Black History Month is celebrated in February each year. It is a special time to honor the many people who have helped, and are continuing to help, shape the world we are living in (of course, this should be celebrated all year as well—not only in February).
I think it is important to have Black History Month activities that expose children to the stories and faces of notable African Americans whose lives, struggles, and tireless efforts have made significant contributions to our culture and our history.
I designed my tessellation collaborative “quilt” project to showcase many of these notable people and their achievements. This project is meant to serve as a meaningful Black History Month activity for teachers and their students.
The History of Quilts
The history of quilts in the African-American community is nearly as old as America itself. Enslaved women spun, wove, and quilted on plantations and other wealthy households, and many became highly skilled.
While it is thought that few enslaved people had the resources or time to create quilts for their personal use, stories persist about quilts being used as secret, coded maps along the Underground Railroad. Hanging in windows, the stories go, the quilts showed escape routes and houses of refuge for runaway enslaved people.
Ozella McDaniel Williams, in a book about her family’s oral history, tells the stories of quilts made from 10 squares, each containing a message about how to escape successfully. The code included symbols like a monkey wrench, a signal to gather supplies, and a star, meaning “head north.” Other messages, she says, appeared in the form of counted knots, quilt block shapes, colors, and embroidered names.
Few would dispute the folksy beauty—and sheer practicality—of the humble quilt. Pieced together by hand, scrap by scrap, and often with love, quilts have brought comfort to many across the ages. They have always had special meaning in the African-American community.
It seemed especially appropriate, then, to incorporate quilting into my “Famous Faces of African-American History” Black History Month activity. This project results in a gorgeous paper “quilt” featuring more than 30 influential African Americans. A perfect whole-class activity to do during Black History Month (or anytime). [UPDATE: 10 more people have been added to this poster. It now features 40 people].
The people featured on my poster are…
- Thurgood Marshall
- George Washington Carver
- Jackie Robinson
- Ruby Bridges
- Rosa Parks
- Harriet Tubman
- Barack Obama
- Katherine Johnson
- Jesse Owens
- Martin Luther King, Jr.
- Sojourner Truth
- Maya Angelou
- Shirley Chisholm
- Frederick Douglass
- Booker T. Washington
- Mary Jackson
- Serena Williams
- Dorothy Vaughan
- Oprah Winfrey
- Rita Dove
- Michael Jordan
- John Lewis
- Langston Hughes
- Jacob Lawrence
- Faith Ringgold
- Sarah Breedlove
- Ray Charles
- Louis Armstrong
- Muhammad Ali
- Duke Ellington
- Kobe Bryant
- Kamala Harris
- Simone Biles
- Amanda Gorman
- Patrick Mahomes
- Misty Copeland
- Michelle Obama
- Mae Jemison
- Marshall “Major” Taylor
To begin, each student works on three separate, hexagonal pieces that perfectly fit together. One hexagon includes a portrait of an inspiring African American. Another has that person’s name written in “stitch” font in keeping with the quilt theme. The third includes space for a brief biography of the person.
You can use the biographies I provide with the resource, or you can use the blank template option and have students research and write their own biographies. In this way, the project is really appropriate for any grade level.
When the students’ quilt pieces (hexagons) are complete, they join together to tessellate their pieces and create the final, collaborative quilt.
The Final Poster
The result is awe-inspiring and quite beautiful—not just an artistic creation but as a symbolic one. It is a meaningful representation of what happens when individuals join others to make a greater whole.
This Black History Month activity is easy for you, as the teacher, and better yet, fun and meaningful for kids. To help ensure your success, I have created a teaching video and included it in the product resource. I give your students a basic introduction to tessellation (so you don’t have to). I also explain to your students how this project works. Then you take it from there!
The final poster is approximately 40 inches by 58 inches, depending on your printer and margin settings and the number of people you choose to include. This also depends on how many people you include in your final design.
The poster includes hexagonal pieces that say, “African-American History Quilt” and “We Are All Woven Together,” as well as a “Created By” piece, where your students can all proudly sign their names. The addition of side pieces makes it look even more quilt-like when added to the finished poster!
When your students have completed their masterpiece, display it where all can see their handiwork and the contributions of some incredibly inspiring African Americans.
The final poster looks great displayed on a bulletin board, down a hallway, or on your classroom door!
I hope you enjoy this Black History Month activity quilting project! Thank you for supporting me and for helping the power of quilting to live on—while we teach our students about important African Americans and the work they have done to make this a better, more inclusive world.
More Inspirational Ideas
For more inspirational and collaborative projects, you can view my other tessellation resources here:
I Love To See Your Work
I love to see the projects you make with your students. Please remember to tag me using @artwithjennyK on IG, Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest and you can use the hashtag #artwithjennyk as well. I love to see what your students are doing, and I also love to show off the creative ways you approach my projects, hoping to inspire other teachers to make more art with their students as well!
Here is a collection of images that teachers have shared with me showing off their experiences with this Black History Month activity. If you click on the images, you will find these teachers on social media – you might want to follow them for additional inspiration!
Thanks for reading.
Keep making art with your students!