The Woodson Center’s K-12 black history and character curriculum is based on the Woodson Principles and tells the stories of black Americans…
The Woodson Center’s K-12 black history and character curriculum is based on the Woodson Principles and tells the stories of black Americans whose tenacity and resilience enabled them to overcome adversity and make invaluable contributions to our country. It also teaches character and decision-making skills that equip students to take charge of their futures. These lessons in black American excellence are free and publicly available for all.
Please find our cutting-edge curriculum below for download. Thank you for helping educate the next generation of Americans!
Access to All Lessons is Free With Registration
Fields marked with an * are required
Curriculum Terms and Conditions of Use
By accessing our curriculum, you are agreeing to be bound by these Terms and Conditions of Use, and all applicable laws and regulations.
2. Use License
Permission is granted to download one copy of each lesson for personal or classroom use. (Quizzes and worksheets may be reproduced for students/participants as needed.)
This is the grant of a license, not a transfer of title, and under this license you may not:
- Distribute the materials outside your educational setting (please instruct other interested parties to download their own copies directly);
- Use the materials for any commercial purpose, or for any public display (commercial or non-commercial, physical or virtual);
- Remove any copyright or other proprietary notations from the materials; and
- Continue using the curriculum should we notify you to cease using it.
3. Revisions and Errata
The Woodson Center makes every effort to ensure its curriculum materials are accurate; however, they could include technical, typographical, or photographic errors. If it becomes aware of such errors, the Woodson Center will make every effort to correct and/or update the materials.
CONTEMPORARY SCHOLARS: Thomas Sowell (1930-present)
Economist, cultural historian, social theorist, and unwavering critic of misguided social policy and self-important intellectuals, Thomas Sowell is celebrated as one of America’s greatest writers for his insistence on telling unpopular truths. He’s the author of over 50 books, countless essays and articles, and 19 scholarly papers in economics. But his ideas have also been shaped by his own life story, one that took him from rural North Carolina to the streets of Harlem, from the Marine Corps to the halls of academe, and from Marxism to classical liberalism. It’s a journey that might surprise Sowell’s critics – and that students of all ages will find compelling, empowering, and a wonderful introduction to a brilliant mind. Made possible in part by the generosity of the Arthur N. Rupe Foundation.
BLACK HISTORY: Katherine Johnson (1918-2020)
Want to know more about the life and work of NASA’s “hidden figure,” whose calculations helped send men to the moon? This lesson tells the story of Katherine Johnson (1918-2020), the space program trailblazer who broke down racial and gender barriers in her remarkable 101 years of life. Born a math prodigy in segregated West Virginia, her father regularly drove Katherine 120 miles to the nearest school that would educate Black students past the 8th grade. Her extraordinary talents landed her a job as a “human computer” in the early days of NASA, where she would spend an illustrious 33-year career as a research mathematician. Johnson’s work on the Mercury and Apollo projects, along with her many other research projects and technical papers, earned her the Medal of Freedom in 2015. Free with registration.
BLACK HISTORY: Robert Smalls (1839-1915)
Robert Smalls was an American politician, entrepreneur and Navy pilot who exhibited courage and undeterred conviction in his fight for freedom, respect, and legal rights for former slaves. As a slave in the Gullah community of South Carolina, he risked his life to give the Union Navy an edge during the Civil War by commandeering a Confederate gunship and escaping to freedom with his family in 1862. His wartime celebrity began a life of public service and statesmanship. Smalls’ political and business career revealed his determination to right past wrongs. During the Reconstruction Era, his integrity and non-discriminatory perspective helped both Black and white citizens transition into a new and just society. Throughout his life, Smalls demonstrated “radical grace,” showing mercy to his former oppressors, trying earnestly to rebuild a South Carolina devastated by four years of war, and never compromising on the values for which he risked his life both during and after the war. Free with registration.
BLACK HISTORY: Bass Reeves (1838-1920)
Deputy U.S. Marshal Bass Reeves was a highly respected and wildly successful peace officer in Indian Territory for over thirty years, starting when he was first commissioned by federal Judge Isaac Parker in 1875. His life saw the enormous transformations that swept through the country during the Civil War, the days of the “wild west” in the federal territories, and the final settling of the frontier. The exploits of Deputy Marshal Reeves as he fought and captured hundreds of outlaws made him famous in his own time. This lesson tells the story of Reeves, his world, and his relentless pursuit of justice. Free with registration.
