7 Inspiring Texts About Influential Figures in Black History

Two children looking at CommonLit on their computers.

These meaningful texts about Black heroes are sure to engage your students!

Reading about influential figures in Black history is a powerful way to inspire your students. Learning about people who thought of new ideas, stood up against injustice, and pursued their passions can motivate students to take on challenges of their own.

Here is a great set of texts about Black heroes for grades 3–5. These poems, dramas, and informational texts about people who dreamed big, overcame obstacles, and inspired others are sure to engage your students!

Justice for All” by Lynn Rymarz

Ida B. Wells was an African American journalist and early leader in the civil rights movement. In this informational text, the author describes the effects of an incident in which Wells refused to give up her seat on a train when told to move because of the color of her skin.

After students read, have them compare the experiences of Wells and Rosa Parks, another major figure in the civil rights movement. Show the video clip from “The Rosa Parks Story: Arrested” under the “Related Media” tab. Then, have students discuss the traits both Parks and Wells possessed that helped them stand up for what they believed in.

The Related Media tab for the CommonLit lesson "Justice for All."
Related Media resources are great for helping students make connections.

The Peanut Man” by America’s Library

George Washington Carver was an African American inventor and scientist whose passion for plants started in childhood. In this informational text, the author discusses how Carver showed farmers the benefits of planting peanuts.

After students read, have them discuss the significance of Carver’s scientific contributions. Use Discussion Question 2, “George Washington Carver was born into slavery and grew up during a time of very serious discrimination. Why were Carver’s products so important for African American farmers during this time period?” Students can give examples to show how Carver’s ideas helped others.

Fly High, Bessie Coleman” by Jane Sutcliffe

Bessie Coleman was the first Black woman to receive a pilot’s license in 1921. In this informational text, the author describes the steps Coleman took to pursue her dream and how she inspired other African Americans to fly.

As students read, have them follow the annotation task, which asks them to take notes on the challenges Coleman faced as she worked towards becoming a pilot. Then, have students use their notes to discuss what traits helped Coleman successfully overcome these obstacles.

The CommonLit lesson "Fly High, Bessie Coleman."
Annotating as they read helps students better understand the text.

The Many and the Few” by J. Patrick Lewis

In this poem, a speaker describes what happened when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus for a white passenger. The author’s word choice helps students understand why this moment helped cement Rosa Parks as a leading figure in the civil rights movement.

Before reading, build students’ background knowledge by showing the video “Rosa Parks — Mini Bio” under the “Related Media” tab. Have students discuss how Parks’ decision resulted in widespread change across the country to ensure they understand the context behind the poem.

Standing Up by Sitting In” by Ruth Spencer Johnson

During the 1960s, Black students in the South started sit-ins to protest against unfair segregation laws. In this drama, four high school students in South Carolina courageously stage a sit-in at a local lunch counter.

After reading, have students make connections between the high schoolers’ actions and their own experiences. Use Discussion Question 1, “In the drama, the author describes how the students challenged racial segregation. Describe a time when you stood up for something you believed in. What did you do and how did it make you feel?”

What a Pro Knows: Playing to Win” by Christine Louise Hohlbaum

Tamika Catchings is a retired professional basketball player who was born partially deaf. In this informational text, the author describes how Catchings worked hard to follow her childhood dream of becoming a successful basketball player.

Consider assigning CommonLit’s Guided Reading Mode to your students while they read this text. Answering the Guiding Questions as they read will help students understand the challenges Catchings faced and how she overcame them to become a successful basketball player.

Dancing Toward Dreams” by Sara Matson

In 2015, Misty Copeland became the first African American woman to hold the highest-ranking ballet position at the American Ballet Theater. In this informational text, the author discusses Copeland’s journey as a professional dancer and her passion for inspiring young ballerinas of color.

As students read, have them follow the annotation task, which asks them to take notes on the challenges Misty Copeland has faced as a ballet dancer. Then, have students use their notes to discuss how the failures Copeland experienced helped her become a successful dancer.

Next Steps

Looking for more texts to celebrate Black history and heritage? Browse the Black history text set and Black heritage text set on CommonLit!

If you’re interested in learning all about CommonLit’s free digital literacy program for elementary students, join one of our upcoming webinars!