencing skills.

Activities for pupils aged 7-11 years (KS2): 'Did you know?’ Research Project

  • In this classroom activity pupils embark on a group research project, to explore inspirational Black authors or illustrators and their contributions towards the world of children’s literature. Pupils are then invited to present their research, in a creative way, to the rest of the class. Pupils will hone their skills of reading and retrieving information from non-fiction, whilst focusing on key speaking and listening skills.

Activities for pupils aged 11-14 years (KS3): 'Did you know?’ Research Project

  • In this classroom activity pupils embark on a group research project, following a research brief to discover inspirational Black authors or illustrators and their contributions towards the world of children’s literature. Through the opportunity to share their findings with their peers, pupils will hone their writing skills , focusing particularly on summarising and organising their ideas in a way that inspires their audience.

Additional links

Explore our Black History Month activities for families on Words for Life .

Explore our Literacy Teaching Calendar for literacy teaching resources to help enrich your lessons as you mark significant dates throughout the academic year.

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