This unit introduces students to the concept of slavery in America and puts a human face on this tragic period in American history. In doing so, the students will be reading one short story and two books; two nonfiction and one fiction. Each of these stories deals with the experience of individual slaves and their struggle under the bonds of slavery. In reading about individual characters, I hope to help my students understand what a horrific ordeal these slaves must have undergone. I feel that focusing in depth on individual slaves’ stories may make the concept of slavery more readily understandable to them. Furthermore, I want my students to explore how these individuals coped and endured in the face of enslavement.
This curriculum unit has been developed for sixth graders, although it can be adapted and modified for upper elementary grades and high school use. I am a sixth grade reading and language arts teacher at the Fair Haven Middle School in New Haven, Connecticut. I teach in an inclusion classroom and therefore my students have a wide range of reading and writing abilities. My school’s population is sixty-five percent Hispanic, thirty percent African American and five percent Other. Our school population is diverse racially, ethnically and economically. The majority of our students are eager to learn and delve into new topics. My job as their teacher is to provide them with background information and to lead them on their journey of discovery into topics that are difficult to comprehend.
The idea for this unit grew out of discussions I had with my class as we read an excerpt from their sixth grade McDougal-Littel literature series. The assigned reading was a story entitled “Abd al-Rahman Ibrahima” from “Now is Your Time!” by Walter Dean Myers. The story concerns a West African prince of the Fula tribe. As a young man of twenty-one, Ibrahima was sold into slavery by the Mandingo tribe for firearms. He was then brought to the Colonies and sold at auction. Many times throughout this reading my students asked me: “Why didn’t he just run away?” “Why doesn’t he tell someone he is an African prince and they’ll let him go home?” “Why don’t the slaves fight the slave owners and go back to Africa?” This story had clearly engaged their curiosity and I used this to further help them understand the institution of slavery in America. It was a rewarding unit for the class and myself.
The activities in this unit are built around the sixth grade New Haven Language Arts and Social Studies Standards. Lesson plans in this unit are relevant to the sixth grade standards and will include activities such as reading for information and enjoyment, identifying and defining new vocabulary, interpreting what is read and comparing and contrasting books. A wide variety of reading resources will be explored. These include; fiction and nonfiction selections, a play, and first-hand historical documents. Writing will also be an integral part of this curriculum unit as students will be asked to write a journal selection and a persuasive essay. Part of the sixth grade Social Studies Standards includes the examination of how and why free Africans were captured and brought to America, the growth of slavery in the Colonies and the importance of slavery for the Southern Plantation. All of these issues will be explored in this unit. The accompanying lesson plans will encompass these standards and will serve to increase literacy skills for all students. I foresee this unit on the human struggle of slavery to take eight to ten weeks.