Social Sundays: The Harlem Renaissance for Black History Month


It’s February -  Black History Month.  In secondary I find that I rarely pay too much attention to these “themed” months.  The curriculum is what it is.  This year, though, we hit the 1920s almost perfectly (although a little early)  to overlap with Black History month which provides the perfect opportunity to investigate the Harlem Renaissance. 

The Harlem Renaissance is a period often sped through.  My own recollection of US history was that there was the First World  War, the Great Depression (which was presented as a footnote) and World War II.  The Roaring Twenties and in particular, the Harlem Renaissance, was more of an entry on a timeline than a specific unit.    But as I am reminded over and over, we can only best understand today and where we are when we reflect on our history.


I thought I’d share a snapshot of some of our activities around the Harlem Renaissance as part of our Roaring Twenties unit.
·      I shared several videos, some of which were available in class, and some of which students could opt to watch outside of class.  Favorites from my students included the Crash Course video on Langston Hughes and the Harlem RenaissanceTheir Eyes Were Watching God  (also from Crash Course) which looked at the important novel from Zora Neale Hurston, a key figure of the Harlem Renaissance, and The Harlem Renaissance: a Cultural Journey.
·      We read a few Langston Hughes poems including Let America Be America and created poems in the style about modern times.  This provided a great voice for my students who are unnerved by the message of hate that is emitting around them.

·      We listened to some of the great music from the period: Duke Ellington, Ma Rainey, and Louis Armstrong to name a few. 
·      We examined the intersection of African folk art and a modern picture of the African-American.  There were interesting discussions about the blend between a rising ethnic voice and an attempt to be heard in mainstream media.  One student discovered this complaint about African-American art being removed less than a day after it was hung in a school district office, which led to an entire discussion of censorship, the power of pictures, and more.  As you might guess, my students had strong opinions about this. 
·      I tried out digital interactive notebooks with this class for this unit.  In my student-centered classroom, students completed them at their own pace and were encouraged to add their own additions as they dug deep in their investigation of the message(s) of the Harlem Renaissance for its time and for modern times.
·      We culminated our study with a doodle.  These are still in progress (sorry no pictures.)  Students created Google style doodles (not the same as doodle notes) about the art, music and literature of the period.  (Grab this activity (digital and pen-and-paper versions included) free here).

Last year during Black History Month, I focused on the Civil Rights Movement and I plan to weave those topics into the coming month, as we have already been discussing many times over the few weeks.  Check back here for the next Social Sundays in which I will share some top resources for your classroom during Black History Month.

And remember, you can grab the Harlem Renaissance doodle activity for free.


Have additional ideas for the Harlem Renaissance?  Let me know in the comments below.


Social Sundays is a bi-weekly post sharing tips, ideas, resources, and products for teaching social studies.  If you have questions or think there is something I should share, you can leave me a message in the comments below or at the store in the question and answer section.  

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