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Teaching slavery using slave narratives. Dr. Yohuru Williams & Anthony Fitzpatrick. Catch my Campaign. The BIG IDEAS. Historical sources have strengths and weaknesses.

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Presentation Transcript
the big ideas
  • Historical sources have strengths and weaknesses.
  • Slavery was a dynamic individual experience, which differed from person to person as well as from place to place and from time to time.
using slave narratives
  • Print and Internet Sources
  • Slave narratives as historical sources
  • Sample Lesson
types of slave narratives
  • Narratives: accounts by former slaves assisted by amanuenses or written posthumously
  • Autobiographies: first-hand accounts by educated former slaves like Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs
  • Interviews: with former slaves completed in the 1920s & 1930s by the WPA and others
internet sources
Internet sources
  • Library of Congress:
  • Born in Slavery
  • UNC, Chapel Hill:
  • North American Slave Narratives
  • http://docsouth.unc.edu/neh/
  • Univ. of Virginia:
  • American Slave Narratives
  • http://xroads.virginia.edu/
slave narratives as historical sources
  • What are the strengths of each type of narrative as an historical source?
  • Narratives
  • Autobiographies
  • Interviews
slave narratives as historical sources1
  • What are the weaknesses of each type?
  • Narratives
  • Autobiographies
  • Interviews
discussing the narratives
  • Memory Issues:
  • How reliable are memories from 10 years ago? From 70+ years ago?
  • Why might slaves remember some things and not others?
  • Could the relationship between the interviewer and the interviewee make any difference in the content of the interview?
  • What might happen to a story between its telling and its recording months, years or decades later?
  • Does it matter who is doing the recording/writing?
using the narratives
  • Review student understanding.
  • What do you know about how slaves felt about being enslaved?
  • What do you know about how owners felt about slavery?
  • Use photographs and illustrations to orient students.
visual orientation1


using interview excerpts
  • Use topical indexes to find appropriate excerpts for your grade level.
  • Present with focusing questions.
excerpt on education

Austin Steward: “I managed to purchase a spelling book, and set about teaching myself to read, as best I could.

Every spare moment I could find was devoted to that employment, and when about my work I could catch now and then a stolen glance at my book, just to refresh my memory with the simple lesson I was trying to learn [ . . .]

“It finally reached the ears of the master that I was learning to read; and then, if he saw me with a book or a paper in my hand, oh, how he would swear at me, sending me off in a hurry, about some employment. Still I persevered, but was more careful about being seen making any attempt to learn to read. At last, however, I was discovered, and had to pay the penalty of my determination.”

excerpt on education1

“I had been set to work in the sugar bush, and I took my spelling book with me. When a spare moment occurred, I sat down to study and so absorbed was I in the attempt to blunder through my lesson, that I did not hear the Captain’s son-in-law coming until he was fairly upon me.

“ He sprang forward, caught my poor spelling book, and threw it into the fire, where it was burned to ashes; and then came my turn. He gave me first a severe flogging, and then swore if he ever caught me with another book, he would ‘whip every inch of skin off my back’ [ . . .] This treatment, however, instead of giving me the least idea of giving it up, only made me look upon it as a more valuable attainment.”

Austin Steward

Twenty-Two Years a Slave and Forty Years a Freeman (1857)

  • What do you know about slaves and education?
  • Did this story surprise you in any way? Why or why not?
  • What did learning to spell mean to the boy Austin?
  • What did the book mean to the master? Did the book have the same or a different meaning to the master’s son?
excerpts on education

“ Lawd, you better not be caught wid a book in yorhan’. If you did, you were sold. Dey didn’t ‘low dat. I kin read a little, but I can’t write. I went to school after slavery and learned to read.”

Louisa Adams, born NC c. 1855

excerpts on education1

“Some of the white people thought so much of their slaves that they would teach them how to write and read. But they would teach them secretly and they would teach them not to read or write where anybody would notice them. They didn’t mind you reading as much as they minded you writing. If they’d catch YOU now and it was then, they’d take you out and chop off them finger you’re doing that writing with.”

Elijah Henry Hopkins, born 1856, SC

“An’ de whi’ chillundey learn me how tuh read, too. Cose de whi’ folks din wan’ yuh to learn. Ah ‘member jes’ as clare as yestidy how one demchillun learn me how tuh read ‘compress-i-bility’. Thought ah was suppin’ den! Ah kin read Bible lil’ now but ah can’ write; never learn tuh write.”

Candis Goodwin, born 1857, VA plantation

  • Do the three interview subjects feel the same way about literacy as Austin Steward? How can you tell?
  • Do the owners of the interviewees feel the same way about slaves reading and writing?
  • Are these four ex-slaves representative of the millions who were enslaved? Why or why not?
  • Has your understanding of slaves and reading/writing changed after reading these four excerpts?
  • What else would you like to ask these ex-slaves about their opportunities to read and write?
evaluation elem
Evaluation: ELEM.

Learning Pyramid



___________ __________

Two Words describing Student Understanding of Topic before readings

__________ __________ __________

Three words describing Narrators-Ex-Slaves’ Feelings about the Topic

__________ __________ __________ __________

Four words describing the Owners Feelings

__________ __________ __________ __________

Five words that describe the main idea student gained from readings

evaluation ms hs
Evaluation: MS/HS
  • MS: Read more excerpts on education and then write two paragraphs, one summarizing slave perspectives on education and the other summarizing owner perspectives on reading/writing. Write a third paragraph summarizing the issues raised by these historical sources.
  • MS: Create a poster which shows visually the student insights in the three areas noted above.
  • HS: Lengthier written analysis of the spectrum of perspectives from slaves and owners, as well as a discussion of the value of the slave narratives.

“Contrabands,” 1862, Cumberland Landing, VA