I’m embarrassed to admit that my knowledge of Black history is filled with holes. No, make that craters – enormous, gaping craters. We must have learned about slavery in middle school, because I remember watching parts of Roots in social studies class. I think that was about the time I finally realized that Martin Luther King Jr. was not, in fact, a king – which resolved my confusion about why the “king” part always came at the end of his name instead of the beginning. And until a year ago, I had no idea who Emmitt Till was, beyond a blase reference in a Kanye West song.
Maybe this is a function of growing up in Vermont, which is one of the whitest states in the country (second only to Maine).Maybe it was a function of the times. I was growing up in the 1980s, just 20 years or so after the Civil Rights movement. Martin Luther King Day didn’t become a national holiday until I was in third grade and, even then, not all states recognized it as a holiday. The recognition of African-Americans’ role in United States history was still in its infancy. Our history books, written by old white men, were (and still are) mostly about old white men. When I got to college and took the required American history course, we studied colonial America with few – if any – nods to Black historical figures.
I’ll go out on a sturdy limb and guess I’m not alone in my experience. That is one (of many) reasons that Black History Month is so important. I want to be sure that my children grow up more informed. I’d like to think that schools are including more black history in their curricula, but it would be naive to assume this. (Although Zip’s first grade teacher already explained that MLK is not an actual king, which is a step in the right direction.)I am taking it upon myself to make sure my boys grow up with a solid grasp of their history, and in the process I’ll get to learn alongside them. Children’s books seem the perfect place for us to start, so I started pulling together a collection to guide us.
I looked for children’s books (preK – grade 5) that discuss important events in Black history, but also books that highlight important African-American figures, from those who played a role in the Civil Rights movement to athletes, artists, doctors, and pilots who happen to be Black (which I realized also means that most of their stories involve breaking a color barrier of some kind or other!). And because I love an engaging story and so do my boys, our list includes a lot of history-based fiction (is that a term?) alongside biographies and other non-fiction.
The books below are Amazon affiliate links, which means that if you choose to purchase any of them through the links provided, you’ll be supporting Musing Momma. *virtual hug*