This year as you are planning your teaching and integration of Black History Month into your classroom consider some of the great geographic lessons or activities you can develop. Most educators begin with people when celebrating African-American heritage in February. As you may know, the State Historical Society of Missouri has many different ways of looking up famous Missourians by name, time period, region and even by category. There is a nice list with full/short biographies of African American’s can be found within those notable persons. Questions will then often center on what did they do to become famous? But do we ask about the why’s of where? Where was the person from is a good place to start. Why/How was that place influential on their career path? Where else are they known? Let’s examine briefly one of those figures: George Washington Carver. He has an interesting geographic journey in his early life from being kidnapped from his home in Diamond, Missouri (do you or your students know where that is?) and taken to another state and later recovered and returned to his family. His where question is usually tied to his work with peanuts at Tuskegee Institute, not in Missouri. George Washington Carver was an amazing citizen scientist at an early age, the age of our K-12 students. Did you know that he contributed to biogeography by identifying new species of plants and fungi as a young man? Did you know that the first national memorial to an African American is part of the National Park Service and was put forth by then Senator Harry S. Truman and is the site of Carver’s boyhood home? There is much to learn about geography just from one individual’s life.
Another approach could be that of the timeline approach that is often used in historical geography, the where’s of when rather than the why’s of where. The Missouri State Archives Timeline of Missouri’s African American History is a great jumping off point for your students to start mapping or examining the spatial aspects of the events that surround place and Missouri’s African American history.
Finally, don’t forget the ability to highlight the amazing contributions of African and African American geographers. You could begin with Ibn Battuata, a Moroccan Explorer that traveled during the 1300’s to parts of Africa, Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Asia and documented his travels. Today, he might be considered in the field of tourism geography but it would be better to represent his work as exploration and discovery, the oldest of geographical traditions. Harold Rose was the first, and to date, the only black president of the American Association of Geographers (AAG). His work started in natural resources or physical geography but later was foundational in examining, race, community engagement and had work that is foundational in Urban Geography and his legacy will live on beyond his death last year. Katherine McKittrick, is a professor of gender studies and her work in cultural geography and social justice is prolific. With many books and articles on topics ranging from politics of place and space and to the “Black Sense of Place” (an article in Journal of Social and cultural science) McKittrick is a strong thoughtful leader among African American geographers today. In the fields of geospatial technologies two of my favorite African American women who are doing great work are: Dawn Wright and Ingrid Bruce. Dawn Wright, is the Chief Scientist at Esri (video –search for more on this site about her work) and her research in oceanography prior to Esri are groundbreaking, and there is no wonder why Esri courted her away from academia to their corporation. Ingrid Bruce of Rancho Cucamonga (video) is a great example of an African American female in local government uses of GIS to help communities better through applied geography.