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Internet Lessons for Learning About Slavery and the Underground Railroad

Elementary Lessons:

Two Tickets to Freedom
This lesson uses the piece of children’s literature entitled Two Tickets To Freedom by Florence B. Freedman. The story is based on a true account by William Craft of his and his wife Ellen’s escape from slavery on a train disguised as a man (Ellen) and his personal servant (William). Standard 3.4.6

Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt
This lesson is based on a true, little-known chapter in African American history. As a seamstress in the Big House, Clara hears two slaves talking about how they could find the Underground Railroad if only they had a map. In a flash of inspiration, she sees how to use the cloth in her scrap bag to sew a map of the land - a freedom quilt - that no master will ever suspect is a map to freedom. Students use this idea to learn about the importance of geography in the functioning of the Underground Railroad. Standard 3.4.6

Aunt Harriet's Underground Railroad in the Sky
This lesson uses Aunt Harriet's Underground Railroad in the Sky by Faith Ringgold to help students compare the life and work of Harriet Tubman to that of a regular railroad conductor. Students explore the things they would have needed to know had they were Harriet Tubman journeying from Maryland to Canada. journey?" Work in pairs to accomplish this task. Chart information gathered by students. Standards 2.5 and 3.4.6

Harriet Tubman & The Underground Railroad
The students in Mrs. Taverna's second grade class at Pocantico Hills School in Sleepy Hollow, New York created a timeline, a quiz, character sketches, poems and crossword puzzles about Harriet Tubman for other young students to use in learning about the Underground Railroad. The site was updated in April 2004. Standards 2.5 and 3.4.6

Underground Railroad
This National Geographic site is an interactive journey along the Underground Railroad during which users make decisions and must live by the consequences of those decisions. The activity is interesting but the places used in the game are not historically accurate. Analysis Skills – Chronological Thinking #3

The Slave Escape Route
Introduce students to The Underground Railroad by reading to them, or having them read, some of the background text on the subject at http://www.nationalgeographic.com/features/railroad Show them the map of The Underground Railroad routes and explain that slaves often had to find their own way to the North, at which point they would meet people working on The Underground Railroad who assisted them on their way to Canada. Standard 3.4.6

Follow the Drinking Gourd
Music is a language that communicates messages, feelings, and heritage. Music, art, and dance were very important to the African American slaves. Many were not taught to read and write; nor were they allowed to talk as a community. However, feelings, messages, and the hope of freedom were communicated through the words and art of the slave. In this unit, the students will experience the messages of the slaves in quilts and songs, their feelings and experiences, and how it impacted their history and culture. Standard 5.4.6

Our Virtual Underground Railroad Quilt
This site is a model for creating an online quilt showing the code quilt patterns, the routes north, the times people escaped, songs, stations on the Underground Railroad, the treatment of slaves and much more. This is listed in the elementary lessons section because that is who created it. This activity could be done at many levels. Standards 3.4.6 and 5.4.6

Sunken Slave Ship
The Henrietta Marie's trip began in 1700 in London. The ship stopped in Africa to trade glass beads, guns, and pewter to tribal chiefs in exchange for a human cargo of 190 African slaves and continued on to Jamaica and sold the slaves to plantation owners, but never returned to London from there. It was overtaken by a violent storm and went down off the Florida coast.

Marine archaeologists unearthed the ship's artifacts in 1982. Using items such as the bell and shackles, historians pieced together the ship's saga, providing a rare look at how slave ships operated. Archaeological discoveries like the Henrietta Marie change the way we view history. How do they affect our view of the present and future? Standards 5.2.3 and 5.4.6

Slaves and Servants
It has been said that much of our knowledge of history today is a result of people keeping journals. In this JamesQuest adventure, you will be able to relate to the feelings and emotions of the slaves and servants and express your discoveries through personal journal entries. You will journey into the lives of the slaves and indentured servants of the 1600’s and explore the lands from which they traveled and their new lives in the New World. You will encounter many hardships and meet new people who will drastically change your life. As you travel through this arduous journey, you will create a personal journal that describes your existence as a slave or an indentured servant, and you will become our link to the past! Standard 5.4.6

