Planting the Seeds of Tobacco and the Ideology of Race
developed by Joan Brodsky Schur
Grade levels: 10th grade through sophomore year
Subjects: History, American Studies
Time Allotment: Variable depending upon which of
eight activities you choose to implement.
Description: Activities are sequenced to lead
up to the heart of the lesson, activities five and seven, in which
students study primary sources from Jamestown, Virginia. Allot
three classes plus outside work time to implement the primary
source work. Other activities are geared towards teaching key
concepts about race, learning about Jamestown, and discussing
Episode 2 of RACE - The Power of an Illusion.
Joan Brodsky Schur is Social Studies Curriculum Consultant
to the Village Community School in New York City where she has
taught Social Studies and English for over 20 years. She is co-author
of In A New Land: An Anthology of Immigrant Literature
and creator of the American Letters series published by
The focus of this lesson is American racial ideology as it began
to evolve in late 17th century Jamestown and Virginia. It aims
to help students question their own assumptions about what race
is and is not. Episode One of RACE demonstrates that race
as a biological category is an illusion. How then, did this illusion
take hold in American history as an ideology, or systematic body
of concepts through which people view themselves, one another,
and their world? That is the question posed in Episode Two of
RACE on which this lesson is based.
The lesson counters the image typically portrayed in textbooks
- that with the mere arrival of Africans in Jamestown in 1619,
race-based slavery, apparently inevitable, began. The introduction
of tobacco growing for export saved the fortunes of a floundering
Virginia Company, but tobacco could not be cultivated without
a large labor force. Early Jamestown was a complex and hierarchical
society, with servants (whether European, American Indian or African)
often making common cause with one another against the planter
class. As such the servant class was not a reliable source of
labor; indeed it had the potential to threaten the hegemony of
the ruling class.
As indentured European servants proved unruly and rebellious,
immigration sporadic, and American Indians took recourse in flight
and war - the planters turned to African slaves who had become
available at this time in larger numbers and cheaper prices. African
slavery, however, is not the same as racial slavery, not at first,
anyway. As George Fredrickson points out in Black People in
White Minds: "In order to comprehend what occurred, it is
necessary to confront the vexed question of the relationship between
slavery and racism and to take account of the chicken-and-egg
debate among historians over which came first in the southern
colonies, slavery or racial prejudice." Were Africans enslaved
because of a pre-existing belief that they were inferior as signified
by their skin color? Or were they enslaved for economic motives
and then viewed as inferior because of their low status, and later,
to justify their enslavement?
In the lesson, students use the judicial court cases and statutes
of Jamestown to answer this question and other controversial quandaries
about the development of race-based slavery in early America.
These records tell a remarkable story as judges and legislators,
faced with a variety of thorny issues, begin to enact the slave
codes. The human dramas that gave rise to these cases are not
the ones with which students are familiar. Rather they portray
a brief time when Europeans, Indians and Africans worked together,
traded, mated, and rebelled together. Only after a century of
legal negotiations did the laws emerge by which the planter class
ensured itself a reliable form of labor through institutionalizing
race-based slavery. Discussion questions for Episode 2 of RACE
help students understand the implications of this development
throughout American history.
The lesson begins by asking students to give their own definitions
of "race" and then to compare these to those offered by historians
in Episode 2 of RACE. Several interactive and engaging
activities establish some of the causes for the labor crisis in
Virginia, and the oppressive conditions under which European indentured
The heart of the lesson is the study of selected statutes and
judicial records available on-line at Virtual Jamestown . Students
study these in groups, with each group assigned to look at the
record in order to answer one of six focus questions. The class
reconvenes to discuss answers to all six focus questions. Suggested
essay and research topics on a variety of controversial issues
are offered at the end of the lesson under "Extensions."
To help students understand that race is
not a thing but an ideology or story that developed over time.
To trace the seeds of this ideology in the
evolution of African slavery in early Virginia.
To understand that the planter class created
and then manipulated racial categories to its economic advantage.
To identify the decisive legal decisions
in the steps towards creating race-based slavery in early
To learn to use primary sources to make inferences,
form hypotheses, and write research papers.
