AHistorically-accurate, kid-tested, and professionally published! My Black History plays have been a mainstay of Scholastic’s Storyworks magazine for more than 20 years. Each play was carefully researched and based on actual events. Additional plays are available through TeachersPayTeachers. Plays are generally priced around $3.50 and include performance rights, comprehension activities, and keys. Make no mistake, black history is American history. We’ve placed these plays in a separate category only because we have such an abundance of great ones!
Here’s an easy way to check out my professionally-published read aloud plays from the pages of Storyworks and Scope magazines. This free preview pack includes summaries and the first two pages of each of four reader’s theater scripts focused on the Civil Rights work of Dr. King. The previews cover MLK’s Freedom March, which is about the March on Washington where King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech, Martin’s Big Dream, which is about an incident in Martin’s childhood that helped him understand prejudice firsthand, In the Jailhouse with Dr. King, which tells the story of a young man who encounters King in jail, and Gonna Let it Shine, which covers the “Bloody Sunday” events in Selma.
Reader’s theater from the pages of Scholastic’s Storyworks magazine, this original play is based on a true story from Dr. King’s childhood in which neighborhood white boys refused to play baseball with him due to the color of his skin. Suitable for reader’s theater or stage performance, it includes parts for ten to twelve actors, a comprehension activity, and extensions. Use it with students in grades 3 through 7 to improve fluency, build comprehension, and meet the CCSs. Full class set for just three bucks! Fully reproducible: the original purchaser is licensed to reproduce one classroom set per year.
Historically accurate, carefully researched, and kid-friendly! Based on real events, Box Brown’s Freedom Crate tells the story of Henry Brown, a slave in 1848 Virginia. When Henry’s wife and children are sold away, Henry devises a plan to mail himself to the North in a wooden crate. With help from members of the Underground Railway and Philadelphia’s Ant-Slavery Society, Henry defies death as his crate is tossed from one train to the next. The play was originally published in the Feb/Mar 2001 issue of Storyworks, and it’s based on Brown’s own slave narrative, The Narrative of the Life of Henry “Box” Brown. It’s also the subject of a picture book, Henry’s Freedom Box (Scholastic, 2007), which can be useful as an interesting compare and contrast activity. This seven page, twenty minute classroom play script is well-suited to reader’s theater, or decorate a cardboard box and stage a poignant yet laugh-out-loud yet poignant stage production. Includes parts for eight to twenty students, depending upon casting needs. Use it with students in grades 3 through 10 to improve fluency, build comprehension, and meet the Common Core Standards. Fully reproducible: the original purchaser is licensed to reproduce one classroom set per year. Click on the cover to preview or purchase at TeachersPayTeachers.
There are many great sites dedicated to Henry Brown’s original slave narrative. Dickinson University offers lessons plans centered around a virtual field trip through Brown’s life and times. They also provide a “virtual book.” You turn the original pages and read the original text from William Still’s book, The Undergound Rail Road . . . it’s just all digital! To see and read the original text from The Narrative of the Life of Henry “Box” Brown, follow this link to Documenting the American South. And finally, visit my podcast page to hear actual students performing the play.
Did you know Rosa Parks wasn’t the first? Here’s an original play from the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The Girl Who Got Arrested adds a new perspective on the Civil Rights Movement. As the first passenger to be arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a city bus, Claudette Colvin has only recently been receiving her due. The play is based on actual events and includes text from Claudette’s actual court hearings–powerful all by itself! Use it in conjunction with Phillip Hoose’s award winning book, Twice Toward Justice. Parts for eight to seventeen performers depending on your casting needs. Read it once or practice it daily with students in grades 4 through 8 to improve fluency, build comprehension, and meet the CCSs. Originally published in Scholastic’s Scope and Storyworks magazines. Preview or purchase it at my storefront at TeachersPayTeachers. It’s just $3, and the original purchaser is licensed to print a full class set each and every year.
How much more powerful would your Civil Rights unit be if your students could participate in the actual events? They can with quality read aloud plays such as MLK’s Freedom March. One of the hallmarks of a quality historical play is that the story is told through the eyes of a child witnessing the events firsthand. Freedom March is told through the eyes of eleven year old Lucy. Her grandmother is dying of cancer, her father is worried about losing his job, and her brother is fired up about The March for Jobs and Freedom, the iconic event where Dr. King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. It’s a powerful play with multidimensional characters backed by King’s awe-inspiring speech. This seven page, twenty minute classroom play script is suitable for reader’s theater or stage performance and can be adapted to include music from the Crusade. Eleven parts and roles for innumerable extras, use it with students in grades 4 through 8 to improve fluency, build comprehension, and engage learners. Fully reproducible: the original purchaser is licensed to reproduce one classroom set per year. Just a few bucks at TeachersPayTeachers! You can also view Dr. King’s speech on YouTube by clicking here and download a printable PDF of the speech here.
