The approach of this curriculum is to use art to bridge contextual gaps between literary text, social/political history, and student knowledge by highlighting ideas for the student to guide discussions as they contextualize, connect, and develop language for their framing of the struggles of African Americans as they relate to nature and the environment. Using art with a quasi-K-W-L (know-wonder-learn) approach, students are asked to critically think and discuss visual art as presented and consider the ideas as embedded in respective visual or written text. After previewing the various timelines, students are also asked to look and wonder at what isn’t represented in the visual artworks, the effects of how a subject represented, and reflect on reasons why or alternatives to specific representation. Class discussions should center on not only how historical and cultural information is portrayed or disseminated in both literary and visual artwork but what may be missing or not being represented, and how narratives would be affected if the missing information is included or modified in the presented narrative.
Class discussions could be structured using the approach offered by Six Thinking Hats by Edward De Bono.93 Using this approach may require some individual students to deviate from their comfort zones of seeking “a right answer” to consider ideas and concepts from multiple perspectives of a visual and/or literary text. Teachers as facilitators are able to maximize opportunities of synergy within the classroom group setting by guiding discussions through the various lens provided by the Six Thinking Hats approach.
Assignments for respective “hats” may be formal or not. From a classroom discussion point of view, I find it better to assign each individual or group with a hat to ensure that a myriad of perspectives are presented. The more students use this approach, the easier it becomes to shift from one perspective to another in their consideration of an idea or concept. Groups/individuals may be paired. One such group pairing may include: White and red, black, and yellow, and green and blue. Group discussions may be made to the whole group or recorded digitally.
Six Hats, Six Colors
White is neutral and objective. The white hate is concerned with objective facts and figures.
Red suggests anger, rage and emotions. The red hat gives the emotional view
Black is somber and serious. The black hat is cautious and careful. It points out the weaknesses in an idea.
Yellow is sunny and positive. The yellow hat is optimistic and covers hope and positive thinking.
Green is grass, vegetation, and abundant, fertile growth. The green hat indicates creativity and new ideas.
Blue is cool, and it is also the color of the sky, which is above everything else. The blue hat is concerned with control, the organization of the thinking process, and the use of the other hats.
Class Activity One: Reflective Journal on early African American paintings
Guiding Question: What We Can Learn from Visual Text?
This activity serves to introduce the student to the use of the Reflective Journal and record their framing of their ideas about and concepts of race and nature. First impressions, interactions with visual and literary text, interactions and/or connections with class discussion operate to provide students with evidence of their metathinking.
Students are asked to view paintings by African American painters of landscapes and pastoral scenes depicting a romanticized version of nature. Students are asked to maintain a reflective journal where they record their impressions of visual art presentations, their responses to questions, and reflections about reading and class discussions. Students are provided with a land, environmental history, and literary/art timeline for their review and a context from which they may explore associative ideas or concepts.
- What do you see?
- What does this depiction remind you of?
- Why do you think the artist created this work in this manner?
- What is the message of the work?
- Do you think the work is effective in delivering its message?
- Follow Up Question: What is not reflect in the painting given the time period in which it was created?
Additionally, students should generate at least 3 questions that could be used for discussion or areas for further exploration. It should be impressed that students are creating primary sources and that they should be authentic and honest. Student reflections should incorporate initial responses to readings, feedback of peers and classroom discussions. The journal may be either digital or print. (This writer admits to a preference to written reflective journals (mind-body learning connection) and this may be accomplished digitally by having students screen shot written pages.) For group or class journals which are meant to be public conversations, original entries should be made first and then responses to others are made after an original entry—a way to ensure all voices are heard and limit “group think.”
Using Six Thinking Hats approach also assists students accustomed to the “one right answer” integrate or expand their thinking that allows them to organize a systemic approach to a concept or idea presented in a visual or literary text.
View and Reflect Activity One Artwork:
The following artwork features landscapes by African Americans romanticizing American frontier and/or a style reflective of the period of European and/or European-American painters.
- Flood Waters, Little Miami River (1851)94
- Edward Mitchell Bannister, Landscape, 1882. Oil on panel, 16” x 22”95
- Edward Robert Stuart Duncanson, View of Cincinnati, Ohio, from Covington, Kentucky, 1848. Oil on canvas, 25” x 36”96
- Robert Stuart Duncanson, untitled mural, ca. 1848. Oil on plaster, 109 3/8” x 91 3/8”97
- Grafton Tyler Brown, Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone from Hayden Point, 1891. Oil on canvas. 24”x 16”98
- Grafton Tyler Brown, Yosemite Falls, 1888, Oil on Canvas 30” x 18”99
- William A. Harper, Landscape with Poplars (Afternoon at Montigny) 1898 Oil on canvas, 23” x 28”100
Expansion of Ideas Activities: Watch excerpts from the movie, Buffalo Soldiers (2018) for images of Hollywood’s depiction of landscape, Native Americans, African Americans and relationship with white commanding officers. Additional, nonfiction resources may be found online through university generated documentaries, databases i.e., Britannia, bibliographic listings found in a 2019 study of the Buffalo Soldiers by National Park Service, Department of Interior, and local libraries.