- Episode Two of the documentary RACE: The Power of an Illusion
- RACE companion Web site (Race Timeline and Resources section)
- Access to other online Web sites
ACTIVITY 1: Establishing the Concept that Race Is an Idea
Begin this lesson by asking each student to write a short definition
of "race," as best he or she can. Tell students that they are
not required to share their definitions with the class, but they
are required to keep them as a point of reference throughout the
To spur further discussion, list a dozen or so overlapping populations
on the board, one at a time: e.g. Asians, Hispanics, Caucasians,
Jews, Negroes, Italians, Greeks, Chinese, Pygmies, Native Americans,
English, Arabs, Poles, Nubians, Iraqis, Afghans, Melanesians,
Mayan, Ainu, Han Chinese, Dravidians, Hindus, Moslems, Africans,
etc. As you list each population, ask the class to vote whether
they are or are not a race, and tally the results.
Now show the opening sequences of Episode Two of RACE.
Stop at approximately 5:56 with the image of slaves laboring in
the fields accompanied to music.
Initiate class discussion by writing the following phrases from
the video on the board:
- "Race is an idea that evolves over time…"
- "Moments in America's past reveal how this idea took hold…
- "Race was never just a matter of how you look; it's about
how people assign meaning to how you look."
- "America created a story, a story of race."
Invite the class to compare their definitions of "race" to those
given by the historians in the video. Pose the following two questions:
- What is different about your definition of "race" and those
given by the historians interviewed in the program?
- Who in the class thinks they came closest to approximating
the definitions offered in the video, and what about their definition
makes it similar?
Throughout the discussion, emphasize that the historians stress
that race is merely an idea, albeit an idea that became very powerful.
Now write on the board: "All men are created equal."
Pose the following set of questions:
- Why is the episode entitled "The Story We Tell"?
- According to the video, what necessitated the creation of
the story of race in American history?
- How can a nation proclaim "All men are created equal" and
also sanction slavery? Why was the idea of race needed to reconcile
these two principles?
- While it is ironic that Jefferson wrote both the Declaration
of Independence, and speculated in his Notes on Virginia that
Africans might be mentally and physically inferior to Europeans,
why is it also logical that he is author of the ideas expressed
in both documents?
ACTIVITY 2: What Difference Makes a Difference?
Tell the class that we all have many ways of describing and categorizing
ourselves, and of being seen and categorized by others.
Now ask the class to list all the different types of people who
inhabited or colonized the eastern seaboard of North America in
the first half of the 17th century such as:
Then ask the class to subdivide each of these categories into
at least four other sub-categories (e.g. by tribe, religion, occupation,
social class, etc.)
Now photocopy or project on an overhead the following statements
about race in colonial America:
- According to historian Robin D. G. Kelley, "Africans came
to the New World not as Black people, not as Negroes. They didn't
see themselves that way. They saw themselves according to their
own sort of ethnic identities. The same was true of Europeans
who viewed themselves as Portuguese, or English, or Irish."
(Interview for RACE - The Power of an Illusion)
- Larry Adelman, the executive producer of RACE, adds:
"It may be hard for us to comprehend today that the American
Indians didn't see themselves as Indians. Nor did the English
see themselves as white. Neither saw themselves as a race. The
peoples of the Americas were divided into separate and distinct
nations - hundreds of them. Amerindian nations such as the Algonquians
differentiated themselves from the Iroquois or Cherokee by religion,
language and customs just as Protestant, English-speaking Britain
distinguished itself from Catholic, Spanish-speaking Spain."
- According to historian Gary Nash, when Jamestown colonist
John Rolfe took his new bride, Pocahontas (who had converted
to Christianity), back to London in 1616, they caused an uproar
among the lords and ladies and dukes and earls of the Court
of King James. Not because Rolfe, an Englishman, had married
an Indian, but because Pochahontas, a princess, had married
a commoner. (Forbidden Love: The Secret History of Mixed
Race America. Edge Books. New York: 1999)
- Historian Karen Ordahl Kupperman points out that, as for physical
distinctions, native Americans were most struck by the English
colonists' beards and their smell. The colonists wore the same
clothes for weeks, were covered with lice, and rarely bathed.