Who Got Away? 18th Century Runaway Slaves
Using ads from the Runaway Slave Advertisement Digital Archive, identify some characteristics of runaway slaves in the 18th century. Recognize what slaves needed in order to be successful when running away. Generalize about the success of specific runaways in obtaining freedom. Construct a narrative description of how a slave might be successful in running away. Standard 5.4.6

Middle School Lessons:
(Lessons with 5th grade standards listed will need adaptation by the teacher because of their level of difficulty.)

Acting Out a Scene on The Underground Railroad
Divide the class into small groups and inform them that they’ll be gathering information about the Underground Railroad to develop brief skits about what it was like for the escaping slaves. Explain that their goal will be to try to gain an appreciation for what escaping slaves had to endure in order to achieve freedom in the North. Standards 8.7.2 and 8.9.3

Monument to the Underground Railroad
Many people think that the Underground Railroad is a subject that deserves a new national monument. The Underground Railroad was the secret network of people and places that helped runaway slaves escape to freedom. The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center is planning a monument that will be finished in the summer of 2004. You can design one on your own. Standards 5.7.3, 8.1.2, and 8.2.3

I Got a Right to Two Things – A Play About Harriet Tubman
This play is about Harriet Tubman and demonstrates how to turn primary sources into a dramatic performance. Included are two freedom songs, and the original document, "Scene in the Life of Harriet Tubman," by Sarah Bradford, which inspired this play. Also, there is a lesson plan to promote further dialogue about anti-slavery issues. Standards 8.9.1

Plantation Trouble
This two-act play is set on a Mississippi plantation in 1859 and is an interesting way to learn about the interactions between plantation owners and their enslaved workers. Standards 8.7.2 and 8.7.3

The Amistad Case
Students analyze primary source documents from the Amistad Case in which enslaved Africans mutinied and took over the slave ship Amistad. They determine the facts of the Amistad Case and the legal principles involved in the case. They look at the opposing arguments in the case and the court decisions. They discuss the case affect the abolitionist movement and John Quincy Adams' participation. Standard 8.2.3

Attitudes and Behaviors Regarding Slavery During the Colonial Period
Students will more fully understand 19th century slavery if they are grounded in the colonial period. Students analyze runaway ads in the Virginia Gazette, and the evolution of law related to slavery and the rights of free blacks. Standards 5.4.6, 8.1.1 and 8.7.2

When Rice Was King
Textbooks tend to examine the 1750's-1850's in the South as the rise of cotton culture. It is important, however, to understand that before "cotton was king," the plantation system had already been producing crops such as rice, indigo, and tobacco for many decades.

Using the primary material given here, pretend to be a newspaper reporter from a northern city who has come to interview people (both enslaved and free) living on a plantation similar to Chicora Wood. Note: Teachers will need to work with fifth graders on the background section of this activity but the maps and plantation plans are interesting and accessible for younger students. Standards 5.4.6 and 8.7.1

The House of Dies Drear
These activities go along with Virginia Hamilton's book House of Dies Drear, a gripping story about the Underground Railroad. There are activities to promote writing, vocabulary development, poetry, and much more. Standards 5.7.3, 5.7.4, 8.3.1, 8.9.1 and 8.9.2

The Underground Railroad Webquest
Explore the Underground Railroad, the people who served as conductors and the system used to help enslaved people to freedom. Report your findings to the class by playing the role of artist, Freedom Seekers, Teacher or Writer. Standards 5.7.5 and 8.9.1

Families in Bondage
This two-part lesson plan draws on letters written by African Americans in slavery and by free blacks to loved ones still in bondage, singling out a few among the many slave experiences to offer students a glimpse into slavery and its effects on African American family life. Through these letters, students explore some of the ways African Americans sought to overcome anguish and examine the emotional terrain of the people of the time. Standards 8.7.2 and 8.7.4