BLACK HISTORY: Drama Lessons 4-Pack
These drama activities based around the lives of Crispus Attucks, Biddy Mason, Elijah McCoy, and Bessie Coleman complement our Black History lessons on these figures. Students will script, stage, imagine, and improvise in a series of prompts perfect for theater classes or any other learning context in which creativity and performance are emphasized. This package contains four documents, each containing multiple activities based around the life experiences of these remarkable Americans. Free with registration.
BLACK HISTORY: Bessie Coleman (1892-1926)
Born to poor sharecroppers in Texas, Bessie Coleman (1892-1926) was the first African American woman aviator, earning an international aviation license from the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale. Throughout her career as a daredevil stunt pilot in thrilling airshows, she consistently defied expectations and broke through racial and gender barriers to dazzle audiences and inspire future generations of Black American pilots, aviators, and astronauts. This lesson tells the story of Coleman’s life in the wider context of the “barnstorming” early days of flight and the rising opposition to racial segregation exemplified by newspapers like the Chicago Defender. Free with registration.
BLACK HISTORY: Benjamin Banneker (1731-1806)
In this early American history lesson, students are introduced to Benjamin Banneker (1731-1806), a free Black landowner from Maryland who found notoriety as a largely self-taught surveyor, astronomer, and natural historian. A friend and neighbor of the Ellicotts, an influential family of abolitionist Quakers, Banneker became a national figure in the young republic through his popular series of almanacs, and is remembered for his scientific achievements, public opposition to slavery (including a famous exchange with Thomas Jefferson), and role in surveying the boundaries of the District of Columbia. Free with registration.
BLACK HISTORY: Booker T. Washington and the Rosenwald Schools (1912-1932)
Having experienced the profound racial disparities in the rural South firsthand, writer and education reformer Booker T. Washington (1856-1915) dreamed of a school-building project for Black communities that could help begin to lift them out of poverty. In this history lesson, students examine Washington’s collaboration with philanthropist Julius Rosenwald (1862-1932), and learn how Washington’s hopeful dream slowly became the reality of nearly 5,000 new schools. Built in large part by the communities they served, Rosenwald schools were a ray of hope in the face of poverty and racial discrimination. Free with registration.
BLACK HISTORY: Biddy Mason (1818-1891)
In this history lesson, students learn about the epic life and exemplary character of Biddy Mason, a woman who was born into slavery in the Deep South, walked to California as part of a pioneer caravan, fought for her freedom in court, and died a millionaire real-estate investor in Los Angeles. In addition to the highs and lows of Biddy’s dramatic life, this lesson asks students to study how she demonstrated the virtues of courage and charity, both in securing freedom for herself and her family and, later, using her fortune to invest in her community and provide relief to poor Californians of all races and religions. Free with registration.
BLACK HISTORY: Elijah McCoy (1844-1929)
In this history lesson, students learn about the ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit of Elijah McCoy, a prolific inventor who held 57 patents, mostly on designs related to locomotives. Born in Canada and educated in Scotland, he spent most of his professional life in and around Detroit, Michigan, working in the railroad industry while also continuing to produce new inventions. The son of escaped slaves, McCoy overcame early discrimination to become an internationally respected authority in his field. By the time of his death, McCoy was widely celebrated by his contemporaries as a leader and model for Black America in the first generation after Emancipation. This lesson asks students to consider how McCoy’s life experiences led him create such important innovations and ask why his inventions were so highly valued by manufacturers and consumers. Free with registration.
BUILDING CHARACTER: The Woodson Principles
Neighborhood empowerment advocate and civil rights movement veteran Robert L. Woodson has developed ten principles for personal growth and community development. He has used these principles throughout his decades of working with organizations that seek to transform low-income communities from within. In this lesson, students will learn about these principles, discuss their importance, and imagine ways to apply them in their own lives and the life of their communities. Free with registration.
CONTEMPORARY SCHOLARS: Walter E. Williams (1936-2020)
The popular economist Walter E. Williams was one of the most prominent libertarian commentators on issues of race, poverty, and prosperity, spreading his message through a weekly syndicated column, scholarly publications, and a variety of media appearances. Born and raised in the Philadelphia projects, Williams overcame personal and political barriers on his journey from blue-collar kid working odd jobs to a distinguished writer and professor. Prolific and provocative, Williams appealed to both specialists and lay people, and his great love was teaching economics. Throughout his life, a network of devoted friends, family, mentors, and colleagues made his success possible. Free with registration.