The English didn't describe the Indians' color as red in the
early days, but rather as tanned or tawny. (Indians and English:
Facing Off in North America. Cornell: 2000)
- According to historian Ira Berlin, "In early American society,
people distinguish themselves by religion; they distinguish
themselves by nationality; they distinguish themselves by family.
And however they distinguish themselves, they arrange themselves
in a hierarchical order in which a few are on top, and many
are on the bottom… Hierarchy is providential; it's a way that
God ordered the world." (Interview for RACE - The Power of
After students have read these quotes, ask them to list all the
various ways people categorized themselves and others in 17th
century America. Ask students to explore what differences might
have been the differences that mattered most. Skin color was just
one marker. Was it significant, incidental, or not even worth
noting? Ask students to explain their answers. They should note
that "white," "Indian," and "Black" were not yet key concepts
To help students understand this concept better, distribute a
number of different chess pieces to the class. Put students into
groups of three to five and try to make sure that each group has
within it one member who knows at least the rudiments of chess
playing. To each group distribute one chess piece such that if
you distribute a black king to one group you also distribute a
white king to another.
Ask students to complete the following form about their chess
Chess Pieces: What Difference Makes a
- Draw the shape of your chess piece, without naming
- Now name the chess piece. What characteristics of the
piece enabled you to name it? What are the most salient
features of the piece?
- In two or three sentences only, describe the moves this
piece can make.
- In two or three sentences only, describe the advantages
this piece offers to the player using it.
- In relative terms to other chess pieces, how powerful
is this chess piece?
- How else would you describe this chess piece?
Ask pairs who described the same types of chess pieces to stand
up and read out loud their answers to the questions. Now ask the
- What features of your chess piece enabled you to recognize
the role it plays in the game of chess?
- How important was the color of the chess piece, relative to
its role and power in the game of chess?
Because Africans, English, and American Indians were organized
into very different cultures from one another, their societies
did not have exactly corresponding roles, as do the teams of chess
pieces. Nonetheless, use the analogy to elucidate how, for example,
Captain John Smith and Powhattan viewed one another not through
the prism of skin color (which was incidental), but by the much
more important markers of their status in their respective communities,
rivals for land, or trading partners.
Extend this analogy to all the peoples living in the colony of
Jamestown in the early 17th century. What were the differences
that made a difference?
ACTIVITY 3: The Origins of Race?
Resume showing the video at approximately 5:56 and end at approximately
Ask students to focus on the following questions as they watch
- What categories were more important than skin color in defining
status in early colonial America?
- Why did the planter class turn to African slavery?
- What advantages did the enslavement of Africans provide the
- What advantages did the enslavement of Africans provide the
indentured European class?
- What role did the law play in creating the permanent enslavement
- As the idea of race evolved, what presumptions were made about
- What do Europeans seeking land have to gain by turning Indians
(who were previously hunters, gatherers and/or part time farmers)
into more "civilized" full-time planters?
- If race is an ideology, are there any inherent or biological
reasons that explain why Europeans became the enslavers and
Africans the enslaved?
- To profit from their venture in North America, the European
settlers needed both land and the labor to work the land. Captured
Indian land provided the first, and captured African labor would
eventually supply the latter. According to what rules or principles
would Europeans classify Indian-European "half-breeds," and
European-African "mulattos"? How much "Indian blood" did you
need to remain Indian, how little to be deemed white? How much
"black blood" was required to remain Black? How could these
designations be manipulated such as to create both a greater
source of labor, and diminished resistance to the acquisition
of native land?
ACTIVITY 4: Jamestown, the Need for Labor
This activity will help students understand the planters' dire
need for a source of labor in early Jamestown. It would be best
to have students deduce the facts from the documents-based activities
below. But as students re-discover the story, you will want to
review it with them, helping them to understand that it was the
search for a viable and cheap source of labor that led to indentured
The Virginia Company was a profit-making venture. It originally
sent out colonists who were primarily gentleman or craftsmen who
expected not to farm, but to get rich finding gold and other precious
metals, as had the Spanish colonizers in Central and South America.
