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A curriculum area where this personal uncertainty often emerges, revolves around the history of African Americans in the United States. Learning of the struggles faced by African Americans beginning with slavery and moving up to the civil rights conflicts still existing today is not an easy route for many students to follow. It is extremely difficult for many, if not most, to understand how such oppression could have occurred. A superficial examination of historical events leaves them wondering why there was not more resistance. "How could African Americans have allowed themselves to be treated that way? Why didn't they fight back more? I wouldn't have let them do that to me!" They fail to understand both the power of the oppressor, along with the strength and bravery of the resistance, often subtle, sometimes overt, which did exist throughout these periods.
General Goals and Approach of This Unit.
From slavery through the Civil Rights Movement on until today, we will examine many ways in which African American families discovered methods of resisting and means of expressing their dissent in the face of tremendous power. Singing a Negro spiritual, running away from captivity, going to war, marching for freedom, organizing a boycott, integrating a school, being elected to public office, recording history and stirring emotions through art are only some of the ways in which authority was defied. I will suggest a number of books and related films which present stories from these different time periods in African American history. In this reading material, the involvement of family as a unit of defiance will be highlighted, emphasizing the roles played by seemingly ordinary people. In these books and stories, students will uncover the role played by African American families and their individual members involved in these struggles. Whether using fiction or reality, the focus will be on the strength and bravery of individual, outwardly ordinary families, common folk driven to action. Together with the reading material and films which I will present, works of art which can be related to resistance will be used to motivate discussion and encourage further reading. The paintings of Jacob Lawrence, particularly The Migration Series, will be highlighted.
The written material and works of art I have selected as my focus correspond to different periods of African American history. Roughly, these periods include: The Years of Slavery, The Civil War, Reconstruction, The Period Surrounding World War I and II, The Growth of the Civil Rights Movement, and Issues Related to African American Life in Modern Day United States. The stories and works of art related to each period will be presented to the whole class, small groups, and/or individual students, depending on its content and level of difficulty. Many stories will be read to the class orally with appropriate discussion and debate. Written and spoken assignments will be related to the material being covered. Besides the related academic skills and understanding of the role played by the African American family as a force of resistance and dissent, this unit will present students with a clear picture of African American history in the United States from the period of slavery up until modern times. Often, pupils have a fragmented picture of this history, with more emphasis on individual biographies than on the movement of history through the years. This incomplete view easily can lead to a distortion of what was reality.
As I implied previously, I suggest a number of films which focus on the areas we shall cover in our written material. Suggestions for the involvement of student's family members are made where it seems appropriate.
Unless they delve beneath the surface, initially, students fail to see the pervasive strength of the system which allowed this injustice to exist. Open rebellion was doomed almost universally to disaster. One's welfare and life and, perhaps more importantly, the welfare and lives of family and loved ones were risked with even a hint of modest dissent or rebellion. Students need first to know of the all encompassing strengths of the system, in order to understand and appreciate the heroics of the resistance, to realize and marvel at the subtle forms of rebellion, and to feel pride in what African Americans achieved in the face of such a formidable foe.
Perhaps, because of the strong emotions this period in United States history elicits, there are a variety of vivid, visual images which have been created by African American artists depicting the people and events of this era, particularly the common people, ones without recognizable names or histories. These works are available for use by those teachers who attempt to make this period come alive for students.
Author, Lester, draws the reader into the pictures and his narrative. He is honest in his approach to the factual history of slavery, going beyond what usually appears in most history books. For example, he tells us that slavery was a business in which people wanted to make money and he points out that in saying that Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves, one neglects giving credit for what slaves and free blacks did for themselves and for the country as a whole. He asks the readers basic questions, forcing them into the minds and situations of those who lived under slavery.
The author's probing approach and the artist's emotional depictions provide students with material which should help them to view a clearer picture of the presence and nature of African American resistance during slavery and the Civil War. The author's actual questions provide ideal motivation for discussion and for research and creative writing assignments.
