Black History Month: 3 lesser-known stories to share with your class this year

Black History Month takes place in every year throughout October, with schools and colleges across Britain helping teach students about moments in history that focus on Black culture.

Many have criticised the idea of having a “Black History Month” at all. Actor Morgan Freeman has publicly denounced the campaign, saying that Black history and culture should not be only taught for one month of the year. Others have stressed the importance of Black History Month, as it provides an opportunity to celebrate and highlight the impact of Black culture across the world.

There are many famous landmark figures taught during Black History Month. Nelson Mandela, Rosa Parks, and Martin Luther King have all become pillars of history. However, there are countless lesser-known stories that are also important to share and celebrate.

Claudette Colvin

Many know about Rosa Parks, who inspired the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955 when she refused to give her seat on a segregated bus to a white passenger.

However, most are unaware of the similar story of Claudette Colvin. Aged just 15, Colvin was dragged from another Montgomery bus by two police officers in March 1955. She was arrested and taken to an adult jail for defying bus segregation. Claudette’s act of bravery happened a full nine months before the actions of Rosa Parks.

Black and white image of American civil rights activist Claudette Colvin.
Civil Rights activist Claudette Colvin (Born 5th September 1939)

Matthew Henson

Matthew Henson was the first African-American arctic explorer, accompanying Robert Peary on seven voyages in the late 19th and early 20th century.

In 1909, Henson was part of an expedition that claimed to have reached the North Pole for the first time. Many people credit Henson as the first person to reach the North Pole. However, this is hard to prove, as indigenous people had inhabited the Arctic for thousands of years before Henson and Peary’s expedition.

Henson received many honours for his exploration, including several medals, receptions at the White House, and even a crater on the Moon named after him.

Sepia image of Matthew Henson, an African-American polar explorer.
Polar explorer Matthew Henson (1866 - 1955)

Miriam Makeba

Miriam Makeba was a South African singer, actor, and civil rights activist who was known as “Mama Africa.” Throughout her life, Makeba fought against the racist apartheid system in her country, which segregated people based on their skin colour and refused civil rights to Black South Africans, such as the right to vote.

Makeba refused to wear make up or straighten her hair for performances. Her natural hair style, which she wore proudly on stage, later became known as the Afro.

Black and white image of musician and Black rights activist Miriam Makeba singing on stage.
Musician and activist Miriam Makeba (1932 - 2008)

Despite the controversy surrounding Black History Month, its ability to help celebrate the lesser known stories of Black culture should be praised. For more stories like the ones mentioned here, we recommend this article from Atlanta Blackstar

To help you teach Black History Month in your school, now>press>play has two audio-based Experiences that celebrate the lives and achievements of Harriet Tubman and Mary Seacole. We’re very excited to have these Experiences in our growing library. We will continue year-on-year to look at the diversity of our content and help teachers champion diversity in their classrooms.