Within six months half the colonists were dead from a variety
of causes. It was John Rolfe who found the key to the colony's
financial success: tobacco seeds that produced mild smoke. By
1618 the colony was exporting nearly 50,000 pounds of tobacco.
But growing tobacco was extremely labor-intensive. In the search
for a viable labor source, the planters at first relied on European
To begin the activity, put students in small groups. Print out
the sheet below and distribute one copy to each group. Tell each
group that they are the founders of a new colony in Virginia.
They must select a total of 70 colonists from the occupations
listed below to be members of their colony. The goal is to choose
those people with the skills most likely to help the colony survive.
Then ask students to compare their choices to those made by the
Go to Virtual Jamestown: http://www.iath.virginia.edu/vcdh/jamestown/
And use the Census at the site: http://www.iath.virginia.edu/vcdh/jamestown/census1a.html
Colonists for Jamestown
Directions: Choose 70 colonists distributed among the
following occupations to settle a colony in North America.
Explain the reasons for your choices in the last column.
Debriefing and follow-up questions:
- Compare your list of colonists to the "original" list of
settlers. Which colony would be most likely to survive, yours
or that of the original settlers. Why?
- Gentlemen were upper class men who did not do manual labor.
Members of the Council were also gentlemen. What is the ratio
of gentlemen to all other settlers in the original settlement,
and by the time of the first and second supply? What are the
likely consequences of this imbalance for the colony? To compare
who was imported into the colony in the original, first, and
second supply go to the Virtual Jamestown site at:
or directly to
- Without laborers Jamestown could not survive. What sources
of labor could the planters turn to? Ask students what they
know about available sources of European, Indian and African
laborers at this early time in the colony's history.
ACTIVITY 5: The Growing Labor Crisis: Using Primary Sources
about Indentured Servitude
The need for indentured servants grew as the Jamestown colony
became dependent on the labor-intensive planting of tobacco. Indentured
servitude was one solution to the need for labor.
This activity makes use of the following documents and secondary
sources about indentured servants in Virginia:
Divide the class into eight groups and give each group either
one of the five Virginia statutes, one of the two Indenture Contracts,
or the Stratford Hall background essay to read. (These can be
viewed online or downloaded and photocopied.)
Distribute one of the forms below to every member of each group.
Ask each group, insofar as possible, to answer the questions below.
Explain that no one group will be able to answer all of them.
Indentured Servitude in Virginia
Title of your document(s):
Directions: Use only the source material your group has
been given to answer as many of the following questions
as possible. It is not expected that you will be able
to answer all of them.
- Who were the indentured servants? For what reason(s)
had they come to America? What social class(es) had they
occupied in Great Britain?
- What was the indentured servant bound by law to provide
- What was the master or mistress bound by law to provide
the indentured servant?
- What rights of indentured servants were curtailed by
colonial laws? In what ways did these laws create a second-class
- What status would the indentured servant occupy upon
completion of the contract? What would the master or mistress
supply the servant with upon completion of the indentures?
- From the point of view of the masters, what problems
arose under the system of indentured servitude? Was indentured
servitude a reliable form of labor? Why or why not?
- What evidence do these documents provide that the laws
of Jamestown were beginning to differentiate between European,
Indian and African labor?
- What evidence do these documents provide that the servant
class, whether European, African or Indian, found common
ground with each other in their struggles against an oppressive
labor system? What types of laws were passed to prevent
the union of restless workers from all groups?
- From the point of view of the indentured, was the indenture
contract a satisfactory insurance of fair treatment in
America, and did it offer a reasonable means to eventual
- In your opinion, who was best served by the system of
indenture, the master or the servant?
- To make the colony profitable the planters needed an
ever-growing source of labor. What were potential points
of conflict between the servants and their masters?
- Tell the class that they will now need to answer all the questions
on the "Indentured Servitude in Virginia" sheet, based
on what each group has learned from the document(s) they studied.
Ask each group to summarize the contents of their document(s)
for the class, and to explain what they have learned about indentured
servitude from them. When the process is finished, focus whole
group discussion on the last three questions listed above.
