This thematic unit, “Crisis Times for African-Americans: Slavery and the Great Depression” is designed for eighth grade Chapter I reading students in an inner-city setting. The majority of the students are of African-American heritage. This unit is flexible in design so that it could be used for anywhere from four to six weeks. It is ideal for the Black History Month Curriculum, when classrooms in New Haven focus on the study of African-American culture.
This unit focuses on slavery and life during the Great Depression, two eras of critical survival for African-Americans in the United States.
The literature based selections, chosen for my eighth grade reluctant readers, are set during the Great Depression. This perspective seems especially appropriate in today’s economic times. Since many of the students have expressed concerns about financial hardships, the literature selections hopefully would be of value because they would gain insights as to how others coped during the hard times.
The primary subject matter emphases are in social studies and language arts, with the main focus on improving reading skills. In the first phase, students will study slavery by participating in selected textbook activities from The
African-American in United States History
by Benjamin da Salvia and study factual accounts of Julian Lester’s
To Be A Slave
. By studying slavery through social studies the students will have developed the necessary background knowledge to study the selected African-American literature. Understanding the concept of slavery is prerequisite to studying any African-American literature.
As the students learn about slavery, they will participate in various activities. For example, just reading and listening to the related oral literature selections, poetry and music “just for the fun of it” are integral parts of the varied activities in this unit.
After studying slavery, the social studies perspective will focus on the Great Depression with the textbook serving as the primary instructional tool for introduction to this phase of American history. Also, Katz’s
An Album of the Great Depression
, another excellent pictorial account, will be used as a main focus book.
In correlation with the study of the Great Depression, the students will read a Newberry Award winning novel,
Roll of Thunder. Hear My Cry
by Mildred Taylor. This is a story about the survival of a rural African-American family during the Great Depression in the South. This book set in the thirties is an unforgettable story of Black pride and heritage. This book also has a sequel,
Let the Circle Be Unbroken
, which gives further details of the Logan family and their struggle against
poverty and prejudice.
By studying African-American culture from the crucial historical perspectives and reading related literature selections, the students will gain insights and understandings that will enhance their perceptions of themselves and their heritage as Americans.