“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
The posterboard hung in my classroom my first year teaching with the quote in black block print against a white background. I first received this poster bearing the Dr. King quote when I participated in a march in NYC promoting peace. I was in 8th grade.
I had taken the train into the city with friends and we gathered with others on the steps of the New York Public Library, the Beaux-Arts branch in Manhattan. Someone had made these posters and distributed them amongst all of us who had gathered. Later, the poster hung on my wall through high school, and then traveled south to St. Mary’s College of Maryland and hung on my dorm room wall for four years before transitioning to my classroom.
I knew I liked the quote. As an English major and then a language arts teacher, I had always had a strong affinity for quotes, jotting them in notebooks or creating doodles in my sketchbooks centered around words that had a special meaning for me. The Dr. King quote was definitely one of my favorites and it had certainly accompanied me through most of my adult life. It had special meaning during the days towards the conclusion of January all the way through February because of Dr. King’s birthday and the specific Black heritage lessons we taught all through the following month.
In fact, I often saw this quote touted out by fellow teachers around this time of the year, posted on facebook statuses or scrawled across bulletin boards. But I’m not sure I ever fully understood the context of the quote, the life that Dr. King lived, or how he was killed by a white American and how so many white Americans (including Ronald Reagan) were critical of his cause, even after his murder. In fact, the quotes were so often used that they ceased to have any authenticity.
A Conscious Effort
So, this year I am making a conscious effort to move beyond the Dr. King quotes posted during Black History Month into analyzing the way I am living my life in the day-to-day. I’m also working to avoid posting Dr. King quotes without doing the work to stand behind them.
In an effort to make one tiny change in the right direction, I’ve compiled a reference listing free resources for teaching lessons about specific artists of color. It is my hope that you are able to pull from these resources not just in the coming month, but throughout the entire year ahead. Some of the resources listed below are full lesson plans, some are articles or exhibitions that are free to access online, but all can be implemented in an arts integration classroom. I also invite you to add to this list in the comments section. This resource barely scratches the surface.
African American Architects Lesson (featuring Vertner Woodson Tandy, Robert Taylor, and Paul Williams)
This lesson combines visual art and math. Students look at the works of three Black American architects and measures the size and area of various construction blueprints.
The Quilting Tradition (featuring Harriet Powers and Faith Ringgold)
This is one of many articles available looking at the work of African American quilters! This article covers both historical and contemporary quilters and they ways African American quilting patterns are different than European quilting patterns. Including a video and audio recording, this resource would be great for writing a lesson connecting storytelling and visual art.
This resource discusses the Black Power Art Movement and the Black Aesthetic of the 1960s. It would be a great jumping point for a high school level discussion or Socratic seminar.
Gordon Parks passed away in 2006 however his website lives on and includes a biography, gallery, and video. Parks was an instrumental photojournalist for Life magazine in the 40s through the 70’s and his work would be great for artful thinking activities (specifically the Headlines and Beginning, Middle, End Routines) or points of historical context.
Heroes in Art (featuring Frederick Douglas)
This arts integration lesson offered through the Art Institute of Chicago connects sculpture and Frederick Douglass. It includes a reading analysis of one of Douglass’ speeches and a great follow-up idea for a project.
Scaling Up Art (featuring Richmond Barthe)
This lesson combines proportions and averages with sculpture analysis!
A New York Times article talks about the work of a contemporary visual artist working on her exhibition “Faces and Phases” as a response to homophobic hate crimes in South Africa. An advanced article that covers intense but important social justice topics that would be great for high schoolers to discuss.
The Dance of Anansi (featuring Garth Fagan)
This lesson by us addresses dance and ELA standards and assesses through student response. Get up and moving on those indoor recess days!
ArtsEdge by the Kennedy Center has a collection of wonderful lessons and this one is no exception. It examines cinquain poems (looking at you 8th grade ELA teachers!), melodies, and movement.
This is Misty Copeland’s artist website. Copeland is the first Black American woman to be promoted to principal while dancing for the American Ballet Theater! Her story is inspiring and her work is beautiful.
