We will begin our unit by reading
Meet Addy an American Girl: Escape from Slavery.
(In most cases I will read material to the class. This is necessary because there are usually not enough copies for each student and/or the reading level is too difficult.) Addy is an African American girl whom we meet during the Civil War when she and her family were staves. Though her life after the events of this book will not be covered in this unit, Addy's story follows her until the time of freedom, after the Civil War has ended and her family has been reunited and is living in Philadelphia. The events of the stories relate accurately to the experiences history tells us occurred during this time period.
The Addy books are part of the larger American Girl Series, featuring young girls living during various historical time periods. Since I have used Addy books from the Series, I know that they are popular with students. Though aimed at girls, they are also popular with boys who seem to enjoy the fast paced excitement of events and can relate to the emotions of the characters in the same way girls do. For
both girls and boys of any race or background, they help to make this historical period come alive.
Each of the girls featured in the larger series, lives in a particular historical time period and stars in a different set of books. Addy is the only African American girl in the series. The American Girls have been a huge commercial success. You can purchase a variety of dolls and many related items on more than one web page. Despite this commercialization, I find that the Addy books have had a positive influence on my students. Besides encouraging reading, they allow a teacher to painlessly and naturally interject factual material, and the books themselves make it easier for students to understand history on a personal level.
Meet Addy: Escape from Slavery
, by Connie Porter
In this story, we follow Addy and her mother as the family is making plans for escape. The story then moves on through their experiences on the road to freedom. Poppa and Addy's brother have been sold to another plantation owner and Addy's baby sister, along with other relatives, has to be left behind. It is only Addy and her mother who will try to escape. Events of the story give us a personal view of traveling the Underground Railroad. Though there is no "conductor," there are a safe house, a helpful white woman, and various methods of deception familiar to those who know of the Underground Railroad. I have found that the fears and courage involved in escape are clearly evident to students.
Our discussions will focus on Addy's mother, speculating on the various pressures and choices facing the family, especially as they relate to her. Possible questions might include some of the following: Why was Addy's mother initially hesitant about whether the family should attempt to escape? Why do you think her opinion was different from Poppa's opinion? How do you think Momma felt when she had to leave Suzie? Would you have left her? How do you think Momma learned to control her emotions?
Life During Slavery
Though, naturally, background information on this time period, and others we will discuss, may be gathered from many resources, I strongly recommend that any teacher using this unit consult
A Shining Thread of Hope
by Darlene Clark Hine and Kathleen Thompson (See bibliography). This book presents a continuous, coherent, interrelated picture of the role played by African American women in shaping the course of African American history, and thus United States history. Much of this information is relevant to this unit and besides providing the teacher with a strong background of facts, to supplement the basic outline presented here, the way in which the text focuses on the accomplishments of African American women offers a perspective not always found in other history texts.
In order to better understand the various roles Addy's mother assumed, and was forced to assume, and to understand the often conflicting pressures that were placed upon her, students will need to increase their knowledge of what life was like during this period and under these conditions. This will be done in a number of ways.
The Addy story, itself, gives us a good start. The physical conditions, the treatment of slaves, their "family"structure, their means of coping, and other particulars are covered in her book. At the end, there is also a short, but concise, section on "America in 1864._ This section contains some important basic information and some authentic photographs and sketches related to this time period. (Additional information and photographs may be found in the Hine text recommended above.)
I will also present various excerpts from other works that discuss or depict different aspects of life during enslavement. In particular, we will focus on Julius Lester's
To Be a Slave.
This collection contains a variety of quotes taken directly from former slaves. Some have been edited, while others are written in the dialect in which they were told. Lester, who has compiled these excerpts, provides a commentary that connects these authentic comments in a meaningful sequence, supplementing most quotes with relevant information which adds to the reader's understanding. The word "nigger" appears often, so that the individual teacher, who may feel that the use of this word is inappropriate for young children, can choose to substitute "Negro." In order to retain authenticity, it seems best to tell students that this is being done, adding that when the term is used here by former slaves, its intent was usually not malicious. It should be clear that this does not minimize the negative impact of the term.
We will now turn back to Addy's mother and compile an "I am. . . ." list saying what we believe she would want it to say. The following are among possibilities the students might list: African American, woman, mother, wife, friend, relative, a seamstress, an escapee and of course some adjectives. The class list will be discussed and saved for later use.
Introducing Harriet Tubman
From there we will move to examine the life and accomplishments of Harriet Tubman, famous for her work on the Underground railroad. In order to get to this point, I will read Faith Ringgold's
Aunt Harriet's Underground Railroad in the Sky.
This will be the unit's first contact with Ringgold but will not examine her as an individual. We will use information from this book to expand students' basic knowledge of this Harriet.
In this story, we meet an eight-year-old girl named Cassie. Cassie has a younger brother named Be Be and she possesses a very vivid imagination. With her brother, Cassie is able to fly. While gliding amongst the stars, they encounter a dilapidated old train which Be Be boards, along with hundreds of other silent people. It is going North and the conductor is Harriet Tubman. While the train moves ahead, Aunt Harriet directs Cassie along an escape route taken by African Americans during slavery. Cassie's experiences bring her a vivid understanding of the horrors those individuals had to endure, as well showing her the kind and gentle ways in which others made their passage possible. Cassie and Be Be are reunited at the end, both having a new understanding of their great-great grandparents' survival.
