It’s Black History Month: The time of year when public institutions and private citizens are reminded to take the time to celebrate and commemorate the contributions of Black Americans to the United States — despite slavery, Jim Crow and ongoing modern-day discrimination and racial violence.
Unfortunately, much of Black history has been minimized in schools, or has not been taught at all (at least, not until recently). But, you don’t (and shouldn’t) have to wait for your kids’ school curriculum to change to learn more about Black history. You can supplement their (and your) education starting today. You’ll support Black creators and thinkers in the process.
Black History is American History — every month of the year. Here are recommendations for shows, movies, podcasts and books to get you started on learning more about Black history.
TV shows and movies
“High on the Hog: How African American Cuisine Transformed America” is a docu-series on Netflix that's well worth watching. It follows Chef Stephen Satterfield as he shares the African American roots of everything from mac ‘n’ cheese to barbecue brisket, traveling from Africa to the White House to a Texas rodeo. The origins of these dishes (and the history behind their creators) may surprise you, and the cast of characters Satterfield meets along the way will inform and inspire you. (Ages 10+)
The film “Hidden Figures” is based on the true story of an all-female, all-Black mathematician team at NASA whose contributions helped the United States outperform Russia in the space race of the early 1960s. If your kids are too young for a full feature film, there are also two great books for different age groups, a picture book and a readers' edition of the same title by Margot Lee Shetterly that are worth checking out. (Ages 10+)
“Selma” is a movie based on the voting-rights activism of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and John Lewis and focuses on their march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965. The film is historically insightful and inspiring, but be aware there are several scenes featuring police brutality and in one scene, a young Black activist is murdered. (Ages 12+)
The film “Judas and the Black Messiah” follows the life and work of Chairman Fred Hampton and the Black Panthers with a heavy focus on William O’Neal’s role with the FBI in assassinating Hampton. Be aware: This film is violent, but it’s a necessary commentary on the unlawful and corrupt murder of Hampton by the FBI. (Ages 15+)
“Who We Are: A Chronicle of Racism in America” is a documentary based on the groundbreaking presentation of civil rights lawyer Jeffery Robinson. The film follows him as he travels around the country sharing personal anecdotes, interviewing survivors of racial violence and discussing U.S. history with Black history experts. (Ages 10+)
“The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson” is a documentary film available on Netflix that focuses on the life of Black trans activist Marsha P. Johnson and the mysterious circumstances surrounding her death. Johnson is credited by many as one of the founders of the LGBTQ liberation movement and she faced crushing discrimination and violence fighting for LGBTQ rights. Be aware this film explores themes of suicide, brutality, discrimination and violence. (Ages 16+)
“The 1619 Project” from the journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones is a must-listen despite the controversy surrounding it in recent years. Hannah-Jones weaves personal anecdotes with historical revelations throughout, leaving listeners with a lot to reconsider about what they think they know about American history. Originally a long-form essay published by The New York Times and now available in a longer-form book option, I recommend the podcast as the most engaging format for teens and tweens. (Ages 12+)
“Uncivil” by Gimlet Media focuses on many little-known details and stories from the Civil War and ties them to modern-day issues of race and discrimination, while also celebrating Black contributions to the war and society at large. It’s incredibly engaging and educational, also disturbing and enraging. (Ages 12+)
“Code Switch” is a podcast by NPR, and though it is not focused solely on Black history, it is billed as “fearless conversations about race.” The show addresses many modern-day cultural issues, exploring their origins and meanings. It’s a fast-paced, fresh and modern look at race and the history of racism in the United States from multiple P.O.C. perspectives. This show is perfect for teens who ask hard questions about pop culture, history and their place in the world. (Ages 12+)
“Let the Children March” is a children’s picture book authored by Monica Clark-Robinson and illustrated by Frank Morrison about the 1963 Children’s Crusade during the Civil Rights movement. Children played an important role in fighting for civil rights in that time period, and this book inspires kids today to fight for justice and think about the impact they can have right where they are. (All ages)
“Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry” is a 1976 novel by Mildred D. Taylor that centers on 9-year-old Cassie Logan as her family fights to keep their farm in the Jim Crow South. Since its release in 1976, the book has been banned in many states for “insensitivity due to race,” largely because Cassie is clear-eyed and honest about the abuses she and her family suffer at the hands of their white neighbors. “Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry” is an unflinching look at life in the Jim Crow South for those few Black families who owned land at the time, and it gives historical context to a poorly understood period in U.S. history. It’s a classic for a reason. (Ages 7+)
“Ophie’s Ghosts” by Justina Ireland is a middle-grade mystery novel that focuses on the life of 12-year-old Ophelia Harrelson, who is reeling in the aftermath of her father’s lynching in Georgia. The novel addresses the period in the early 1920s when lynching was rampant, and the impact this had on the fictional family. (Ages 9+)
In the past few years, there has been increasing interest in the subject of the Tulsa Massacre after shows like “The Watchmen” and “Lovecraft Country” featured the incident in their storylines. “Dreamland Burning” by Jennifer Latham is a teen novel that explores issues of race and history by addressing this shameful and devastating event in U.S. history. (Ages 14+)
“Stamped (For Kids): Racism, Antiracism, and You” by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds is a history of ideas about race for elementary-age readers. (Ages 8+)
Kendi and Reynolds also have a teen-specific version titled “Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You,” and Kendi has a comprehensive version for adults titled “Stamped from the Beginning.” Choose the version that’s right for each reader in your household and be prepared to have your mind blown.
You might also want to read:
Editor's note: This article was first published in 2022 and has been updated for 2023.