Revealing Untold Stories:
Examining Depictions of Slavery as Presented in a Variety of Texts

In this lesson, students explore how and why various historical resources present information about slavery differently. Students work in pairs to examine written texts (slave narratives, American and African history textbooks, encyclopedias, and Civil War books) to interpret the objectives, points of view, and depictions of slavery in these resources, and then write analytical reviews based on their research and interpretations of the sources. Standard 8.7.2

Of Human Bondage: George Washington and the Issue of Slavery
Read and interpret four documents George Washington wrote regarding his slaves and the issue of slavery. Analyze the reasons why Washington was conflicted over the issue of slavery. Discuss the evolution of Washington’s attitude toward slavery and explain the significance of Washington’s eventual freeing of his slaves. Standards 5.5.4, 8.1.2 and 8.2.3

Slave Code of 1833
Laws were passed to regulate slavery after Alabama became a territory and then a state. The antebellum legal status of slaves and "free persons of color" in the state of Alabama was defined and codified in the Slave Code of 1833. The primary source ducuments in this lesson discuss runaways, emancipation, sale, and other matters pertaining to slaves and free Blacks, giving a real understanding of how "democratic society" in the South really worked until the Civil Rights Movement. Vestiges of these laws are recognizable in the Jim Crow laws after the Civil War. Standards 8.7.2, 8.7.4, 8.11.3 and 11.1.4

Slavery: Point of View of Former Slaves
Here is your chance to be an amateur historian as you read and analyze oral accounts of slavery form those who lived it. These oral histories were done in the 1930's as part of the Federal Writer's Project. Standards 8.7.2, 8.9.6 and 8.11.3

The Compromise of 1850
The Compromise of 1850 was one of the most important pieces of legislation in ante-bellum America. Most historians judge it to have been a failure. Not only did it not avert war, but it imposed a harsh penalty on those working to end slavery through creating safe havens in the North. Using an example of the Compromise of 1850 and the Fugitive Slave Act, summarize the importance of compromise in the congressional process. Research the different sides and aspects of law-passing and compromise and chart the steps followed. Present to the class the most important arguments used in the debate on the Compromise of 1850 and state your position on the significance and importance of the debate. Standard 8.9.4 and 8.9.5

White Southerners' Defense of Slaveholding
Through an analysis of newspaper articles Augusta County, Virginia, students examine Southern attitudes in defense of slavery. Standards 8.7.2, 8.7.4, and 8.9.6

Runaway Slaves WebQuest
Historians often wish they could go back into the past to find out what slavery was like. Well, you will have an opportunity to do just that! You will read runaway slave ads and then develop a history of the one you select to write about. You will then develop your own runaway slave ad, describing your attributes, and telling why your master would need you back. You will also have the privilege of interviewing a famous runaway slave and tell his/her story as to why he ran away and how running away changed his/her life. And then finally you will visit the Underground Railroad. After visiting it you will tell us why it was so important. Standard 8.7.2 and 8.9.1

To Be A Slave
This website uses the book To Be a Slave by Julius Lester as the source for a look at African-American life during the Antebellum, Civil War, and Reconstruction periods of American history. Students will compare the lives of free blacks and slaves in a Venn Diagram and then graphically present this in a one-pager collage; create the materials for a "breaking the chain" game; produce a found concrete poem and a diary entry, and lastly they will learn how song lyrics were “the signs of the times.” Standards 8.7.2 and 8.11.2

To Be a Slave
In this English Language Arts unit literature circles and writing process techniques are used to explore historical fiction, legends and biographies on the topic of slavery. Canada's connection to the Underground Railroad is stressed. Visual art, music and drama activities are also included and students are given opportunities to conduct research on the Internet. Scroll down to the title in this website which has posted the lessons in PDF format. Standard 8.9.1

