It is vital and almost unavoidable that the history of black baseball and the Negro Leagues be tied to historical events and movements experienced by the nation as a whole. The influence of these historical periods explains much of what happened as the history of the black game unfolded. An awareness of these larger historical periods also shows that black baseball and its leagues played a reciprocal role by exerting an influence of its own upon the larger picture.
Naturally, the degree to which students are exposed to these elements will vary according to grade level and the group involved. The same is true of the manner in which this material is presented. As I briefly mentioned previously, for my level, I will use films such as “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman,” “Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry,” (film and text), “The Vernon Jones Story,” “The Story of Ruby Bridges,” (film and text), the Ken Burns Documentary on the Civil War, (specifically, sections on black soldiers), and “Glory.”
The historical periods I will focus on include: some consideration of slavery in order to develop a background of understanding, the Civil War, Reconstruction, the enactment of
Plessy vs. Ferguson
, migration of African Americans to the North, the Depression, the Harlem Renaissance, World War II, and the gradual movement involving civil rights action, highlighted by
Brown vs. the Board of Education
Though guiding third graders through these periods, while studying about black baseball, may seem like an unmanageable task, the fact that films, stories, poems, worksheets, research, and even art and music activities related to these topics will be integrated with the basic curriculum throughout the year should make it easier to achieve. Even the area of arithmetic provides many opportunities to integrate material. ( “If Jackie Robinson was born in 1919, how old was he when he signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1945?” Create and compare points on time lines representing major events in black baseball and influencing periods in United States history. Use the many statistics from the history of both black and while baseball to create your own word problems. Have pupils do the same.)
It must be remembered that in-depth knowledge is not always the goal, though it is always welcomed. Rather, understanding and appreciation is our major aim, along with developing the many academic skills that are an essential part of the third grade curriculum.
Although this unit does offer some specific suggestions regarding actual lessons and does present a general outline of the material to be covered throughout the year, decisions on what to cover, how to cover it, and when it should be done rests with the individual teacher as she/he measures the needs and capabilities of her/his particular group of students. Available material is ripe for the development of a wide variety of individual lessons and related activities. Consulting the bibliographies of the references listed at the end of this unit should yield even more information. Black baseball and the Negro Leagues provide a fascinating, meaningful area of study, one which effortlessly leads both teacher and student into equally fascinating, meaningful, intertwining areas of United States history.