Though there will be some variation in the amount of time spent on each, the areas of African American history, which will be integrated with the reading and writing of specific poetry, include the period of enslavement, the Civil War years, Reconstruction and its downfall, the Migration of African Americans to the urban areas of the North, the Civil Rights Movement, and the prominent issues existing today. After we leave the Civil War and the Reconstruction years, there will be considerable overlapping of the historical periods we cover. May poems are as relevant to one period as they are to another.
An example of such an all-encompassing poem is a piece by Lewis Latimer, "Unconquered and Unconquerable." With its declaration of unending pride and refusal to yield to the forces of defeat, this poem will launch students into an investigation of African American history, made more human and relevant by the poetry this unity suggests. It will be presented for discussion at the beginning and at the unit's conclusion without specific connection to any historical period. Students will eventually make those connections, hopefully realizing that it connects to all.
My soul doth still forbid me tears
Unconquered and unconquerable
Now Is Your Time
, p. 229)
Latimer, himself, will be examined as an individual who prevailed against considerable odds. Born in Massachusetts in 1848, he was the son of parents who had escaped from slavery in Virginia. Though most recognized for his work with Thomas Edison and his contributions to the electric light bulb, he was considered a person of culture, which included the writing of poetry. Students should be interested in the fact that Latimer had a local connection when he worked for a lighting company in Bridgeport, Connecticut. It was there that he, along with Joseph V. Nichols, successfully produced a method of attaching carbon filaments in bulbs. He later received a patent for an improved process of manufacturing filaments. In its unspectacular fashion, his life stands out as a dramatic example of pride and protest.
As we move on, there will be a compilation of other "role models" we meet along the way. Poems related to these individuals and their own words will be examined and become the subject of students' writings. More personal issues such as family, skin color, hair texture, the influence of media on what is desirable in appearance, and students' appreciation of the past, as well as their goals for the future, will be examined when relevant, no matter what the historical period. Additionally, specific time will be set aside toward the unit's conclusion for pupils to discuss and express themselves in poetry in relationship to any or all of these issues.