Africans in America Logo

Using the Guide Teacher's Guide Contents

The Teacher's Guide on the Web is an enhanced version of the print guide that accompanies the Africans in America video series. Each unit consists of two lessons: a general lesson that explores each 90-minute program and its companion Web content, and a focused lesson that highlights a short program segment and provides links to related primary sources. In the Web version, a second primary-source lesson is also provided for each unit. In addition, Curriculum Links identifies topics that will help teachers coordinate the series with standard lesson plans. The Notable People section lists people to watch for in the program and on the Web site. Through their letters, narratives, and public records, these historical figures can be the focus of further student research.

The Web site includes a wealth of primary sources, biographies, descriptions of historical events, and excerpts from interviews with experts conducted for the series. Each unit on the Web also contains a detailed series index.

In addition to the resources for both teachers and students, which are included for each unit, you may find the General Resources helpful. A brief guide to using primary source documents is also provided.

The following themes are central to the series. Each program presents different aspects of these themes within the context of the particular time period of the show. You may want to explore aspects of these questions as you use the programs in the classroom.

Who participated in American democracy?

How did economics define American concepts of race, individual rights, and citizenship?

What is freedom? How did different people define freedom as America developed?

Leadership and Resistance
How did African Americans and their allies work to abolish slavery?

How was an American identity formed? How were Africans and Europeans transformed by the American experience? What does it mean to be an American today?

Race and Racism
How and why did concepts of race -- blackness and whiteness -- and of "black racial inferiority" and "white superiority" become institutionalized in American law?

As a general activity before watching the series or a program, you may want to survey students' knowledge of slavery. Ask, When and why did slavery in the British American colonies begin? What factors made it possible for Europeans to enslave Africans? How did Africans respond to enslavement? As students watch the program or segment, have them write down new information or facts that support or contradict their answers. Afterward, discuss how students' knowledge or understanding has changed.

As students gain new perspectives from the series, you may want to explore the issue of how and why history has been interpreted -- and often distorted -- over the years. Have students choose a topic from the series and locate information about it from the following sources: a passage in their textbook, a chapter or section in a book by a historian, a selection from a Web site, and a primary source. Add information students may know from novels, movies, television, etc.

Compare and contrast the sources. How are they different? How are they the same? Ask students to analyze how and why various sources present different perspectives. Whose story gets told and why? How does understanding our past influence our ideas and thoughts today?

Teaching Tools
Slavery and the Origin of the CIvil War by historian Eric Foner provides a useful analysis of how scholarship has shaped and changed our views of slavery and its impact on American society.

You can download and print out PDF files of the print teacher's guide, or order one by sending e-mail to The companion book to the series, Africans in America, by Charles Johnson, Patricia Smith, and the WGBH Series Research Team (published by Harcourt Brace & Company), features short stories that illuminate people or events mentioned in the programs. These can help engage students at the beginning of a lesson and deepen their appreciation and understanding of the issues.

Africans in America: Home | Resource Bank Index | Search | Shop

WGBH | PBS Online | ©