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African American History

African American history comprises many of the seminal events in U.S. history.

Martin Luther King, Jr. is one of the more prominent figures in African American history. [©Jupiter Images, 2009]
©Jupiter Images, 2009
Martin Luther King, Jr. is one of the more prominent figures in African American history.

African American History

There are many excellent resources available for those who wish to study African American history so many, in fact, that seekers should narrow the scope of their search or risk being overwhelmed. For teachers who need educational tools or people who are just interested in learning more, there are books, documentaries and online modules that provide an overview of the subject.

Scholars of African American history can find databases of academic research and primary documents. Then, there are resources that cover different periods including slavery, Jim Crow and civil rights and those that collect biographical materials on prominent figures in African American history.

Resources for K-12 Educators

Educators putting together lesson plans should be sure to check out the Smithsonian Center for Education and Museum Studies. This site suggests books and videos on topics including African American inventors and the Harlem Renaissance, and has reading lists devised for students ages three to 10, and 10 and up.

The Smithsonian also maintains a Web site for the National Museum of African American History and Culture, which has lesson plans and worksheets in PDF format. Some of the lessons are devised to get kids thinking about ways to preserve and record their heritage; others focus on the achievements of African American historical figures. AfricanAmericanHistoryMonth.gov, a site maintained by the Library of Congress, the National Endowment for the Humanities and other Federal organizations has a treasure trove of links to lesson plans, pictures and primary documents.

Teachers can find lessons that incorporate video and computers. Students may enjoy the African American Heritage Tour, a multimedia presentation of Smithsonian objects with music and voiceover explaining the history and significance of each. PBS.org has comprehensive lesson plans that tie into documentaries on slavery. Student exercises even include math lessons that meet standards set by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

Scholarly Research and Reviews

Among publications devoted to African American history, the Journal of African American History might be the most prominent. Formerly the Journal of Negro History, it was founded in 1916 by Carter G. Woodson. Today, it continues to publish reviews of books and essays and original analysis from leading African American historians. However, there are many other journals relating to black history, art and politics, including the African American Review, and some famous reviews that are now out of print, like Freedomways and Phylon.

These days, researchers will want to start by checking electronic indexes and bibliographies. The University of Chicago Library has a list. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne has an exhaustive list of journals that relate, directly or indirectly, to black studies, while the Carnegie Mellon University Libraries has a more focused list. The University of Columbia has good bibliography of encyclopedias with information on African American studies, while BlackPast.Org has interactive general and specialized bibliographies.

Primary Documents

People who want to find pictures, letters and documents that capture African American history firsthand will be gratified to know there is a wealth of online resources to turn to. Researchers ready to dive in can check out a comprehensive list of primary resources published by the University of Washington Libraries.

For instance, the Library of Congress maintains the Web site Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1938. As part of the Works Progress Administration, writers collected the stories of more than 2,300 former slaves and took more than 500 pictures. Users can search the site for speakers and view many of the photographs.

The University of Southern Mississippi maintains the Civil Rights in Mississippi Digital Archive, a fully searchable database of digitized documents, including letters and other manuscript materials. Similarly, Crossroads to Freedom has a collection of newspapers, interviews and documents relating to desegregation in Tennessee. The Minnesota Historical Society publishes the Duluth Lynchings Online Resource, which has pictures, documents and a chronology of those dark events.

Biographical Information

African American historians might consider subscribing to the African American Biographical Database, which contains extensive information on thousands of notable activists, business leaders, writers and artists whose lives may not be recorded elsewhere. People looking for information on prominent African Americans leaders can find much information for free. DuBois Central, maintained by the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, has papers, a biography and an extensive digital collection recording the man's life and works. The University of Illinois publishes the Booker T. Washington Papers online so readers can browse through his autobiography and other works. The Library of Congress has The Frederick Douglass Papers, searchable by keyword, series and correspondent.

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