The study of America, from its founding through the Civil War, necessitates a close examination of the enslaved peoples whose labor built this nation and the "peculiar institution" which required a horrific war to bring to an end. Part of that study should include an examination of the words left behind by those who suffered through slavery and those who were responsible for maintaining it.
In this activity students will examine a variety of primary source documents concerning this stain on our nation’s history. This is not a pleasant study, for the documents include not only first person accounts of the daily indignities, struggles and horrors of those humans held in bondage, but also the justifications given by those who held people in lifetime servitude. These documents include three first person accounts of former slaves, excerpts of arguments made by slave owners to justify the “peculiar institution,” and excerpts of a speech made by the famous white abolitionist, William Lloyd Garrison.
By examining these documents, students will gain a deeper personal connection to the daily lives of enslaved people as they struggled to survive their servitude, a look at the extent to which cognitive dissonance allowed ordinary people to support a system of great evil, and appreciate the fervor with which some were able to battle the evil of their day.
*excerpts from the narratives of three former slaves: Mary Reynolds, William Wells Brown, and Frederick Douglass; excerpts of pro-slavery arguments made by slave-owners; excerpts from a speech by William Lloyd Garrison
*for each excerpt, a worksheet with guiding questions directing students to analyze the respective narratives, arguments and speech;
*an answer guide to the worksheet.
Materials are provided in one zip file.
I’ve used this activity with my 8th grade class for years, and it never fails to engage and interest students.
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