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From Civil Rights to Black Liberation: STEAM + The Black Experience

"As the civil rights struggle widened into a national liberation struggle, many activists began looking for political strategies that went beyond the integrationism of mainstream civil rights groups." Liberation School

Makers, Creators, and Innovators: STEAM and the Black Experience

STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art + design, and math) is essentially about making things that change the world. Now more than ever, STEAM skills are crucial to advancing our society and solving the problems of the world. Inventors, architects, scientists, web developers, and many more professionals use STEAM skills every day. 


Black people have made critical contributions to the STEAM field that shape our world. However, their path to STEAM education and achievement has been historically limited by systemic racism and oppression. For example, many slave owners stole the innovative ideas of enslaved black people, and got rich selling these ideas as their own. Despite this history, black people continue to push back against and rise above these challenges. 

In this text set, students will meet many inspiring black people who are makers, creators, and innovators. Students will also learn about the darker history of oppression that makes the achievements of these folks all the more remarkable. At the end of the text set, students will complete a creative project that showcases their understanding of STEAM and the black experience. 

Lesson 1: Why STEAM Matters

Lesson 4: Overcoming Systemic Racism - Back Then

Dr. Hadiyah Green recently won a $1 million grant related to an invention that might help treat cancer.

Lesson 7: Art as Resistance

Tyree Guyton’s Heidelberg Project, Detroit, Michigan

Lesson 8: STEAM in the Age of Black Lives Matter

Rev. Jesse Jackson (third from left) marches with Rev. Al Sharpton (center) and NAACP President Ben Jealous (center right) during a rally in Sanford, Florida, on March 31, 2012. Photo by: Gary W. Green/Orlando Sentinel/TNS

Enduring Understandings

  • STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art + design, and math) is essentially about making things that change the world. Black people have made critical contributions to the STEAM field that shape our world today. 
  • Black people have always chronicled the lives of their families and communities through art. Woven through this art are the threads of spirit, joy, sorrow, anger, and resilience that make up black life.
  • Systemic racism has historically limited, and continues to limit, the opportunities black people have to participate in STEAM. However, black people continue to push back against and rise above these limitations. 

Lesson 2: Black History and STEAM

George Washington Carver (front row, middle) sits with other teachers and scientists at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, which is now called Tuskegee University. The school was created to give African-Americans a high level of education and trade skills. Photo taken by Frances Benjamin Johnston in 1902. From the Library of Congress

Lesson 5: Overcoming Systemic Racism - Now

A young girl holds a sign at a protest against police violence in Boston, Massachusetts, April 29, 2015.

Graduates hold up their hands during a commencement ceremony at Dillard University in New Orleans, Louisiana, May 13, 2017. Dillard graduates more physics majors - and more female physics majors - than bigger schools with more resources.

Lesson 8: STEAM in the Age of Black Lives Matter

Akilah Johnson, a sophomore at Eastern Senior High School in Washington, D.C., won the "Doodle 4 Google" contest with her entry "My Afrocentric Life," pictured above.

Digital links to the images in Part 2 of the lesson linked below:

Activities Packet

Lesson 3: What Is Systemic Racism?

Lesson 6: Studying Visual Art

This painting, 'Migration,' is from 1947. In the painting, Lawrence uses light and dark colors and sharp angles. He does not show what they really looked like. But he does show how people felt. Photo: Sharon Mollerus/Flickr.

Lesson 8: STEAM in the Age of Black Lives Matter

Culminating Project

Recommended Paired Texts 

Chapter Books / Longer Reads

  • Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race, by Margot Lee Shetterly
  • Who Was George Washington Carver?, by Jim Gigliotti 
  • Mistakes That Worked: 40 Familiar Inventions & How They Came to Beby Charlotte Foltz Jones 
  • 125 Cool Inventions: Supersmart Machines and Wacky Gadgets You Never Knew You Wanted! by National Geographic Kids

Picture Books

  • Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, by Javanka Steptoe
  • Ada Twist, Scientist, by Andrea Beaty
  • Mae Among the Starsby Roda Ahmed and Stasia Burrington
  • Whoosh!: Lonnie Johnson's Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions, by Chris Barton and Don Tate