Her story which will be used in this unit is called Aunt Harriet's Underground Railroad in the Sky. Here we meet an eight year old girl named Cassie. Cassie has a younger brother named Be Be and possesses a very vivid imagination...or is it just imagination? Together with her brother, Cassie is able to fly. While gliding amongst the stars, they encounter a dilapidated old train which Be Be boards along with hundreds of other silent people. It is going North and the conductor is Harriet Tubman. While the train moves ahead, Aunt Harriet directs Cassie along the route taken by African Americans during the time of slavery. Cassie's experiences bring her a vivid understanding of the horrors those individuals has to endure, as well as showing her the kind and gentle ways in which others made their passage possible. Cassie and Be Be are reunited at the end, both having gained a new understanding of their great-great grandparents' survival. Obviously, this is the same message I hope to convey to my class. The brilliantly colored illustrations which accompany the text will be discussed in detail. Students will speculate regarding the possible fears and hopes of the people making the journey, as well as what the student's thoughts might have been had they been there. "How would you have felt? Would you have gone without your family? What would have frightened you most? Compare the white people who helped the escaping slaves with those who held them in slavery."
Ringgold's illustrations will be compared with those of Ron Brown and Jacob Lawrence with an eye toward the strength and importance of each.
In her book, Howard selects paintings from each series, presenting them along with Lawrence's own words. With each series, she presents three suggestions for activities which the reader or teacher could use in exploring Lawrence's work. Color coded, each project goes deeper into his paintings and the various issues surrounding them. There are a wide variety of suggestions from which to choose. Some encourage a closer examination of particular pictures, some examine his style and techniques, and some require the student to actively create from what Lawrence's work suggests.
Students should be drawn to Lawrence's work. It is full of color, movement, and emotion. It shows ordinary people doing extraordinary things. It is easily contrasted to the work of Ron Brown and Faith Ringgold.
Students will be given background information on Tubman, Douglass, and Brown. Some will be asked to do related research which will be shared with the entire group. With the inclusion of John Brown as a figure to be examined, I hope to be able to show that ordinary white people sometimes broke the stereotype of the mean, racist image, an image that could easily be built in the minds of African American students.
Addy's historical time period begins during the Civil War when she and her family were slaves. Her stories continue up until the time of freedom after the War when her family has been reunited and is living in Philadelphia. The events of the stories relate accurately to the experiences history tells us occurred during these time periods.
In Meet Addy: Escape from Slavery, we follow Addy and her mother as the family makes plans for escape moving on through their experiences on the road to freedom. Poppa and her brother have been sold to another plantation owner and Addy's baby sister along with other relatives have been left behind. The fears and courage students can identify in Addy and her family give more meaning to the events of history. Many opportunities for pupils to make predictions and to voice opinions are available as the story moves along.
Jacob Lawrence was born in Atlantic City, New Jersey in 1917. Later, the family moved to Philadelphia. When he was ten he lived with a foster family for a time while his mother moved to New York to find a job. When Jacob's father left, his mother became a single parent. They lived in Harlem, a place Jacob often painted. She worked as a maid, but often they lived on welfare. Jacob worked at small jobs when he could. As a teenager, he joined the Harlem Art Workshop and was taught by another famous African American artist, Charles Alston. From the time he was hired by the WPA at the age of 21 his reputation as an artist has grown. He has created numerous painting series depicting black historical figures and themes. He is considered one of the world's most acclaimed African American artists.
The Migration Series
The migration of blacks from rural towns in the South to northern cities started when rail road companies offered to pay for black workers' transportation to the North in exchange for a few months of cheap labor. The first major wave occurred between 1916-1919 and the second from 1921-1923. They resulted in a huge increase in the black population in large northern cities.
There were many reasons for the migration. One reason was that World War I created many job openings which were advertised in newspapers from the North, promising money and improved living conditions. These were jobs that had previously been unavailable to black people. The negative situation existing for many blacks in the South made life difficult for many. The lure of a better life was a beacon in the face of a sharecropper's existence and racist Jim Crow laws. This migration was an important chapter in African American history and became the subject of the famous African American painter, Jacob Lawrence in his series, The Migration.
Using the book, The Migration, the class will examine the movement as he illustrated it in his series. Focus will be on the strength and courage it took for families to pull up roots and travel to the unknown North. Even with the hope of a better life, such a decision was not an easy one to make. The less than ideal condition, the racial prejudice, and the isolation which they faced after they arrived were other battles to endure. The same general procedure used with other art work will be followed: Discussion of the piece, speculation regarding motivation and emotions of its subjects, and some type of oral, written, or artistic extension related to the painting.