- To stir up debate you may wish to divide your class into a
planter class (left side of the room) and indentured class (right
side of the room). Ask each side to air their grievances about
the indentured servant system. What are the potential points
of conflict between these two social classes?
- Ask students to define the status of an indentured servant
in Jamestown. Was this person a temporary slave? A full citizen?
A person with the legal standing of a woman or child? What were
the distinctions between servant and slave?
- Invite the class to make predictions about how issues of labor
and social stratification will be resolved in colonial Virginia.
- Ask students to re-interpret Bacon's rebellion of 1676 based
on key concepts in this lesson. As the indentured class began
to survive beyond the years of their indentures, they began
to demand their "freedom dues" of land, corn and a gun. The
planter class already occupied the coastal areas, thus the new
freedmen were relegated to the backcountry of Virginia where
it was hard to eke out a life. The freedmen class coveted both
the prerogatives of the ruling class and the land of American
Indians, and now they were armed. As Virginia Governor Berkeley
complained in a moment of self-pity: "How miserable that man
is that Governes a People where six parts in seven are Poore,
Endebted, Discontented, and Armed."
Note that Bacon's rebels - freedman, servants and slaves
- burned Jamestown to the ground and forced the governor to
How did Bacon's war on Indians turn into a class war against
the planters? How did the ruling class learn to divide and
conquer the underclass that Bacon led (which included both
indentured servants and African slaves) by privileging a new
class of people: "whites"? For more on this interpretation
of Bacon's Rebellion see Edmund S. Morgan's American Slavery,
American Freedom and Theodore W. Allen's The Invention
of the White Race: Volume 2. See the RACE Web site Resources
section for detailed bibliographical information.
ACTIVITY 6: Whom to Enslave?
Students have now seen some of the reasons why the Jamestown colony
was in dire need of cheap labor, and why European indentured servants
provided an unsatisfactory source of labor. To understand why
the colony turned to African slaves, ask students to fill in the
following chart, using what they have learned from watching the
video, or from further research.
Jamestown was in need of laborers. An oppressed labor force would
provide the cheapest source of labor. What were the advantages
or disadvantages for the planter class in trying to enslave peoples
in the following categories? Fill in the chart as best you can:
Available Numbers & Longevity
Skills needed for planting & other labors
Ability to run away & escape
Sources of legal, political or military
|Africans brought as slaves
|Indians captured in war
What conclusions can the class reach after discussing their
When discussing slavery remind students that unlike today, slavery
didn't need to be justified back then. Slavery was widespread,
and taken for granted throughout most of recorded human history.
Historian Barbara Fields has observed that "There was no need
to justify slavery in a society in which everybody stands in the
relationship of inherited subordination to someone else - servant
to master, serf to nobleman, vassal to overlord, overlord to kings,
and king to King of kings."
ACTIVITY 7: How the Regulation of Labor Became the Regulation
See Morgan's American Slavery, American Freedom for
more on this concept
For this activity students will need to use the Virtual Jamestown
site at http://www.iath.virginia.edu/vcdh/jamestown/.
Once at the site click on "Public Records" and go to "Laws."
Scroll down and go to "K, Laws on Slavery".and "O, The Practise
You may be able to access these directly at:
"Laws on Slavery" is 28 pages long in its entirety and "The Practise
of Slavery" is 15 pages long. Students will only need to read
the following excerpts from these documents. (The document titles
listed below are taken directly from the Virtual Jamestown site.)
They follow the order of the documents listed at each site but
omit many of the documents to make the activities listed below
more manageable. Students can access these documents directly
from the web. (Teachers can exercise the option of copying these
documents in Word, deleting the documents not being used in the
lesson, and photocopying the rest for students to use.)
