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Uplifting Black Individuals and Contributions In Your Curriculum

Dear Future Teachers,

It is the final week of Black History Month, and I wanted to leave you all with a list of Black individuals, inventions, and contributions to incorporate into your core curriculum. From my personal experience within the K-12 school system, as well as the experiences of my peers, we often don't hear much about historical Black figures outside of Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, and Frederick Douglass, to name a few. While all of these individuals are important in our history, there is an entire world of information that is not even touched on in the typical classroom. We also face the problem with history being rewritten or watered down in ways that don't acknowledge the full truth. For example, we grew up learning that President Lincoln was in support of racial equality; however the truth is while he opposed slavery, he did not see Black people as equal to white people. Another issue is that we often don't credit Black individuals for the contributions they have given to our society as a whole. With that being said, I compiled a list of information so we can begin the work of incorporating more truth and representation into our classrooms.

5 Black People in History To Teach About

  • Shirley Chisholm- was the first Black woman in Congresss (1968) and the first Black woman to seek a presidential nomination from one of the two major political parties (1972). She was the first woman to run for the Democratic Party. Chisholm was blocked from televised presidential debates, only being allowed to give one speech. Despite financial burdens within the campaign, Chisholm was able to garner some support, and inspired many people through her efforts.

  • Phillis Wheatley- Kidnapped from West Africa and sold into slavery in the U.S. in 1761 at only 8 years old, Phillis Wheatley would soon become a groundbreaking published poet. She was the first woman and the first Black person in the U.S. to publish a poetry book. Her first poem was published in 1767 when she was around 13 years old.

  • Bayard Rustin- Rustin was one of the key organizers of the March on Washington and worked closely with Martin Luther King Jr.. As a gay man, Rustin was also an advocate for LGBT+ rights as well as a supporter of AIDS education. He was often seen as too controversial to be used as the face of Civil Rights activism.

Bayard Rustin
  • Dorothy Height- Height was involved in the anti-lynching and desegregation movements. Height received 2 college degrees in the 1930s, worked for the NYC Welfare Department, served on the National Council for Negro women for 4 decades, and stood on the platform during Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech.

  • Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler- Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler first worked as a nurse before attending the New England Female Medical College in 1864. She became the first Black female physician in the U.S. and published the Book of Medical Discourses in Two Parts in 1883, thought to be the first textbook written by a Black individual. Dr. Crumpler focused her work in disadvantaged communities.

5 Misconceptions About Black History

  • "Rosa Parks was the first Black woman to refuse to give up her seat to a white passenger on a bus." It was actually 15-year-old Claudette Colvin who refused to give up her seat on the bus months before Rosa Parks made a stand. On March 2, 1955, Colvin was arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger.

  • "The Civil Rights Movement began when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat." While Parks's resistance and the Montgomery Bus Boycott was a major catalyst for the named movement in the 1950s, activism from the Black community had been prevalent since the American Revolution. Efforts to end segregation have roots in the 1880s, gaining more traction in the 1930s.

  • "The Emancipation Proclamation ended slavery." The Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 is usually presented as the freeing of enslaved people in the U.S.. However, this document did not free all enslaved people, it only focused on the enslaved people in the Confederacy.

  • "Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka ended school segregation." The desegregation was not immediately ended with this decision. There were a lot of loopholes schools and local officials could utilize to sustain segregation in schools, and due to residential segregation today, many schools still aren't fully integrated.

  • "Black people didn't resist enslavement." There is this idea that enslaved people were passively waiting for freedom, but in truth, there were a lot of uprisings and acts of resistance that can be noted throughout history.

5 Things We Wouldn't Have Without Black Inventors

  • The blood bank- The blood blank that we use today got its start with Dr. Charles Drew, who made discoveries on how to maintain long-term storage of blood plasma and helped design a program similar to how our blood banks operate today (despite being ineligible to participate at the time due to his race).

Dr. Valerie Thomas
  • Home Security System- The first closed circuit television security system was designed by Marie van Brittan Brown in 1966, and she received her patent in 1969. Her invention had the ability to capture images, a microphone to communicate with people outside, a remote to allow people to unlock their doors at safer distances, and an emergency button to contact police. Her invention led to the security systems that we use today.

  • Mailboxes- In 1891, Phillip Downing received two patents for his "street letter box," an invention to make sending and receiving mail more convenient. His design is very similar to the mailboxes that we see today.

  • The traffic light- Born to formerly enslaved parents, Garrett Morgan became one of the most impressive inventors in the U.S.. After witnessing a car accident, Morgan wanted to create a system that would help prevent accidents from occurring, leading to the traffic light! Morgan also invented the gas mask and the first chemical hair straightener, among other accomplishments.

  • 3D movies- Dr. Valerie Thomas was a physicist, NASA data analyst, and an inventor who, through her experiments with lighting and concave and flat mirrors, laid the groundwork for 3D movies to be possible.


Black history is all around us, and we are greatly impacted by the activism, inventions, and contributions from the Black community. This brief post doesn't even begin to cover other influences in music, movies, clothing styles, or other elements of our daily lives. This history cannot, and should not be limited to one month. The majority of the information I shared in this post were things I learned about for the first time in university. To keep this rich history and the whole truths out of our education system is to disservice our students. I hope you are able to integrate some of this content into your own lessons, and that future students will be able to understand a more complete history of our nation.

Much Love,

Emily Banks


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