Along with the events of the story, the brilliantly colored illustrations that accompany the text will be discussed, especially the quilts hung out as signals. Students will speculate regarding the possible fears and hopes of the people making the journey, including Harriet, as well as what the students might have felt: Why was it important for Harriet to be brave? Do you think that she was ever frightened? How would you have felt?
Students will then be motivated to gather factual information on Tubman using various resources available to them: books, encyclopedias, computer, other stories based upon her life, and magazine and newspaper articles. (Often, she is the subject of Black History Month features. If the teacher requires information, there are a number of articles available on the internet and in some of the references listed in my bibliography.) As a group, we will discuss and record pertinent information that they have discovered. The following is a brief summary of her life with facts compiled from a variety of references including Darlene Clark Hine's
A Shining Thread of Hope.
The exact date of Harriet Tubman's birth in Dorchester County, Maryland is unclear, but the year was either 1819 or 1820. Born into slavery, Harriet was treated harshly. Injured by a blow to the head when she was twelve, Harriet suffered from sudden periods of sleep that may have been caused by the injury. When she was twenty-five, she married John Tubman, a free African American. Fearing that she would be sold South, she escaped to Philadelphia in 1849 and soon began her career as the most renown "conductor" on the Underground Railroad. She made around thirteen trips and rescued about three hundred slaves, including her parents and brother. People called her Moses. Her highly spiritual nature and determination convinced her that God would protect her journeys. She claimed to have never lost a passenger. Though illiterate, she spoke against slavery and was a friend to Frederick Douglas and other abolitionists. She most likely worked with John Brown in planning his raid on Harpers Terry. She served with the Union Army in many capacities. After the war, she married Nelson Davis and they settled in Auburn, New York. She was a supporter of women's rights, and she established a home for the aged and indigent where she worked and eventually died.
In addition to information available in the Hine reference, mentioned previously, teachers will find relevant facts and teaching suggestions on the National Underground Freedom Center web-site (www.freedomcenter.org) Included there, you will find a time line, discussion of related places and people, and age appropriate references.
Harriet and the Promised Land
In this last book about Harriet, we will look at and discuss a series of paintings by the famous African American artist, Jacob Lawrence. In the book,
Harriet and the Promised Land
, his vivid paintings, with their bold colors and unique style, are accompanied by a simple, yet telling, verse. Together, they bring Harriet's journeys alive to the viewer. Discussion could explore a number of avenues, including: Harriet as she is depicted by Lawrence, the style of Jacob Lawrence, and the ways in which his paintings tell us how he would probably define Harriet.
Suggested Additional Readings
We will now read and discuss two short books set during the time period we have been investigating. The use of these two stories is optional. They are not essential to achieving the goals of this unit, but they do enhance student understanding and reinforce the validity of events found in
by Candice Ransom, we meet two strong African American women, one a mother and one a free woman who takes the risk of teaching slave children. Both sacrifice so that the story's narrator, a young Black girl, can escape to Canada.
In the story
Almost to Freedom
by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, events are narrated by a homemade doll, similar to one owned by Addy. This doll belongs to a slave girl, Lindy, whose mother was the doll's creator, just as Momma was the one who made Addy's doll. Through the eyes of Sally, the doll, we follow Lindy's life as a slave and eventually through the trials of her escape to freedom. After being hidden in a cellar by a sympathetic white woman, Lindy is forced to leave Sally behind as the slaves must make a swift exit. Sally's grief is lessened sometime later when another young girl escaping from slavery is hidden in the same cellar. She finds Sally, adopts her as her own, and gives her the name, Belinda. Belinda now sees her mission in life as comforting girls like Lindy and her new owner as they travel to freedom. (Please see an included lesson plan in which students make their own doll.)
Important elements in each of these stories, including Addy's story, will be discussed in the light of what we have learned from all of them. Possible approaches could include the following: How are the women in
and the mother in
Addy's mother? Are they at all different? Make the same comparisons among the young Black girl in
, Lindy, and Addy. Could you have done what they did? How would you have felt? Do you know any woman similar to any of the women in these stories?
When this is done, the class should be ready to complete a Harriet Tubman "I am. . . ." list. Possible answers that students might select include the following: African American, woman, slave, former slave, wife, daughter, sister, Underground Railroad conductor, anti slavery speaker, abolitionist, "Moses," nurse, spy, laundress, scout, spy, and of course adjectives. Lists will be shared and a class list compiled. We will then compare our Tubman list with the one made for Addy's mother, noting and speculating on the causes of any similarities and differences. For example, Addy's mother was not a conductor on the Underground Railroad. Why? If the circumstances of her life had been different, do you think she would have been one? Both initially left family behind. Why? Would you have done the same? These and other issues should easily present themselves. Though we will not make a separate list for the other woman we have met, we will discuss which responses would apply to each of them. Compiling these "lists" is an attempt to help students recognize and focus upon the various positive roles these women played in their lives.