From "Laws on Slavery"
- September 17, 1630: The punishment of Hugh Davis
- January 1639/40-ACT X: An act creating a legal distinction
between white and black men
- March 1655/6-ACT I: An act creating a distinction between
Africans and Native Americans
- March 1660/1-ACT XXII: An act punishing English servants
running away with Negroes
- March 1661/2-ACT CII: An act discouraging white indentured
servants from running away with enslaved blacks
- March 1661/2-ACT CV: An act prohibiting trading among
servants and slaves
- March 1661/2-ACT CXXXVIII: An act stating that Native
American and English servants were to serve their masters
the same length of time
- March 1661/2: A ruling providing freedom for a Native
- December 1662-ACT XII: An act applying the status of
the mother on children
- September 1663-ACT XVIII: An act prohibiting servants
from traveling without a license
- September 1667-ACT III: An act declaring that baptism
did not alter the status of slaves
- September 1668-ACT VII: An act declaring that Negro
women were taxable
- October 1669-ACT I: An act legalizing the punishment
and killing of slaves
- October 1670-ACT XII: An act creating further additional
distinction between African Americans and Native Americans
- September 1672-ACT VIII: An act to suppress the rebellious
activities of slaves
- June 1676-ACT I: An act declaring Indians captured
in war slaves for life
- June 1680-ACT X: An act attempting to prevent slave
- November 1682-ACT I: An act repealing a former law
making Indians and others free
- April 1691-ACT XVI: An act attempting to suppress runaway
[The term "white" appears]
- April 1692-ACT III: An act stating the procedure for
a slave brought to trial for a capital offense
- August 1701-ACT II: An act that offered a reward for
the apprehension of a notorious runaway slave
- October 1705-CHAP. IV: An act that contains the first
definition of a mulatto in Virginia's laws
- October 1705-CHAP. XXII: An act declaring the Negro,
Mulatto, and Indian slaves real estate
- October 1705-CHAP. XXIV: An act for settling the Militia
- October 1705-CHAP. XLIX: An act that provides a definition
of who would become a slave upon entering Virginia
From "The Practise of Slavery"
- July 9, 1640-Punishment for Runaway Servants
- October 17, 1640-Punishment for a White Man and a Black
Woman Who Commited Fornication
- March 31, 1641-Suit of John Graweere
- 1672-Attempts to Restrict the Movement of Slaves
- 1678-Andrew James Secures His Freedom
- October 24, 1687-Governor Effingham Reveals a Planned
Insurrection by Slaves
- November 1687-Proclamation from Governor Effingham
- June 1699-A Difference Between Slaves Imported from
Africa and Those Born in Virginia
- September 1705-The Need for a Definition of Who Was
Follow-up activities and assignments:
In the activity on indentured servants, groups of students were
given different documents to look at, but all tried to answer
the same set of questions. In this activity, all students study
the same documents, but each group does so in order to answer
a different focus question.
Divide the class into five groups such that each group is given
only one of the focus questions below. Give all groups the selection
of documents from "The Laws of Slavery," and "The Practise of
Slavery." (Alternatively, create 10 or more groups, with each
focus question being answered by two or more groups.)
Afterwards ask groups to write papers that answer their assigned
focus question and/or ask them to present their conclusions to
- Do the documents demonstrate that in early Jamestown there
was significant social interaction among Indians, Europeans
and Africans? What were the different types of social interactions
that occurred (e.g. economic, sexual, resistance to oppression)?
What was its significance, and what was the reaction of judicial
and legislative powers in response to them?
- What did the European planter class have to gain by creating
racial distinctions via the law? What did the European indentured
class have to gain? (Review the regulations on indentured servitude
used earlier in this lesson before trying to answer the second
- The laws and judicial decisions of 17th century Jamestown
are based on a variety of rationalizations used to justify the
temporary or permanent enslavement of numerous groups. How do
these rationalizations change over time? Why do you think they
- Was racial categorization and the legal restrictions it was
designed to enforce resisted by those who were oppressed by
it? What different forms of resistance can we find in the legal
records? What strategies, if any, seem to have met with at least
- Many of the laws and judicial cases regulate sexual behavior
according to evolving categories of "race." They prohibit or
sanction marriage, and define the "race" and status (free or
enslaved) of ensuing offspring. What is the purpose of these
evolving definitions and why were they deemed necessary? Who
gained status, privilege and wealth by the adoption of these
regulations? Who lost it? (Be sure to consider the role of women
as well as men in your answer.)