After the appropriate sections have been read, the dangers of their attempts will be weighed against the possible benefits. Students will speculate whether they would have been supportive of the boycott, keeping in mind the dangers it could pose to themselves and their families. They will research and discuss the various boycotts organized in the South during the Civil Rights movement. These will then be compared to what the Logans attempted to do.
The second section I will highlight is one in which Cassie Logan, the story's nine year old narrator, is humiliated twice by white people during a trip to the nearby town of Strawberry. The most demoralizing occurs when she has accidentally bumped into a white girl she knows. The girl demands that she both apologize and get down in the street so the girl can pass by. When the girl's father, flanked by her older brothers, demands further apology, Cassie's grandmother appears on the scene. To Cassie's utter disbelief, Big Ma tells her to honor the man's request.
This incident and the related events that follow, open a variety of topics for discussion, ending in the realization that Big Ma did what she had to do in order to protect Cassie and, perhaps, the rest of the family. Cassie's ultimate revenge provides similar fruit for discussion. Written arguments defending both Big Ma and Cassie's actions can be created and shared.
When, in 1960, the United States Federal government ordered the integration of New Orleans Public Schools, a young African American student and her family were thrust into the national spotlight. Ruby Bridges was born in Tylertown, Mississippi in 1954. In 1957, her family moved to New Orleans where her father worked as a custodian and her mother cleaned floors at a bank. The entire family was actively involved with their church and their neighborhood community. When, backed by the NAACP, six year old Ruby was assigned to a first grade classroom in the William Frantz Elementary School, the President called-up Federal marshals to maintain order and insure safety. Ruby became the only student attending Frantz as hostile white parents withdrew their children. Despite the imposing barriers which Ruby faced, she continued to attend Frantz Elementary from which she graduated, moving on to finish high school.
Students will learn of her courage and determination in this struggle through a book, The Story of Ruby Bridges, by Robert Coles, and a Disney made for television movie, "The Ruby Bridges Story." Both of these works clearly show the hatred and potential violence present in the mobs of angry people Ruby faced as she entered school each day. At the same time, each presents the positive image of Ruby's white teacher from New England who helps Ruby to cope with the situation. Despite the imposing barriers which Ruby faced, she continued to attend Frantz Elementary from which she graduated, moving on to finish high school. The support of her family is clear in the book, as it is also in the film. The film, however, adds another dimension by showing the conflicting feelings of Ruby's father who does not want his daughter used as a pawn. The film also examines the attitude of the black community and the related loss of her father's job. Another film which examines the same issues is "The Earnest Green Story," which chronicles the story of integration at Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas.
In both cases, students will attempt to place themselves in similar situations with pupils speculating how they and their families and communities would react. This will be done through discussion and written form. The strength of the individuals, families, and communities involved will be focal points.
Suggested Works and Activities
In 1969, Civil Rights militant, James Forman, spoke to the congregation at New York City's Riverside Church demanding $500 million for the ancestors of slaves. Despite some donations, Forman never reached his goal. Besides Forman, many still are seeking "the 40 acres and a mule" promised to blacks after the Civil War. Voices advocating reparations have reinforced this movement. John Conyers submitted a bill requesting a congressional commission to study reparations. Randall Robinson author of the book, The Debt: What America owes to Blacks, has placed the issue in the public eye. Students will be made aware of the controversy and discuss the practicality and worthiness of such payments.
Teachers need to be constantly aware of current stories concerning people who stand up to the injustices they see in society. Pupils need to know that such courageous resistence is still being displayed, courage that someday they may be called upon to display.
Sharing with Other Classrooms
Throughout, attempts will be made to share material with other classrooms. The film on Ruby Bridges, sharing the artistic contribution by artist like Jacob Lawrence, and reading books such as Aunt Harriet's Underground Railway in the Sky and the Addy series will be presented to other classrooms. A culminating assembly depicting the contributions of ordinary individuals, their families, and communities will be present as the unit ends.
research, language arts, art, and social development
- mural, extraordinary, sketch, hardboard, recollections
Students will become familiar with the basic techniques Jacob Lawrence used in creating a series of paintings.
