A Collage Play: Biographies of Famous American Political Thinkers
Another idea is to teach a class in which students write a “collage play” using famous speeches made in the course of history that represent the seminar’s theme on political thought. The students can study what events took place which warranted the speech, as well as have an opportunity to explore acting techniques of characterization of the individual speech makers.
Upon completion of these plays, students may decide to perform their work as part of the traditional school assemblies that are presented for Black History Month, Martin Luther King Day, President’s Day, or Memorial Day. Even if not done as a large scale school assembly, smaller performances done in the classroom or at remote settings in libraries or parks may shed new light on the biographies of these famous people in a unique setting.
Included below are brief summaries on biographical data of famous Americans known for influencing American political thought. Parts of speeches are also included, and when pieced together will comprise a type of script, a collage play, if you will, which can be added or subtracted to depending on the theme of the production. These are just a few elements of the script, giving teachers an idea of the kind of content that can be reproduced via the internet and are available by public domain. Students will be challenged to find more data on other famous men and women and can achieve great success in finding the work of these Americans in an attractive setting online.
Creating a Collage Script: Examples of Content from the Internet
Narrative of the
Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave
I was born in Tuckahoe, near Hillsborough, and about twelve miles from Easton, in Talbot county, Maryland. I have no accurate knowledge of my age, never having seen any authentic record containing it. By far the larger part of the slaves know as little of their ages as horses know of theirs, and it is the wish of most masters within my knowledge to keep their slaves thus ignorant. I do not remember to have ever met a slave who could tell of his birthday. They seldom come nearer to it than planting-time, harvest- time, cherry-time, spring-time, or fall-time.
What to the Slave is the Fourth of July? ( http://douglass.speech.nwu.edu/doug_a10.htm)
Fellow-citizens; above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of
millions! whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are, to-day, rendered more intolerable by the jubilee shouts that reach them. If I do forget, if I do not faithfully remember those bleeding children of sorrow this day, “may my right hand forget her cunning, and may my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth!” To forget them, to pass lightly over their wrongs, and to chime in with the popular theme, would be treason most scandalous and shocking, and would make me a reproach before God and the world. My subject, then fellow-citizens, is AMERICAN SLAVERY. I shall see, this day, and its popular characteristics, from the slave’s point of view.
Standing, there, identified with the American bondman, making his wrongs mine, I do not hesitate to declare, with all my soul, that the character and conduct of this nation never looked blacker to me than on this 4th of July! Whether we turn to the declarations of the past, or to the professions of the present, the conduct of the nation seems equally hideous and revolting. America is false to the past, false to the present, and solemnly binds herself to be false to the future. Standing with God and the crushed and bleeding slave on this occasion, I will, in the name of humanity which is outraged, in the name of liberty which is fettered, in the name of the constitution and the Bible, which are disregarded and trampled upon, dare to call in question and to denounce, with all the emphasis I can command, everything that serves to perpetuate slavery-the great sin and shame of America! “I will not equivocate; I will not excuse;” I will use the severest language I can command; and yet not one word shall escape me that any man, whose judgement is not blinded by prejudice, or who is not at heart a slaveholder, shall not confess to be fight and just.
Second Inaugural Address, Abraham Lincoln
If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.” (1865)
U. S. Government’s Inaugural Addresses of the Presidents of the United States: from George Washington 1789 to George Bush 1989
(Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office, 1989).
Opening of the Declaration of Independence
IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness...
@3H(after2H):Martin Luther King “I Have A Dream” Speech
Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our modern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed.
Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.
So in though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream.
It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal.”
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the context of their character.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; that one day right down in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be engulfed, every hill shall be exalted and every mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plains and the crooked places will be made straight and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.
This is our hope. This is the faith that I will go back to the South with.
With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.
With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.
With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to climb up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.
This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning
“My country ‘tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my father’s died, land of the Pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring!” And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.
So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.
Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.
Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.
Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.
Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.
But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.
Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi and every mountainside.
When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual,
“Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”
It is rarely discussed, but Sojourner Truth fought for the desegregation of public transportation in Washington, DC during the Civil War. She refused to face the indignities of Jim Crow segregation on street cars and had the Jim Crow car removed from the Washington D. C. system. Sojourner Truth brought a local street to a standstill when a driver refused her passage. With the support of the crowd she forced the driver to carry her. During her legendary life, she challenged injustice wherever she saw it. She was an abolitionist, women’s rights activist and preacher.
Born into slavery (as Isabella Baumfree) in upstate New York, Sojourner Truth obtained her freedom and moved to New York City. There she began to work with organizations designed to assist women. She later became a traveling preacher and quickly developed a reputation as a powerful speaker. A turning point in her life occurred when she visited the Northhampton Association in Massachusetts. The members of this association included many of the leading abolitionists and women’s rights activists of her time. Among these people Sojourner Truth discussed issues of the day and as a result of these discussions became one of the first people in the country to link the oppression of black slaves with the oppression of women.
As a speaker, Sojourner Truth became known for her quick wit and powerful presence. She would never be intimidated. Because of her powerful speaking ability, independent spirit and her six foot frame, she was often accused of being a man. She ended that in Silver Lake, Indiana when she exposed her breast to the audience that accused her.
Sojourner Truth lived a long and productive life. She spoke before Congress and two
presidents. Sojourner Truth is best remembered for a speech she gave at a women’s rights conference where she noticed that no one was addressing the rights of Black women. Her address reads in part:
“Dat man ober dar say dat womin needs to be helped over carriages, and lifted ober dicthes and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody eber helps me into carriages, or ober muddpuddles, or bigs me any best place. And ain’t I a woman? Look at me Looka at me arm. I have ploughes and planted and gathered into barns, and no mand could head me! And ain’t I a woman.”
Harriet Tubman was born a slave in 1821 near the eastern shore of Maryland. When she heard that her deceased master’s property would be sold she escaped to freedom in Pennsylvania. When she discovered what it was to be free, she wanted to help other people to freedom. Her reputation for freeing slaves was known throughout the slave community. She was often compared to Moses who led the Israelites of the Bible to freedom. Her contemporaries referred to her as a heroine, saying “her likes it is probable was never known before or since.”
Throughout her life Harriet Tubman maintained an interest in the welfare of others. She raised money for schools, former slaves, destitute children and assisted the sick and the disabled. Toward the end of her life Harriet Tubman worked to establish a home for the elderly. She passed away in 1913 in the “Harriet Tubman Home for Aged and Indigent Colored People.”
The singer Paul Robeson would sing the spiritual “Go Down Moses” and explain that it was a protest song of slaves who had Harriet Tubman in mind. “Go down Moses, Way down in Egypt land, Tell ole pharaoh, Let my people go.” A choral rendition of this song would be a most welcome addition to any public presentation done on the history of famous African Americans.