Poetry teatime is a wonderful way for parents and children to connect – whether you are a homeschooling family or looking to spend time together after a day or school or work. This month is special because it’s Black History Month and there is a rich history of poetry and verse that you can explore. Visit The Poetry Foundation for an extensive list of poems, podcasts, and other resources for Black voices. Support a Black-owned business like Green Heffa Farms or Just Add Honey (or google Black owned tea company) and get yourself some delicious tea and bake up some traditional tea cakes and learn more about Ethel Robinson who is reviving their tradition. If you’re looking for more from History Unboxed® on Black History, check out our Black History Downloadable Lesson, Mali, Ghana, or Benin hands-on history boxes, or our American History Subscription where the experiences of Black and Indigenous people are woven throughout the curriculum.  

Poetry has a rich and continuous tradition in African-American history, and in fact pre-dates the founding of America. Poetry and song were the way memories were kept and passed from generation to generation, when enslaved people were forbidden to read and write. Throughout history, poets told stories of enslavement and freedom, personal histories and cultural anthologies, and strength, courage, and overcoming. African-American poetry has preserved memories, recounted histories full of injustice and perseverance, and challenges racism and racist systems.  

Considered to be the first African-American poet, Phillis Wheatly wrote and published the very first book of African-American poetry in 1773 while she was enslaved by the Wheatly family in Boston. Shortly after the book was published, she was emancipated, and she went on to have a long legacy of awards and impact on poets and poetry. 

It was during the Harlem Renaissance that African-American centered art, music, poetry, literature, and more exploded not just in New York City, but in large cities all across America, as African-Americans moved northward from the Jim Crow south. The movement ran from 1918-1937 and produced many poets, singers, writers, and actors/actresses including Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, James Weldon Johnson, and jazz artist Duke Ellington. For the first time, they introduced a Black perspective to the world through poetry, plays, music, fiction, personal histories, and so much more.  

The Harlem Renaissance laid the foundation for all the artists who came after, including poets Gwendolyn Brooks, Maya Angelou, and Alice Walker. Poetry set to a beat like Hip-Hop and Rap recalls earlier cadence based poetry and songs including “Call and Response” preaching. Artists like Queen Latifah, Tupac Shakur, and The Roots were all giants in the music industry, putting their poetry to beats and music. 

While the poets listed here are some of the most well known, there are thousands of Black poets to explore, as well as a rich history of poetry that is ingrained in American culture. Use the resources below as a jumping off point to learn about African-American poetry and its history, and read some great poetry at your tea time this month!    

Poetry books to consider for your tea time: 

  • Change Sings: A Children’s Anthem by Amanda Gorman
    • Amanda Gorman was the first person to be named National Youth Poet Laureate and the youngest person ever to be an inaugural poet wrote this about about “a young girl [who] leads a cast of characters on a musical journey, they learn that they have the power to make changes–big or small–in the world, in their communities, and in most importantly, in themselves. (description from bookshop.org)
  • Life Doesn’t Frighten Me, Poem by Maya Angelou & Paintings by Jean-Michel Basquiat
    • Short poems about finding your courage paired with bold paintings
  • Legacy by Nikki Grimes
    • Nikki Grimes writes new poems inspired by the women poets of the Harlem Renaissance
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