Based on real events, We Shall Overcome tells the story of Martin Luther King’s Birmingham Children’s Crusade, the 1963 march in which authorities used fire hoses and police dogs to suppress crowds of students. This six page, twenty minute classroom play script is suitable for reader’s theater or stage performance, and can be adapted to include music from the Crusade. From eight to fifteen parts, including Addie Mae Moore (the heroine), News Reporters, and Dr. King. Use it with students in grades 4 through 8 to improve fluency, build comprehension, and engage learners. Fully reproducible: the original purchaser is licensed to reproduce one classroom set per year. Just $3.50 at TeachersPayTeachers. For an extensive collection of historical photos from the Birmingham Children’s Crusade, visit the Veterans of the Civil Rights Movement website. Stanford’s King Encyclopedia also provides detailed information about the Birmingham campaign here. To hear the song, We Shall Overcome, click here. Also be sure to check out Cynthia Levinson’s book, We’ve Got a Job: the 1963 Birmingham Children’s March, and Birmingham 1963: How a Photograph Rallied Civil Rights Support, by Shelley Tougas, both available through Amazon.
Imagine if your students could witness the start of the Sit-in Movement. They will be when you can liven up your MLK Day lessons, Black History Month activities, or your Civil Rights unit with this powerful classroom play set during the Greensboro Lunch Counter Sit-ins of 1960. The event is viewed through the eyes of a middle class white boy who gets angry when the protests prevents him from enjoying his family celebration at the Woolworth. As the events unfold, he begins to understand the plight of the young protesters, choosing in the end to stand with them. Based on the actual event, this seven page, twenty minute classroom play script can be adapted for reader’s theater, podcasting, or stage performance. From seven to fourteen parts, use it with students in grades 4 through 8 to improve fluency, build comprehension, and engage learners. Originally published in the January 2003 issue of Scholastic’s Storyworks magazine, Sitting Down for Dr. King’s dramatic conclusion has made it one of the most frequently republished in the Civil Rights series. Fully reproducible: the original purchaser is licensed to reproduce one classroom set per year. Purchase it at TeachersPaysTeachers for just $3.50.
Imagine if your first encounter with Martin Luther King took place behind bars. In the Jailhouse with Dr. King is set during the Montgomery Bus Boycott and is loosely based on King’s own writing about his first incarceration. It tells the story of a 13-year-old African-American boy’s struggles with violence and racism in 1956 Alabama. While in jail for a short while, he questions the wisdom of King’s commitment to peace. Later, when an angry crowd gathers outside King’s bombed home, the boy witnesses firsthand the depth of Dr. King’s beliefs and the power of his words. This six page, twenty minute classroom play script is suitable for reader’s theater or stage performance and can be adapted to include music from the Civil Rights Movement. From seven to fourteen parts, use it with students in grades 4 through 8 to improve fluency, build comprehension, and engage learners. Fully reproducible: the original purchaser is licensed to reproduce one classroom set per year. Available at TeachersPayTeachers for just $3.50 for a reproducible classroom set. For more information about the bombing and to view a photo of King’s detroyed porch, Visit Stanford University’s MLK timeline.
Enrich your Black History Month activities with this compelling play about Jackie Robinson. Over my twenty years of using drama in the classroom kids say this is one of their favorites to enact. This original script recounts the events surrounding Jackie’s breaking of the color barrier through the narration of the Hot Dog Man and the Peanut Vendor at an “actual” ballgame today. Historical photos and comprehension questions are embedded in the script, which was originally published in Scholastic’s Storyworks magazine. Six pages, parts for from 7 to 13 actors, and suitable for reader’s theater or stage performance. Fully reproducible: the original purchaser is licensed to reproduce a full classroom set each and every year. Click on the cover to preview or purchase at my TpT storefront. You can also check out a recording of a student presentation on our podcast page!
