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Topic Tuesdays: African-American History and Civil Rights

So to flesh out what the new curriculum might look like in practice, welcome to the first Topic Tuesday, where I provide a theme as a jumping off point for learning. The core of the topic is a list of subheadings with questions. It’s not meant to be an exhaustive or complete list of things that should be known, nor are these learning objectives that should be memorized. It’s just a list of questions I think are interesting, what I’d like to learn more about myself, along with some ideas for projects, readings and media, and other resources.

For this week, we’ll be taking a look at two important and interrelated stories that have shaped our country: African-American history and civil rights. Both of these are topical this time of year, between Martin Luther King day and African-American History month.

What did I overlook? Let me know in the comments section!

Starting points:

1. Origins of the slave trade

Discovery questions: How did the slave trade originate in the Americas? How was it different from indentured servitude? How was it different from slavery in the Ancient World? What drove the demand for slaves? What parts of Africa did slaves come from, and what aspects of the political situation there facilitated the export of people? How were slaves transported to the New World?

Readings and resources:

2. The Institution of Slavery in the United States

Discovery questions: What was life like for slaves in the US? How were their freedoms limited? How did the US compare to other countries during this time?

Readings and resources:

3. The abolitionist movement and the Underground Railroad

Discovery questions: Describe the origins of the abolitionist movement. What was life like for free blacks? Escaped slaves? Research the life of Frederick Douglas. Read Uncle Tom’s Cabin – how did this book inspire the anti-slavery movement? How did it perpetuate stereotypes? What was the Underground Railroad?

Readings and resources:

4. The Civil War

Discovery questions: Was slavery the primary reason for the Civil War? What were some of the key sources of friction in the years leading up to war? What prompted Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation? How does the portrayal of the Civil War in Gone with the Wind correspond to real life?

Readings and resources:

5. Reconstruction and Jim Crow Era America

Discovery questions: What constitutional and legal changes were supposed to guarantee the rights of citizenship to African-Americans? What was life like for newly freed slaves? What legal, political and social/cultural mechanisms were used to keep them out of mainstream society and for intimidation?

Readings and resources:

6. The civil rights movement and integration

Discovery questions: What are civil rights? How are they protected by law? How did the civil rights movement start? Who were its leaders? What triggered the Montgomery bus boycott, and was it effective? Who was the Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr, and what was the I Have a Dream speech? How was the American civil rights movement perceived by the rest of the world? Research the life and baseball career of Jackie Robinson. What was significant about Plessy v. Ferguson, Brown vs. Board of Education, and what were some of the struggles related to integrating schools?

Readings and resources:

7. Notable African American writers, musicians and other contributions to the arts and culture

Discovery questions: Read some of the below works of literature. How were the writers reflective of the time they lived in? How did jazz evolve? How does it differ from blues? Gospel? What are some of the subgenres? Listen to examples of each. Read about the life of Ray Charles.

Readings and resources:


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