We usually look at the story of colonial America as a series of
steps toward freedom. As you help students synthesize what they
have learned about early Virginia, help them to see a different
story: that American democracy did not become possible for Americans
of European descent until they had enslaved Americans of African
descent and justified that action by deeming them a separate and
- What do students feel were the most important steps towards
creating a slave system in Virginia where all the slaves shared
physical characteristics? Begin by reviewing the first years
of the colony when it is evident that people from all three
continents worked together, mated, ran away together, and so
forth. Set up a timeline in the room beginning in 1607 and ending
in 1705. Ask students to put on it the 10 most important events
that "led to race." Students should consult the, documents in
Virtual Jamestown, their textbooks and the Timeline and Resources
section in the RACE series companion Web site (search using
key words "origins of race," "slavery", "African American,"
"Native American," and "white").
- Ask students to compare their understanding of the origins
of race-based slavery as depicted by most textbooks, to that
conveyed by the legal record of early Jamestown.
- To help students better understand the "steps toward race"
you may want to develop with them further the chess analogy
begun in Activity 2. Ask students to suppose that all the lowly
pawns are black, and all the other pieces are white, save for
an occasional black knight.
Then laws are issued which limit the freedom of the black pawns
- they are slaves. Because all slaves happen to be black, color
becomes associated with supremacy or inferiority. White chess
pieces, even those which might have once been pawns themselves,
would thus feel they have more to gain by seeing themselves
as white than they do in making common cause with their former
black counterparts against the aristocracy. The story the white
pieces tell themselves to justify this situation is not that
the white pieces are greedy and want to control the labor of
the pawns, but that the black pieces are inherently inferior
and unfit for freedom. Color, rather than shape, has become
the difference that makes the difference
Ask students what would happen if you introduced gray pieces
into this game. Are they classified as white or black? Or do
we make new rules that define their powers? What would be in
the interest of the white aristocracy? Would they wish to define
all gray pieces as black so as to maximize the numbers of the
enslaved? Why would it now be imperative to define the status
Discuss with students the uses and misuses of this analogy.
What about it seems most apt? What aspects of the imagined chess
analogy do students think may be faulty?
ACTIVITY 8: The Consequences of Creating an Ideology of Race:
Viewing the Concluding Sections of Episode 2 of RACE.
Resume showing Episode 2 at approximately 16:21 through to the
end of the video. Before viewing this segment ask students how
they think the creation of "race" as an ideology would impact
American history beyond the end of slavery and the Civil War.
After viewing the rest of the film, discuss the following:
- Who is the "common man" in American history? What is the
relationship between his growing rights and freedoms and the
denigration of other groups?
- Indians were at one point thought to be "civilizable"? Why
was this line of thinking abandoned?
- As American nationalism took root, who was deemed eligible
for U.S. citizenship, and on what basis?
- How was the scientific community influenced by Jefferson's
hypothesis that Blacks were inherently mentally and physically
inferior to whites?
- How did the creation of whiteness divide the working classes,
not only in colonial Jamestown, but later in American history?
- What was the relationship between theories of the "white man's
burden" and U.S. imperialist ventures?
- Had slavery been justified on an economic basis as James Horton
suggests instead of a racial one, how might American history
after the Civil War have been different?
- What purposes did the creation of "whiteness" serve?
EXTENSIONS: Topics for Essays and Further Research
- In an essay choose one side in the debate over which came
first, slavery or racial prejudice. Support your point of view
with evidence from documentary sources from Jamestown.
"In order to comprehend what occurred, it is necessary to confront
the vexed question of the relationship between slavery and racism
and to take account of the chicken-and-egg debate among historians
over which came first in the southern colonies, slavery or racial
prejudice." (George Fredrickson, Black People in White Minds,
"One school of thought has argued that it was the debased status
of the slave, combined with the physical differences in the
population of masters and slaves, that generated the negative
attitudes of racism and subsequent social discrimination… The
implication of this position, not always apparent to scholars,
was that without slavery race and racism might not have occurred.
Another school of thought holds that a kind of racial antagonism
was present from the beginning of the English contact with Africans.