Educator's Guide to..."Follow the Drinking Gourd"
During the era of slavery in the United States, many slaves fled to freedom in the North. In order to reduce the numbers of escaping slaves, owners kept slaves illiterate and totally ignorant of geography. This site includes the words and music for Follow the Drinking Gourd and information and activities about the Big Dipper for astronomy. NASA has produced a video about the Underground Railroad called... Underground Railroad: Connections to Freedom and Science, appropriate for grades 5-adults. Ordering information is at this site. Another astronomy lesson on the Drinking gourd is available at http://www.northern-stars.com/Follow_theDrinking_Gourd.pdf Standard 8.7.2

Impact of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850:
Americans Must Decide Between Abiding by the Law and Civil Disobedience

The Fugitive Slave Act forced many northerners to consider for the first time the ethical implications of the slave system by forcing them to participate in it. To understand the issues raised by this law, students will simulate a town meeting held in response to a demand for aid in capturing runaway slaves. Then they will write an essay in the form of a journal entry in which they try to reconstruct what might actually have gone on at such a meeting. Students will be able to explain how the act changed northern attitudes by forcing them to take sides on an issue that had formerly been “someone else’s problem.” Standards 8.9.3 and 8.9.5

The Power of Words to Create Change-Uncle Tom’s Cabin
Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe was described by Abraham Lincoln as the “book that started the Civil War”. It was published in 1852 and sold more than 300,000 copies in its first year. It was also performed as a play in many towns and cities throughout the North. In this excerpt, the dialogue, spellings, and “accent” are from the original and were Stowe’s attempt to represent uneducated speech. However, it will be somewhat difficult for many readers to understand. Haley is a slave trader and Tom, and Marks are slave catchers talking about the enslaved people they are seeking to recapture. The last paragraph is Harriet Beecher Stowe’s commentary on how she hopes people will respond. Standard 8.9.1

A Point of View on Slavery: Slaveholders
This lesson from the Alabama State Archives looks at slavery from the view of slaveholders. James A. Tait was a wealthy slaveholder in Wilcox County, Alabama. He recorded notes about his slaves, including births and family relationships, in a memorandum book. He also recorded his thoughts and advice to his children on the management of slaves and his plantation. As an amateur historian, it is your job to "read between the lines" to determine his beliefs about the institution of slavery and the nature of the enslaved peoples. Standards 8.7.2 and 8.7.3

Attitudes about Slavery in Franklin County, Pennsylvania
Students are asked to compare and contrast attitudes about slavery in Franklin County, Pennsylvania, by analyzing newspaper articles from a Republican point of view in the Franklin Repository & Transcript, and from the Democratic point of view in the Valley Spirit. Standard 8.9.5

High School Lessons:

The Quakers
Students to investigate the role of the Quakers in helping the escaping slaves. After reading the mission statement of the American Friends Service Committee, identify the specific principles that led the Quakers to assist in The Underground Railroad. How do current projects of the American Friends Service Committee imitate the Quakers’ assistance in the abolition movement? Write an essay describing the Quakers’ role in The Underground Railroad and the ways in which Quaker philosophy obligated them to help. Standard 11.3.1

"We Came to Free the Slaves": John Brown on Trial
Throughout American history people have protested and broken the law. Once in court, they often have tried to use their trials to advance their causes. No one had a deeper moral hatred of slavery than John Brown. Before the Civil War, John Brown, a tireless crusader against slavery, fought his last battle against slavery in an American courtroom. Standards 8.9.1 and 11.3.1

Learn about the role that spirituals have played in African American history and religion. Begin by reviewing the combination of history and cultural factors that contributed to the development of the spiritual. Then explore the community building power of this combination by listening to a performance of "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot." Then turn to the 19th-century biography of Harriet Tubman to examine how she used spirituals as a secret signal to fugitive slaves on the Underground Railroad. Against this background, reconsider the impact of the line from "an old Negro spiritual" with which Martin Luther King, Jr., ended his famous "I Have A Dream" speech and the influence of spirituals on his speaking style. Standards 8.9.0, 8.9.1, and 11.3.1

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