Youth Activity Guide
About the Africans in America Outreach Project

History works best when people can see themselves in it. Africans in America will broaden people's understanding of our past and how it has shaped our views about race and equality today.

Orlando Bagwell, Executive Producer

Africans in America is a landmark documentary series that explores the singular impact of slavery on Americans, white and black, as they forged a new nation. The series premiered on PBS October 19-22, 1998, and was rebroadcast on most public television stations in February 1999. Africans in America also featured a far-reaching national outreach campaign designed to help youth in schools and communities think in new ways about our country's history. This project was undertaken in the belief that, when approached openly and honestly, our nation's story can inspire all Americans to grapple with what it means to be a citizen in a multicultural society, to share a common history, and to be an American.

Outreach Components

The Africans in America outreach campaign encompassed a range of activities. Educators could receive a free teacher's guide that included discussion starters, activities, and primary sources, which could be used both in and out of the classroom. They could also attend hands-on workshops at national and regional conferences to help them gain new perspectives and tools for teaching early American history. This Web site captured much of the extraordinary primary source material that informed the series and made it available to educators, youth, and the general public. A national youth initiative empowered young people to interpret the stories and themes depicted in the series through the lens of their own experience and make links to contemporary issues of race and identity. A collaboration between WGBH and National Public Radio resulted in a range of programming, including radio diaries produced by young people involved in the national youth initiative, stories on the legacies of race, and commentaries by leading writers and scholars.

Why a Youth Activity Guide?

The WGBH Outreach staff helped create, with various partners, eight Africans in America youth initiative sites in cities across the country. This guide was created in order to help others undertake similar projects. The guide offers background information about youth attitudes toward history, descriptions of youth initiative sites' projects, ideas for the types of projects you might consider, information about doing research on the Web, and strategies for working with your local public television station. What this guide does not provide is history content. Not only would it be impossible to provide adequate historical information in a limited number of pages, but it's also important to find local connections to this history in order to make it more relevant to your community. In addition, young people will be more invested in the project if they participate in community research.

We encourage you to use brief segments of the series (for example, ten-minute clips) to spark discussion and curiosity. Also, on this Web site you can find more in-depth information supporting the themes raised in the series. Encourage your local library to get copies of Africans in America, the series' companion book (published by Harcourt Brace & Company). It features evocative short stories by National Book Award-winning author Charles Johnson and historical context for each story by Patricia Smith and the WGBH Series Research Team.

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