And the institutionalization of racial discrimination, including
the separation of Blacks and whites both spatially and socially,
preceded the establishment of slavery. The arguments on both
sides are compelling…" (Audrey Smedley, Race in North America,
- Defend or oppose the following statement about the inevitability
of African slavery in the American colonies. Research this question
and support your viewpoint with documentary evidence.
"Throughout this period [17th century America] there was no
reason to predict that the African-Atlantic trade would ultimately
supplant the white 'vagabonds,' 'destitutes,' and convicts with
an unlimited cargo of Black labor." (Smedley, p.103)
- Compare ideas of racial difference in the U.S. to that of
a Central American, South American, or Caribbean country or
region. Then support or oppose the following statement:
"American racial ideology is as original an invention of the
Founders as is the United States itself." (Barbara J. Fields,
"Slavery, Race and Ideology in the United States of America,
New Left Review, 1990)
- Support or defend Edmund S. Morgan's theory that Bacon's
Rebellion was critical in spurring laws defining "whiteness"
as privilege. Weigh Bacon's Rebellion against other factors
(such as available numbers of indentured servants, tobacco prices,
and so forth) in the creation of African slavery in colonial
"…Slavery alone did not solve the problem of white servants
making common cause with their Black counterparts. The potential
for class antagonism between whites remained. 'The answer to
the problem, obvious if unspoken and only gradually recognized,
was racism,' Morgan contended, 'to separate dangerous free whites
from dangerous Blacks by a screen of racial contempt.'" From
"Americans on the James" a book review by Kathleen Brown. For
the full text go to http://www.common-place.org/vol-01/no-04/reviews/brown.shtml
or see Morgan in the RACE Web site Resources section.
- Historian Barbara Fields has written that African slavery
"was fateful but not pre-ordained." What does she mean? Why
do you agree or disagree?
Other topics for research:
- Compare the laws regarding the development of race-based
slavery in Colonial Virginia to those of Maryland or the Carolinas.
How similar were these processes and what do they reveal?
- Discuss the role of African and European women in the development
of race-based slavery in terms of their status and the reproductive
roles to which they were assigned.
- Research slavery as it existed in other parts of the world
in the 17th century. What rules governed slavery according to
Christianity and Islam? What rules governed the enslavement
of prisoners taken in war? What legal rights did slaves lose
or retain? How were they visually identified as slaves (e.g.
branding)? Why do you think slavery was an accepted fact of
life in the 17th century?
For other relevant online sources for these essays, visit the
web sites below. Or search in the RACE Resources section using
the keywords "slavery," "origins of race," "African American,"
"Native American," and "white advantage."
Barbara J. Fields, "Ideology and Race in American History" at
"Bacons Rebellion" from the PBS series Africans in America at
The website for the PBS program Jefferson's Blood http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/jefferson/mixed/
"Who Built Virginia? Servants and Slaves as Seen Through Runaway
Advertisements" at Virtual Jamestown
Students can be assessed for their participation in whole-class
discussions. Did they participate often? Did their comments reflect
their ability to use new concepts?
Students can be asked to assess their own roles in the small-group
work analyzing documents. Did they read the material carefully?
Did they make inferences and connect ideas in order to answer
their focus questions? Did they participate in discussions and
listen to one another?
Students can be assessed on their research papers. They should
reflect an understanding of the key concepts developed in this
lesson - especially that race is an ideology, rather than a thing,
Students can be given an in-class essay or exam to write. Ask
students to defend the definitions of race offered by historians
at the opening of Episode 2 of RACE by citing specific
evidence from the history of Jamestown.
"Race is an idea that evolves over time…"
"Moments in America's past reveal how this idea took hold…
From Mid-Continent Research For Learning and Education at http://www.mcrel.org/
Historical Understanding Level IV Grade 9-12
Standard 1: Understands continuity and change related to a particular
development or theme.
Standard 2: Analyzes the influences specific ideas and beliefs
had on a period of history and specifies how events might have
been different in the absence of those ideas and beliefs.
United States History Era 2 Level IV Grade 9-12
Standard 3: Understands how…property ownership, religion and legal
status affected political rights.
Standard 4: Understands elements of slavery in the colonies in
the 17th century.
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