I remember in detail only one poster displayed specifically for Black History Month at my high school.
It was Martin Luther King, Jr. It had a quote. It blended into its surroundings. Somewhere nearby, letters said “February is Black History Month.” It was a boring poster. It made MLK feel boring. He himself looked bored with his own poster.
I actually only remember it because it was so boring. More on that in a moment.
I think it was this one:
Paired with the iconic quote, MLK’s expression is quietly powerful. The portraiture is beautiful and timeless.
But in physical reality, hung on a school wall that was crowded with other posters, it could very well have been blank.
This is not the goal of classroom posters.
Please consider the last time you witnessed a classroom of high school students getting pumped to learn and discuss something because they found it quietly pensive and beautiful for its stoic, aesthetic qualities. After observing from a distance.
I don’t think so.
In contrast, I remember a whole host of National Poetry Month posters.
They were provocative, dynamic, and compelling. They called out for you to engage with their content. I remember talking about them with other students, as well as with our teachers.
And then I remember reading the poems they contained.
That is the goal of a classroom poster.
Posters are means to an end. They serve a purpose. And when posters are displayed in a classroom, that purpose is to spark students’ interest and begin a discussion. I have a lot of strong opinions on this.
Anyway, the TL;DR version of this story is that the disparity between my school’s posters for Black History Month and posters for National Poetry Month was frustrating. It wasn’t intentional. But I didn’t like it.
So I made new ones.
I chose Black American cultural, political, historical figures that I found exciting and compelling to learn about. Then I learned about them. Then I made some posters. Here are the posters.
I printed these out, laminated them, and hung them up. I’m not sure if they were effective. I like to think they were, anecdotally, but it’s not like I collected data. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
If you’d like to print your own, please do.
Here are links to hi-res, full-color 11x17 PDFs of all four:
• Zora Neale Hurston poster
• Louis Armstrong poster
• Haki Madhubuti poster
• Martin Luther King, Jr. poster
Additionally, learning is exciting!
→ Zora Neale Hurston links: The Zora Neale Hurston Digital Archive out of the University of Central Florida has lots of info on ZNH, her life, and works. You can also visit the Zora Neale Hurston official website.
→ Haki Madhubuti links: Read selected poetry at Poetry Foundation. Or, also, you know, libraries. You can also learn a bit about BAM from the concise A Brief Guide to the Black Arts Movement from Academy of American Poets.
→ Martin Luther King, Jr. links: Read a short biography of Dr. Martin Luther King from the King Center.
Just one more note, because I don’t think I will be able to get this in anywhere else:
Speaking of effective presentation and purpose, The blog of the NMAAHC should win prizes for effective, professional, academically-appropriate use of Tumblr. Yes, Tumblr. For digital history, public history, and academic storytelling.
Read the NMAAHC’s entry on The Complicated Racial History of Missouri and tell me, is that not the most succinct, swift, well-structured explainer on why Missouri’s history is so complicated that has ever been written? I say this a lifelong Missourian, lightly obsessed with both online content and making history relevant.
Anyone and everyone studying academic history, plz take a time out and reflect on how excellently the NMAAHC leverages their online format. Okay, yes, thanks, yes, you can go back to your academic publishing now.