Immerse your students in Robinson’s contribution to equal rights with these lesson plans from LearningToGive.org and with primary resource documents from The National Archives. Also be sure to visit the Official Jackie Robinson site.
Students will quickly connect with eight-year old Sheyann Webb. When African-Americans were being denied the right to vote, she became Martin Luther King’s “Smallest Freedom Fighter” by joining marches on the local courthouse. As the events in 1965 Selma, Alabama, escalated, Sheyann began sneaking out of the house to attend meetings at Brown Chapel. She was there, too, on the Edmund Pettus Bridge when Selma exploded with tear gas and Billy clubs. The event became known as Bloody Sunday, and it directly led to the signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. But what makes this story compelling is the perspective. We’re used to hearing about the Civil Rights struggle from the viewpoint of adults, yet here is the true story of a little girl who not only saw it, but was there on the front lines risking the same dangers as her adult counterparts. What better way to engage your students in the Civil Rights Movement!
“Gonna Let it Shine,” shares Sheyann Webb’s emotional, often frightening childhood experience. Carefully researched, it improves upon an earlier version that appeared in Storyworks in 2012. This eight page play is suitable for reader’s theater or full stage performance. It includes feedom songs from the movement. There are parts for from 10 to 14 students depending on your casting needs.
“Gonna Let it Shine” is available on my storefront at TeachersPayTeachers for preview or purchase. As with all my plays, the original purchaser is licensed to reproduce one class set per year for use in his or her own classroom. There’s also a free vocab and comprehension activity that aligns the play to specific Common Core standards. Be sure to share with your students the Disney movie, Selma, Lord, Selma. It depicts Sheyann’s story with typical Disney flare. There’s also an accurate and intriguing YouTube video detailing Sheyann’s contribution to Civil Rights that can be found here. Consider comparing and contrasting all three. Finally, the Sheyann Webb of today has remained an advocate for children and civil rights. Find out more about her work by visiting the Sheyann Webb Group.
Do your students know what it really felt like to be a slave at the end of the Civil War, to know freedom for the very first time? This powerful play based on actual slave narratives is historically-accurate, kid-friendly, and comes embedded with comprehension questions and historic photos. Freedom for the First Time is the narrative of ten-year old Tyree, a slave during the time of the Civil War. Like many slaves, Tyree believes whatever her masters say. But when Tyree’s brother, Sweet Walter, arrives with a band of Union soldiers to tell her the war is over, she and her family experience their day of Jubilee, the day they know freedom for the first time. This six page, twenty minute history play is well-suited to reader’s theater–or try collaborating with your music teacher and stage a spirited full production. Includes parts for from six to ten students plus extras, depending upon your casting needs. Use it with students in grades 3 through 8 to improve fluency, build comprehension, and inspire interest in US History. Audio preview! Click on our Podcasts tab to hear 5th graders performing this play.
American author Richard Wright wrote numerous books of significance during the middle of the 20th-century including Native Son and the autobiographical Black Boy. This play is based on an incident from Wright’s youth in which he was denied access to the public library due to his race. The story was popularized in William Miller’s inspiring picture book, “Richard Wright and the Library Card” (Lee & Low, 1997). The play was originally adapted for and published in the September 2001 issue of Scholastic’s Storyworks magazine. Young Richard teaches himself how to read, moves to the city, and gets a job. When he’s turned away at the library, he seeks help from his employer. His boss takes the risk, allowing Richard to check out books in his name. The suitability of its themes for children including racism, trust-worthiness, and grace is obvious. Sure to inspire a love of reading at a time when so many kids take their reading for granted. Click here to preview or purchase at TeachersPayTeachers.
Ruby Bridges was headline news in 1960 as she naively trudged into the all-white William Frantz School. Her compelling story, that of a first grader integrating New Orleans Public Schools is indelible. Famed American author John Steinbeck wrote about it. Norman Rockwell painted it. And Ruby herself, nearly forty years later, revisited it in her stunning book, Through My Eyes. By pairing Ruby’s book with this lovely reader’s theater script, you’ll inspire learning that’ll stay with your students for years to come. There are parts for from 12 to 24 actors and suitable for reader’s theater or full stage production. Use it with students as young as 3rd grade and up to seventh to build fluency, satisfy the CCSs, and recognize Black History Month. It includes two comprehension activities specifically designed to help students with standardized testing, answer keys, extension ideas, and teacher notes. You can also use it in conjunction with the Disney film, The Ruby Bridges Story.