|Introduction | Questions and Activities | Lesson Focus | Resources | Program Index||Teacher's Guide Contents|
2: Heroes and LeadersThe AME [African Methodist Episcopal] Church was the main black institution for most of the 19th century. It served as a forum for political organization, for economic cooperation . . . a place where blacks could express themselves in a public arena. It served as a focal point for the organization of free black communities.
Albert Raboteau, historian
How did African Americans respond to the denial of freedom and the rights of citizenship? This lesson uses a program segment and primary sources to explore various perspectives on African colonization of free blacks.
Program Segment (approximately 20 minutes)
As the free black population struggles to create autonomous communities in the North, slavery continues in the South. Efforts by white authorities to suppress the black church result in a conspiracy of thousands of free and enslaved blacks, led by Denmark Vesey in South Carolina.
Begin: Absalom Jones voiceover: "Let the first of January be set apart in every year . . ."
End: Vesey's followers are executed.
Assign students one of the historical figures (Richard Allen, Paul Cuffe, James Forten, Denmark Vesey) or institutions (American Colonization Society; African Methodist Episcopal Church and its "mother" church, Bethel in Philadelphia; Charleston's African Church) mentioned in the program. Ask students to take notes on the role of that person, group, or institution in the fight against slavery.
Throughout history people have disagreed about whether or not resistance to oppression should be violent or peaceful. Ask students to discuss their opinions on what methods should be used to fight for freedom in general and against slavery in particular.
Ask students to share their notes in class. How did the person, group, or institution they took notes on contribute to resistance or rebellion against slavery? How effective was that contribution?
Who were the men of the American Colonization Society? Why did the group believe that free blacks should be sent to Africa? Why did free blacks such as Paul Cuffe support the back-to-Africa movement?
What rights could free blacks expect to have in America? Why would some have wanted to go elsewhere (e.g., Canada, Africa, the Caribbean)?
Exploring Primary Sources
As a whole class or in small groups, read and summarize each of the primary sources below. Using the primary sources and additional background information, the class will role play an African American community meeting, such as those held in Philadelphia, Charleston, and other cities, to decide the group's position on colonization.
- Meeting of Free People of Color, Richmond, 1817 Letter from James Forten to Paul Cuffe, 1817
- A Memorial to the United States Congress, 1820
- Letter from Camp to Caldwell, 1818
- "Address to the Free People of Colour of these United States," 1830
To prepare, each student will create a fictitious persona of an early 19th-century African American. Have students do background reading and research in order to develop their character. In preparing a brief biography of their character, ask students to consider whether or not he or she
- is enslaved, fugitive slave, or free.
- earns money for his or her labor.
- has a family that is enslaved or free.
- owns nothing, has some material comforts, or is affluent. (explain how the wealth was acquired.)
- lives in the South, the North, or the western territories.
Have students stage an imaginary public forum in which black people who played highly visible leadership roles in their communities debate how blacks should resist slavery. Students might portray:
- Toussaint L'Ouverture
- Denmark Vesey
- Nat Turner
- Richard Allen
- Absalom Jones
- Jarena Lee
- James Forten
- Paul Cuffe
- Sarah Mapps Douglass
- Lucy Terry Prince
- Crispus Attucks
- Colonel Tye
- Prince Hall
- Venture Smith
Remind students that each person's philosophy was shaped by his or her own time, place, circumstances, and personal experiences; they should attempt to stay true to the individual's character by making use of the AIA Resource Bank as well as newspapers, letters, speeches, narratives and other documents in their portrayals.
You may want to extend this activity by engaging students in a discussion on leadership after the forum. Suggested discussion questions are:
- Were these men and women heroes? Why or why not? Is there a difference between heroes and leaders? What characteristics do they have in common? In what ways are they different?
- Why do you think so few women are included? How were the leadership roles of women viewed by their contemporaries, particularly "behind the scenes" women such as Sarah Allen?
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