6 free online courses from Ivy League schools to educate yourself on race and America's long history of injustice

Marguerite Ward
·5 min read
MLK, dream, Martin Luther King Jr., civil rights
These humanities courses will help you understand the history of racial oppression and violence in the US. AP
  • In the wake of protests against racism and ahead of a presidential election, now is an important time for Americans, especially non-Black people, to educate themselves on the history of race and racial oppression in the US.

  • Business Insider found several free online courses on race and white privilege offered by top institutions like Yale University and Stanford University.

  • The courses include "African American History: From Emancipation to the Present" and "The Inner Life and Global Vision of Martin Luther King, Jr."

  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Protests against racism and police brutality that began at the end of May after the killing of George Floyd have sparked a national conversation around race in America. Business leaders continue to pledge their commitment to usher in change, and President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden are likely to debate the issue during Thursday's final presidential debate. 

But racism, racial violence, and white privilege have long plagued the US. To put recent events in context, it's important for people, especially non-Black allies, to educate themselves. 

Following Black thought leaders on social media and reading books about anti-racism are great places to start educating yourself. However, taking an online course taught by notable professors can give you more in-depth knowledge. You'll not only read the course's required texts, but you'll get writing prompts and quizzes to test your knowledge. 

Business Insider found several free online courses that address race and racism in the US. These classes are taught by professors at Ivy League colleges, and are self-paced.  

The Civil War and Reconstruction Era, 1845-1877

Civil War
President Abraham Lincoln, wearing top hat, is shown with Union Army Gen. George B. McClellan, facing Lincoln, and McClellan's staff at Antietam, Maryland, 1862 during the American Civil War. Alexander Gardner/AP

Institution: Yale University 

Duration: 13 weeks 

Time commitment: 2-3 hours per week 

This class looks closely at the causes and consequences of the American Civil War, including the impact of race, slavery, and emancipation as moral, personal, and national problems. Readings assigned and discussed include "The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass" by former slave Frederick Douglass and "A Short History of Reconstruction" by historian Eric Foner. 

The course is taught by David Blight, who is the director of the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition at Yale University. He is the author of numerous books, including "A Slave No More: Two Men Who Escaped to Freedom," and "Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory."

Sign up here>> 

African American History: From Emancipation to the Present

civil rights dc
Civil rights leaders, including Martin Luther King, Jr., surrounded by crowds carrying signs, Washington, DC, 1963. Library of Congress

Institution: Yale University 

Duration: 13 weeks 

Time commitment: 2-3 hours per week 

In this course, students look at the Black experience in America, from the end of the civil war through the modern civil rights movement. The course focuses on works by thought leaders like Booker T. Washington, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Marcus Garvey, Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcolm X.

Jonathan Holloway, now president of Rutgers University, was a professor of history, African American studies, and American Studies at Yale University and the Dean of Yale College. He is the author of multiple books including "Confronting the Veil" and "Jim Crow Wisdom."

Sign up here>> 

Negotiating a Changing World: 1920-1950

women world war ii
Women working in a gas mask facotry, 1940. Thomas D. Mcavoy/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Image

Institution: Columbia University 

Duration: 10 weeks 

Time commitment: 2-3 hours per week 

This course begins with the passage of the 19th amendment and explores women's changing role in society during World War II. But importantly, this class examines how racial barriers prevented Black women from advancing in society as much as white women did. 

The course is co-taught by Alice Kessler-Harris, professor of American History Emerita at Columbia University and professor in the Institute for Research on Women and Gender. She is the author of multiple books including "Out to Work: A History of Wage-Earning Women in the United States" and "In Pursuit of Equity." 

Sign up here>> 

American Prophet: The Inner Life and Global Vision of Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr.
United States Library of Congress

Institution: Stanford University 

Duration: 11 weeks 

Time commitment: 2-4 hours per week 

This course looks closely at the public and personal life of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. Students will learn everything from King's early upbringing to how he inspired a movement.

The class is taught by Clayborne Carson, the Martin Luther King Jr. Centennial professor of history and the founding director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University. 

Sign up here>> 


Vivek Venkatesan

Institution: Harvard University 

Duration: 11 weeks 

Time commitment: 2-4 hours per week 

In this course, students get an introduction to moral and political philosophy that examines difficult topics ranging from property rights to equality and affirmative action. The principal readings are texts by Aristotle, John Locke, Immanuel Kant, John Stuart Mill, and John Rawls, and are used to debate contemporary topics. 

The class is taught by Michael Sandel, professor of political philosophy at Harvard University. He's the author of "What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets; Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do?" "The Case against Perfection," and more. 

Sign up here>> 

Civil Liberties

Supreme Court building Sept 2020
The US Supreme Court Alex Edelman/AFP via Getty Images

Institution: Princeton University

Duration: 7 weeks 

Time commitment: 2-5 hours per week 

In this course, students explore the history of civil rights and liberties in America, mainly through the lens of key Supreme Court decisions. Topics discussed include slavery, segregation, abortion, campaign finance, free speech, affirmative action, and more. 

The class is taught by Princeton professor Robert George, author of "In Defense of Natural Law," "The Clash of Orthodoxies," and others. 

Sign up here>> 

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