Possible topics for student exploration
- Visual depictions of Native American and African Americans (fact or fiction?)
- The role of the Buffalo Soldier as a federal agent the of United States army
- Relationship between African Americans and Native Americans
- Role of women in war
Class Activity Two: Reflective Journal entry for memoir, Mississippi Solo
Guiding Question: Can an individual be “raceless” in nature?
Students are asked to read and reflect on their reading of Mississippi Solo by Eddy L. Harris101 excerpt (chapter 3). Author presents himself as a man first that is incidentally also African American, and he positions himself as on a man versus nature journey or his quest of self-discovery. Those around him alert him to his “blackness” and how others may respond to “his blackness” but he posits that his perspective of life his broader than those African Americans who are “too sensitive” about race. He argues that his perspective on life allows him to experience more than those who have relegated themselves to what others have proscribed for them. Students are asked to evaluate the credibility of the narrator’s point of view about race and nature.
Do you believe that Harris will achieve the “social prize”102 of acceptance by all under equal protection under the law, if he “paddles his canoe” down the Mississippi River?
What do African Americans bring to nature?
How would you define a landscape? Why?
What do African Americans bring to nature?
What happens when you add people to the landscape?
On the last night before Harris enters the portion of the Mississippi River located in the South, he dreams of being attacked by dogs. As a result, Harris arms himself with a gun in his boot. The following morning, he sees a flock of geese or ducks flying overhead. He notes one “silly goose” that does not fly in the vee formation but “aloof and singular.”103
Interpret Harris’s dream using elements of how he has identified himself as an American who happens to African American, his quest to discover himself, his locale on the river, and the flock of geese.
View and Reflect Activity Two Artwork:
Robert Scott Duncanson, The Blue Hole, 1851 Oil on canvas 29 ¼ x42 1/4104
Edward Mitchell Bannister, Approaching Storm, 1886. Oil on canvas, 40” x 60”105
Kara Walker, Gone: An Historical Romance of Civil War as It Occurred B’tween the Dusky Thighs of One Young Negress and Heart (1994) Paper on wall 13’ x 50’106
Class Activity Three: What Does the African American Bring to Nature? (short story, Ark of Bones)
Guiding Questions: What do myths teach us about culture?
Students are to read and write their reflection of the story in their journals to the short story, Ark of Bones by Henry Dumas.107 Class discussion will be based on what is culture and how it is passed on. How do we as individuals and as a collective decide what to keep and what to throw away?
Art Activity: After reviewing artwork featuring surrealistic art, they are asked to create and present to the class a poster reflecting who they are and what they bring to nature. In their class presentations, they will be asked to explain their posters to identify who they are, origins of this current self, and share any transformations that may have occurred to create this present self.
View and Reflect Activity Three Artwork:
Hale A. Woodruff, Afro Emblems (1950)108
Al Hollingsworth, Memorable Wall (1963-64) Oil, acrylic, collage assemblage 6’ x 4’109
Emilio Cruz, Straited Voodoo (1987) Pastel on paper, 27 ½” x 30”110
Leslie Price, Purusa, (1971) Oil, 4 ½’ x 6 ½’111
Class Activity Four: What Does the African American Bring to Nature? (poem, Between The World And Me)
Guiding Questions: What are some ways African American writers and visual artists share their experience of nature?
Respond to artist, Rodney McMillian’s description of landscape art. “It is a political indoctrination machine-code for propagandistic for Western expansion. It is not a pastoral scene, but a space associated with work, ownership, and oppression related to toil, rape, and murder.”112
Reflective Journal entry on Between The World And Me, a poem by Richard Wright, published in 1935 that tells the story of a man’s walk in nature one morning and encounters a lynching site.113 Students are asked to read and reflect on the question, “What Does The African American Bring to Nature?”
View and Reflect Activity Four Artwork:
Frank Williams, Environment (1987) Pastel, 51 ½” x 60”114
Vincent Smith (1972) Negotiating Commission for Amnesty115
Vincent Smith Queen of the Nile116 Oil and sand 42” x 54”
Betye Saar, Black Girl’s Window (1969)117
Kerry James Marshall, Bang (1995)118
Jonathan Green, African Tree Markings, 2013. Acrylic on archival paper, 11” x 14”119
Edward Clark, Wasted Landscape (1961)120
Equal Justice Initiative/Human Pictures. Jars of soil from lynching sites.121
Benny Andrews, Black 1971 Oil 34 x 24122
Expansion of Ideas Activity: Read and respond to the essay, Black Women in the Wilderness by Evelyn White123 and compare any experiences or connections you make to the text.
Class Activity Five: Gallery Walk of the Women of the “Wild West” (novel, God’s Country)
Guiding Question: What are some associations or roles of women in nature?
The purpose of this prereading activity is to determine prior knowledge of students, generate awareness of beliefs they may possess and begin a reflective process that they will build on throughout their experience with this curriculum. It is also a way to create student ownership in the learning experience.
