In this unit our discussion of Lawrence and the Harlem Renaissance will help students better understand the heroism and importance involved in the Haitian Revolution. Focusing on the Louverture panels, students will begin to understand the importance and feasibility of telling stories through history and art. We will look at and read the Louverture panels, focusing on how art and narration can come together to tell a story much like stories are told in graphic novels. I will point out to students that Lawrence’s retelling of historical events in this manner really made him a forerunner of the graphic novel, while making important historical events more accessible to a wider array of viewers and listeners.
In this unit, students will be introduced to the history of Haiti and the Haitian Revolution (1791-1804). Most of my students have no idea how important Haiti and other Caribbean nations are to the history of our country and the history of American people. Through this unit students will begin to understand just how deep the roots of our nation truly are and the importance of the revolution in the shaping of American history and the lives of so many Americans.
Through this unit I hope that students will gain many insights and understandings that they previously may not have had. Students will learn about figures from the Harlem Renaissance, focusing on Lawrence and others. Students will learn not only how instrumental that era of American history was in the shaping of the character and culture of our country, but also how important it is to give honest and often overlooked voices to the stories and histories of so many unheard heroes.
Students will gain a new understanding of the importance of biography and storytelling in our lives and how art can be utilized to help tell stories. We all have stories to tell and we all have heroes whose stories have sometimes gone untold. I will challenge students to look at heroes of their own; grandparents, aunts, uncles, teachers, musicians, and to retell their stories through art and narration much like Lawrence attempted to do through his artwork.
I will ask students to follow Lawrence’s example and find a hero, either in history (perhaps figures of the Harlem Renaissance) or in their own lives who has a story to tell. Using art and narration, students will tell the story of their hero and share it with classmates. Linking Lawrence’s narration of history through art to the Harlem Renaissance and to my students, this interdisciplinary unit can be shared with art and social studies/history teachers. I hope students will also gain a new appreciation for art for art’s sake as well as art as a learning tool that can be used to help us understand and appreciate more of what we see and learn on a daily basis.
The Harlem Renaissance has always been a favorite jumping off point for me to share some of the most influential and intriguing aspects of African American culture to my students. The movement that was really the result of an unhappy populace looking for a better life, seeking a new beginning away from the Jim Crow South, produced dozens of talented musicians, artists, writers and thinkers.
Many times over the years I have taught the Harlem Renaissance to middle school students by utilizing the music of the era. I often start with a quick mention of the Great Migration, but did not really take the time to look closely at the roots of the movement. Why was there a need to move? Where was everyone going and what were they looking for? What were they escaping and what were they getting into?
Entering this conversation through art, specifically Jacob Lawrence’s telling the story of Toussaint Louverture and the Haitian Revolution, as well as his panels on Harriet Tubman and the Great Migration, my unit will take on a deeper meaning as it looks at the roots of what led to the movement and the Harlem Renaissance itself.
Often our best art, our best literature, our best music comes from places of pain. The Harlem Renaissance was not just a collection of families throwing their things in the back of a U-Haul truck and heading north to live with relatives, it was a reaction to the suffering and injustice that had ruined so many lives for so long.
While many middle school students understand that slavery existed in this country during the 18th and 19th centuries, many of them are unaware the sugar plantations which dotted the landscape of the Caribbean like the hundreds of islands which dot the region geographically, were really the foundation and prototype for American plantations which dotted the valleys of the Mississippi and fed into the slave trade in the ports of the American south. Many of my students have deep connections with the Caribbean; a number of them have been and continue to travel to Puerto Rico yearly, I have students who themselves were born or whose parents were born in Haiti, Venezuela, Barbados, and others. I believe this unit will be very important to not only these, but to all of my students as we take a closer look together at a somewhat untold story of an unfair and inhumane history that still shapes our lives today. I believe this unit will be an eye-opening learning experience for all of my students.