Students will realize the importance of individual accomplishment within their own family, things as ordinary as preparing for a picnic or going to work each day.
Students will gather information on some area of accomplishment within their family.
Students will write a narrative based on the information their research yields.
Students will create an individual visual series of paintings depicting the subject of their research.
Students will employ some of Jacob Lawrence's techniques as they create their paintings.
Students will present their final product (written piece and art work) through display and oral presentation.
While viewing and discussing many paintings by Jacob Lawrence, students will become familiar with Lawrence's general approach to the creation of his final product.
- ____* Initially his topic is well researched.
- ____* Notes are expanded into a story which will accompany the art work.
- ____* Preliminary sketches are made.
- ____* The final picture is sketched in pencil on white paper or hardboard.
- ____* Water-based paint is used to create colors.
- ____* He uses one color at a time. If he is doing a series, he paints the first color on each board of the series, doing the same with each other color.
- ____* Some places are left white.
Throughout, emphasis will be placed upon students being able to identify Lawrence's ability to depict the dignity of ordinary people in his paintings. This will flow into a discussion of the seemingly ordinary things which seemingly ordinary people we know do in their daily lives each day, things such as working, caring for others, participating in church and community, supporting the school, and taking care of one's self. Students will be asked to decide upon a topic which fits one or more members of his or her family and gather some written detail on what it takes to perform that activity. The written notes from those discussions will then be expanded into a brief essay for which the student will sketch a related drawing. The student will then be given appropriate paper or hardboard. (The amount and type will depend on the individual situation and available funds.) Students will then follow the general approach used by Jacob Lawrence in creating a series of paintings.
- ____* Later, some changes will be made and colors may be painted over others before the final picture has been created.
When the series of drawings has been completed, along with the written narrative which will accompany each painting, the resulting creations will be shared with the rest of the class, other classrooms, and parents. They will be displayed and a more formal showing held for parents, principal, and other relevant adults. Students will have opportunity to practice their presentations before speaking in front of an audience outside the realm of their own classroom.
reading and social studies
context clues, mob, (Other words will vary with each lesson developed.)
Students will develop skill ar using various context clues to identify unknown words and, as a result, develop greater reading power.
Students will reinforce their understanding of information related to some aspect of the unit's content.
The goal of developing independent readers is a primary objective of the elementary school. One means of achieving this goal is through an approach which teaches pupils to look for various clues within the context of the material being read in order to recognize and understand unfamiliar words which the student may encounter. Besides teaching these techniques for unlocking unfamiliar words, this approach trains students to read more carefully, resulting in an overall improvement in comprehension. All New Haven elementary teachers are familiar with this program designed to increase pupils' "degrees of reading power."
There are a variety of materials available to use while working with student in such a program. Basically, these materials provide paragraphs where key words have been omitted. Students are asked to find the appropriate missing word from among four choices, all of which could "fit" within the sentence's structure, but only one makes sense within the context of the larger piece. Students learn to explore the context before and after the missing word in order to find clues which will help in identifying the missing word. The important skills developed here are procedures used to explore the content for clues and developing the ability to recognize these clues.
In this lesson plan, I provide an example of how material related to the unit's content will be used to create original worksheets which will help to develop the reading skills discussed above. This sheet and others I will create will have the advantage of serving as reading instruction material as well as being a source or a review of information related to the unit. Its primary function, however, will be to improve the student's reading ability. Initially, the type of lesson which follows will focus on the context that leads one to the appropriate missing word. Discussion relative to content will follow. It is best to use material with information that pupils have not yet encountered, since this will eliminate the use of previous knowledge of topic as the only means of identifying the word. If, however, this happens to be the case, the experience of finding the context clues which unlock the missing word is still of considerable value. The completed worksheets will be saved in folder for future reference related to this unit's content.
____Here is a brief sample related to the experiences of Ruby Bridges.
A Brave Little Girl
Read each of these paragraphs about Ruby Bridges. Where there is a missing word, select the most appropriate word from those listed after the blank. Be ready to identify the clues which led to your selection. You may underline those words which helped you make your choice.