It is also a way to direct student focus to the concepts of race and gender found in the fictional text, God’s Country by Percival Everett. For inspiration, use the children’s book, The True West: Real Stories About Black Cowboys, Women Sharpshooters, Native American Rodeo Stars, Pioneering Vaqueros, and the Unsung Explorers, Builders, and Heroes Who Shaped the American West by Mifflin Lowe124 and Dreaming In Indian: Contemporary Native American Voices edited by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale.125 Individual students will be asked to create a digital or print “Wanted” poster in response to the following questions:
- Create or post a photograph of a woman needed or wanted in the “Wild West?”
- Explain what role she plays in your version of the “Wild West”?
- Comment on her limitations and strengths?
- Describe how she became a success?
- Pick her shoes. Why did you select those shoes? (Provide a photo of the following shoe types: a. moccasins, b. stiletto/high heels, c. sneakers, and d. cowboy boots)
What are standards of beauty?
Do we judge women by what they wear?
What is success for a woman?
Are there strengths/limitations of a being a woman?
View and Reflect Activity Five Artwork:
Rahim Fortune, Shinnecock Powwow, 2018 Photograph126
Rahim Fortune, Chichimecas, Inwood, New York, 2019 Photograph
Rahim Fortune, Cherokee and Lumbee brothers, Inwood New York 2019
Rahim Fortune, Dancers Gather Along the Hudson River
Charles Alston, Exploration and Colonization (1537-1850)1949. Oil on canvas 111 1/4” x 198”127
Hale Woodruff, Settlement and Development (1850-1949)1949. Oil on canvas 111” ¼” x 198”128
Richard Mayhew, Meadow, 1982. Oil, 48” x 50”129
Bernie Casey, Orbital Moonscape, 1970
Horace Pippin, Buffalo Hunt, 1933, Oil on canvas, 21 5/16 × 31 5/16in. Whitney Museum130
Horace Pippin, Night Call, 1935, Oil on canvas, 28” × 32”
Lawrence Burney with Art by Gioncarlo Valentine, The Enduring Legacy of Baltimore’s Arabbers¸ Photography131
Expansion of Ideas Activity: Read and respond to the 5/10/2019 Los Angeles Times OpEd piece by Gordan H. Chang of Stanford University, Remember the Chinese Immigrants Who Built America’s First Transcontinental Railroad132 and U.S. Inducts Chinese Railroad Workers into Labor Hall of Honor133 and compare the Chinese immigrant and Chinese American experiences with that of African Americans. Respond to the “celebrated” photograph commemorating the driving of the last spike of the transcontinental railroad.
Explore urban cowboying in Philadelphia, Baltimore, or Compton134. Read Ghetto Cowboy by G. Neri.135
Class Activity Six: Reflective Journal entry on “reframing” nature in students’ own communities.
Guiding Question(s): “What does (could) nature look like in your community?” or “What would your garden/farm look like?
Students are asked to read/listen to audiobook, watch videos and then reflect on the concept of farming as presented in the visual text and supporting literary text. After reflection, students are asked to “reframe” the narrative for their present or future community.
Using novel excerpts:
(sugar farming) Chapter 19 of Queen Sugar by Natalie Baszile136or
(turpentine farming) Georgia Dusk excerpt from Cane by Jean Toomer137
(cane and sorghum farming) Sweet Tooth excerpt, The Cooking Gene by Michael W. Twitty138
Using picture books (Although not authored by African American writers, the listed books either feature or are illustrated by a people of color):
Farmer Will Allen and the Growing Table by Jacqueline Briggs Martin139 (illustrated by an African American) children’s biography about Will Allen, a 2008 MacArthur Foundation named innovator of urban farming methods for his Milwaukee farm including aquaponics and hydroponics.
The Secret Garden of George Washington Carver by Gene Barretta140 (illustrated by an African American) children’s biography about George Washington Carver.
The Good Garden by Katie Smith Milway141 is an introduction to food insecurity as a global issue. It is a story about a family who learn new methods of farming that transforms their lives.
What’s in the Garden? by Marianne Berkes & Cris Arbo142 is introduction to fruits and vegetables and healthy recipes for kids.
Noah Trevor’s reporting on President Biden’s aid to African American farmers video (9:35 minutes)143.
The Young Black Farmers Defying A Legacy of Discrimination video (10:27 minutes )144
Farmer Will Allen and the Growing Table by Jacqueline Briggs Martin145 (illustrated by an African American) children’s biography about Will Allen, a 2008 MacArthur Foundation named innovator of urban farming methods for his Milwaukee farm including aquaponics and hydroponics.
View and Reflect Activity Six Artwork:
Romare Bearden, Untitled (Harvesting Tobacco) 1940. Gouache on paperboard 43” x 30”146
Photographs from Ralph DeLuca Collection of African American Vernacular Photography c. 1879-1950147
Charles Alston, Magic in Medicine: Study for Harlem Hospital Mural, NYC. 1936. Graphite on paper. 16 ¾” x 13 ½”148
Charles Alston, Modern Medicine: Study for Harlem Hospital Mural, NYC. 1936. Graphite on paper. 16 ¾” x 13 ½”149