Exploring This Is America (featuring Childish Gambino)
If you didn’t watch This Is America and immediately think “I need to go write a lesson about this amazing work of art!” then we are very different people. The Institute for Humane Education beat me to it and came up with a compilation of analytics and some valuable discussion questions. Note: this song does contain some intense lyrics and graphics so I only suggest using it if your students are older and everyone is on board with discussing mature content in relationship to current, far-reaching and very relevant issues.
Walk through history with the Victoria and Albert museum as they recount famous dancers like Josephine Baker, Buddy Bradley, and Florence Mills.
Slammin’ Poetry (featuring Gayle Danley)
In our Gayle Danley lesson, high school students learn about voice and rhythm through slam poetry readings. Engage students through the creation of original works while potentially introducing them to a new genre of performance art.
Watching Oprah (featuring Oprah Winfrey)
Ask students to read through this article from the National Museum of African American History and Culture and watch the clips showcasing the one and only Oprah Winfrey as they explore the impact her wildly successful show had on society’s views!
This lesson from Teacher Vision has students getting into character while imagining they were living during the Harlem Renaissance.
An extensive list of poems (and articles) that would be great to use for practicing theater techniques, not just during Black History Month but all year long. Pull from these as sources when practicing characterization, voice, and gesture.
In this lesson, specifically for middle schoolers by the Art Institute of Chicago, students work on developing oral presentation skills while learning more about the Harlem Renaissance.
Finding Your Voice: Its An Inside Job (featuring Charles Holt)
In this TEDxNashville talk, Charles Holt, a Broadway actor, talks about the process of finding his voice in the industry.
Wakanda Forever! This Donors Choose article specified 4 things teachers should know about using Black Panther in the Classroom and offers several example lesson integration points!
Jay Z’s Fife and Drum (featuring Jay Z)
This lesson can be used with any age group and combines Jay Z’s song Empire State of mind with Drum Corps techniques while teaching students about the Civil War.
The Blues and Langston Hughes (featuring Langston Hughes)
The Smithsonian offers this lesson four ways, simply choose your grade level off the menu and have fun teaching students about the structure of the Blues stanza, both in music and in the poems of Langston Hughes!
In this lesson students will be listening to audio recordings and identifying different types of music and more specifically, the musical elements of jazz. This lesson also includes dancing and visual art so it’s great for all types of learners.
Students learn about the songs of slavery through this lesson which analyzes a poem called The Drinking gourd. Teach about aural tradition and how songs and stories were passed down through generations.
In this lesson by Teacher Vision, students are working to explore rhythmic connections. Students will derive a mathematical relationship that will allow them to calculate the actual number of possible musical permutations given the limited set of options to choose from
Make sure you have flash player downloaded on your computer before trying out this resource from the Smithsonian Folkways programming.
Did you know NPR compiled a timeline of the history of Hip Hop? Each point on the timeline includes photographs as well as audio recordings and it makes for a great interactive activity or research point for a larger project!
While there is lots of information available about the African American role in jazz and hip hop, its less common to hear about the Black folks who were “instrumental” (sorry) in the development of rock. Teach Rock certainly does a great job at highlighting the Black Americans who helped to establish the “Rock and Roll” era of music!
Inclusive Book Lists
I love nearly everything produced by Conscious Kid and this book list is just one of their many valuable resources. If time allows, pop around their site and check out their other book lists. This one is focused on Black boys in America and is a great point of entry for teachers looking to include an underrepresented population in their classroom libraries to help promote equity and inclusivity!
Laura Wixon graduated from St. Mary’s College of Maryland in 2012 with Bachelors in Art Studio and Art History and English Language. In 2013 she stayed at SMCM and completed the Masters in Teaching Program with endorsements in elementary education, special education, art education k-12, and secondary English education (6-12). She taught as a Language Arts teacher for two years at Bates Middle School before moving into their Arts Integration Specialist position, which she has held the past two years.