The unit lends itself easily to a number of curriculum areas. Reading activities will be an integral part of all topics. The same will be true of writing. There are a number of books and short stories which are grade level appropriate. Some will be read to the class, some read together, and some assigned for independent reading. There are also worksheets that develop specific academic skills based upon articles related to my unit’s topic. This material, and similar skill sheets related to the needs of a particular class, can be easily developed and utilized. United related spelling words will be added to existing lists. There will be opportunities for pupils to develop research skills as they prepare reports and oral presentations. In social studies, much of our focus during African American History Month in February will be devoted to this unit. However, through oral reading to the class, related skill worksheets, writing topics, current events, and incidental discussion, the unit will be an ongoing part of our curriculum beginning in September.
In October, as the World Series dominates the sports headlines, we will develop an all-star roster of African American players who were outstanding participants in the Negro Leagues. Information on these men will be gathered through various references. Once the class is familiar with these athletes, in some way, this information will then be shared with other classrooms, especially those on the Beecher team, through displays and/or oral presentations.
As the year progresses, we will delve more deeply into the prejudice and discrimination which existed within the professional baseball structure and the effect this had upon the formation and existence of the Negro Leagues. This will be done through the use of both film and written material. We will begin by viewing films which depict conditions on a more basic, personal level. Films such as “Bingo Long and the Traveling All-Stars” and the “Jackie Robinson Story” will provide story lines which pupils can relate to more easily than the documentary material which will follow. These films will be laying a foundation of understanding upon which more factual materials, such as the Ken Burns documentary and “Only the Ball Was White,” will build and perhaps contradict. The same approach will be taken with written works, beginning with fiction and historical fiction and moving toward nonfiction text and references. .
Simultaneously, as baseball during the first half of the twentieth century is being examined, students will be developing the larger picture of race relations in the United States during this time period. The approach will be similar to that used in studying the baseball scene: fiction, historical fiction, factual references, and film. A film such as “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman” can provide considerable background to the Civil Rights struggle. Mildred Taylor’s Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry, in both text and film, presents the plight of an African American Family living in Mississippi during the Depression through the eyes of a nine year old. There are also a large number of documentary films available to chronicle the Movement in a manner suitable for children of this age. Some are included in the unit’s bibliography.
As these two facets of this unit, the quest for equality in professional baseball and the slow movement toward Civil Rights in the United States, develop and blend, we will integrate some works of poetry that reflect these struggles. “To Satch” by James Allen and “Merry Go Round” by Langston Hughes are poems which children seem to relate to easily. Examining works such as these sometimes articulate the emotions behind the facts.