Later that year, two white boys _______________ (a. helped b. joined c. left d. lost) Ruby at the Frantz Elementary School. Their parents were tired of seeing the boys get into mischief around the house when they could have been in school and ________________. (a. playing b. eating c. learning d. sitting). They were worried about their academics. When this happened the mob became very __________
|(a. happy b. quiet c. lost d. angry). They even yelled at the white boys.||By the time Ruby was in the second grade, the ___________ (a. mobs b. students d. soldiers) had given up their struggle to scare Ruby. She eventually graduated from Frantz school and then went on to graduate from ____________________. (a. first grade b. home c. high school d. elementary school)|
math, social studies, social development
migrate, relocate, survey, compile, data, motivation
Students will be aware of African American migration from the South.
Students will gather information on birthplace of their parents/guardians and the parents/guardians of other students whom they will survey.
Students will compile data in order to create a bar graph illustrating the family movement of students who they surveyed.
Students will develop the ability to read graphs and draw conclusions from the material read.
Using both art work and written material, pupils will have developed an understanding of African American migration from the South to northern areas of the United States. Discussion will then move towards examining the possibility of more recent movement, beginning with the students themselves. A classroom graph shows whether a change of residence has occurred between the time of birth and the present. There will be three categories: Moved to another city, moved to another state, and moved to a different country. Intermediate changes will not be included.
Next, the survey will move toward examining the movement of their parents since birth and the present. The survey will also expand to include other students from classrooms where the teacher is willing to have student gather the information from their parents/guardians. The same type of graph will be compiled based upon the information gathered. A more detailed graph will then be constructed showing the adult's place of birth. Information illustrated on these graphs will be discussed and relevant conclusions drawn and discussed. Graphs and resulting conclusions will be shared with the students in cooperating classrooms. They will also be displayed on hall and classroom bulletin boards.
Students within my classroom will then interview their parents about possible movement and the reasons why residency was made. This information could also include previous movement made grandparents, great grandparents, and possibly beyond. Pupils will then create a written narrative chronicling the movement of their family. Students whose family has made no change will discuss changes in the city and neighborhood which parents/guardians have noted. These will be shared among classmates. A means of sharing results with parents/guardians will developed by the class.
____Books marked with an asterisk are discussed in greater detail within my unit.
*Coles, Robert. The Story of Ruby Bridges. New York: Scholastic, Inc., 1995.
Covers the life of Ruby Bridges through the year she spent integrating Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans, Louisiana. Expressive illustrations add to the drama of these historic moments.
*Howard, Nancy Shroyer. Jacob Lawrence, American Scenes, American Struggles. Worcester, Massachussetts: Davis Publications, Inc., 1996. A must book for teaching about Jacob Lawrence. Contains narrative, pictures, and numerous suggestions for student activities which actively involve them in the study.
Gutman, Herbert G. The Black Family in Slavery and Freedom: 1750-1925. New York: Vintage Books, 1976. Provides teacher with background information which will facilitate the presentation of student material.
*Porter, Connie. Meet Addy: An American Girl. Middleton, WI: Pleasant Co. Publications, 1993. Though they were forced to leave her brother and little sister behind, Addy escapes from slavery with her mother after her father is sold to another plantation.
*Lester, Julius and Ron Brown. From Slave Ship to Freedom Road. New York: Dial Books, 1998. In his narrative, Julius Lester asks many thought provoking questions which draw the reader into the paintings of artist Ron Brown in a series of pictures portraying the history of slavery.
Taylor, Mildred. The Friendship. New York: Bantam Skylark, 1987. Involves characters from Roll of Thunder. Spurred on by his racist friends, white store owner, Mr. Wallace, shoots an older African American friend for calling him by his first name. Shows deep anger and hatred.
Ringgold, Faith. Aunt Harriet's Underground Railroad in the Sky. New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1992. Cassie's imaginary flight connects her with Harriet Tubman and a first hand tour of the Underground Railroad.
Covers the life of Ruby Bridges through the year she spent integrating Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans, Louisiana. Expressive illustrations add to the drama of these historic moments.
"The Glory of Expression." Worcester, Massachusetts: Davis Publications, Inc. Telephone 800-533-2847. As Jacob Lawrence paints a picture he explains the methods he uses in creating his work.
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