BLACK HISTORY: Jesse Owens & The Berlin Olympics (1936)
On the eve of WWII, Black American athletes like Jesse Owens and Ralph Metcalfe put the lie to Nazi ideas of racial superiority on Hitler’s home turf. This lesson tells the full story of the so-called “Nazi Olympics,” where athletes from nations that in only a few short years would be at war competed with honor—even as controversy brewed behind the scenes, including on the U.S.A. team. Students will examine the athletic competitions themselves, the achievements of American athletes, and the political controversies that loomed over the games, which resulted in two American Jewish athletes, Sam Stoller and Marty Glickman, being denied their chance to compete. Main presentation text by 1776 Unites scholar and Olympic historian Stephen L. Harris. Free with registration.
BLACK HISTORY: Tulsa: Terror & Triumph (1921-2021)
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, Oklahoma was a haven for Black Americans seeking freedom and economic opportunity. The Greenwood neighborhood of Tulsa, with its bustling business district known as the “Black Wall Street,” was the nation’s most affluent Black community, a central hub of entrepreneurship and activism. But by June 1, 1921, Greenwood lay in ruins, victim to a massive wave of violence and looting committed by a mob of their White neighbors, in what is now known as the Tulsa Race Massacre. Against all odds, the survivors fought to rebuild their lives and livelihoods, even as powerful forces tried to bury Greenwood forever. This incredible story of dignity in the face of devastation shows the depths of human cruelty — and the heights of human resilience. Free with registration.
BLACK HISTORY: Paul Cuffe (1759-1817)
Paul Cuffe was a sea captain, entrepreneur, and philanthropist who lived through the birth and early life of the United States. As a young man, he helped smuggle goods past the British blockade during the Revolutionary War; by the early 1800s, he was perhaps the wealthiest Black man in the young republic, renowned and respected for his business sense and moral character and the first free man of color to visit The White House. An ardent abolitionist, Cuffe used his wealth to build one of the first integrated schools in America and to power his ambitious — and controversial — plans to build a new Black republic in West Africa. Free with registration.
BLACK HISTORY: Crispus Attucks, Part 2 (1851-2020)
On March 6, 1857, the Supreme Court of the United States issued its infamous Dred Scott decision, which fundamentally denied the legitimacy of Black American citizenship. The coincidence of the date, one day after the anniversary of the Boston Massacre, caught the attention of William Cooper Nell, a free man of color, historian, and influential abolitionist. On March 5, 1858, antislavery activists celebrated Crispus Attucks Day at Faneuil Hall, where Attucks’s body had awaited burial in 1770. Such efforts to commemorate Attucks helped shape the field of African American history. This lesson examines the ways historians, civil rights activists, and cultural institutions renewed the memory of an otherwise enigmatic figure. Free with registration.
BLACK HISTORY: Crispus Attucks, Part 1 (1723-1770)
On March 5, 1770, five men were shot dead by British soldiers on King Street in Boston. This event became known as the Boston Massacre, and helped kindle the fire of the American revolution. The first man to fall in this event was Crispus Attucks, a sailor and escaped slave of mixed African and American Indian ancestry. Patriot activists held up Attucks as a martyr for the cause of liberty, and generations of Americans followed suit; almost a century later, abolitionists made Attucks into a symbol of Black civic identity. But who was he, really? This lesson, the first of two on Crispus Attucks, tries to establish the facts about his life from the scant remaining evidence. Free with registration.
BLACK HISTORY: 54th Massachusetts (1863-1865)
In January 1863, President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation went into effect, and the Union Army began recruiting Black Americans to fight the Civil War. Thousands answered the call. Soldiers of the 54th Massachusetts infantry regiment came from all over the country, dedicated to both the destruction of slavery and the advancement of racial equality nationwide. Their heroism transformed the conflict from a battle to preserve the Union to a grand struggle for freedom. Discover the true story of the men whose fame was restored to public memory by the celebrated 1989 film Glory. Free with registration.
BLACK HISTORY: Alice Coachman (1923-2014)
Born into poverty in rural Georgia and raised under the shadows of Jim Crow segregation and the Great Depression, Alice Coachman fought through gender taboos and racial barriers to become a record-breaking track star. Then, in the 1948 London Olympics (the first to be held after WWII), she leapt to victory in the high jump and became the first black woman in history to win Olympic gold. One of postwar America’s most high-profile athletes and the first African-American woman to be spokesperson for an international product, Coachman’s life and achievements were honored during the 1996 Atlanta Olympic games. Free with registration.
BUILDING CHARACTER: Resilience and Learned Optimism
In this character-building lesson about the Woodson Principle of resilience, students learn to find strength in the face of adversity and draw wisdom from setbacks and failures. Asking students to rethink the way they “frame” negative experiences and “talk to themselves” about challenges they face, this lesson makes the case for a rational, learned optimism that is genuinely empowering. Free with registration.