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"Jubilee Singers: Sacrifice and Glory" offers a unique and inspiring lens for studying many themes relevant to the period of Reconstruction, including race relations, education, grassroots activism, race relations, popular culture, music, and American regionalism (particularly as it relates to the culture of the American south). You can either use part or all of the film with your class or delve into the resources available on this Web site to supplement your classroom activities.

Running Time: 1 hour
Taping Rights: Educators can tape the film off the air and use it for one year after broadcast.

Before Viewing

  1. "Music hath charms to soothe the savage breast," goes the old adage. Discuss with your class how music creates and affects moods. Include in your discussion the concepts of harmony, rhythm, melody, tempo, and subject. Ask students to talk about music they enjoy listening to. How does the music affect them? Why? Does it resonate with moods or beliefs? Alter them? How is the music satisfying? How does music tell a story? Can students think of music that defines a part of history?

  2. a. Review with your class what America was like during Reconstruction. How would they expect white southerners to respond to freed slaves? Would whites welcome them into white society? How about in other parts of the country? What sort of life did freed slaves enter? What kind of work could they find? What sort of opportunities did they have for schools and training? Housing? How did they survive?

    b. To help students understand the racial tensions of the 19th century, you might want to discuss the role of stereotypes as they affected race relations, both during and after slavery. Explain to students that stereotypes were used to justify slavery and reassure slave owners that they were superior to Africans. Stereotypes were reinforced through stories and through popular culture, like cartoons and minstrel shows. (For some examples of cartoons from the pre-Civil War period, see the following caricatures drawn by Edward Williams Clay, "Grand Celebration Ob De Bobalition Ob African Slabery, "Black Charge?", and "Is Miss Dinah at Home?". See also information about the birth of the character Jim Crow.) Discuss with students how powerful and insidious stereotypes can be. You may want to set ground rules before you start this discussion to ensure that students are respectful and considerate. As they watch, they should keep in mind the social and cultural backdrop within which the Jubilee Singers were operating.

After Viewing

  1. Mark Twain once remarked, "I don't know when anything has so moved me as the plaintive melodies of the Jubilee Singers." Discuss with your class the positive effect the Jubilee Singers had on their audiences. Why did people, from the average citizen to Queen Victoria, react so positively to them? What did they sing about? Why do you think the response of audiences changed when they started moving away from traditional European music and focused on spirituals? What resonated with their audience? Are spirituals and gospel music still popular today? Why or why not? Who might compare with the Jubilee Singers today?

  2. Discuss with your class the grassroots activism of the Jubilee Singers. What were their methods? Did they meet their goals? At what cost? Talk with your class about more modern grassroots activism, such as the women’s and civil rights movements. How did such groups make themselves heard? What were their methods? How did they face adversaries? What sorts of grassroots activism do students believe might better their lives at school or in their community?

  3. Ask students to compare and contrast American universities in which students are accepted according to race, creed, or gender–such as Bob Jones University, Fisk University, Howard University, Brigham Young University, Smith College. Students may offer their findings in a report or presentation. Ask students to consider the following: Why are the schools exclusive? How did the exclusivity begin? What are their goals? What challenges have they faced?

  4. In 1870, a year before the Fisk Jubilee Singers toured Europe, three African Americans (Robert C. DeLarge, Josiah T. Walls, and Jefferson F. Long) were elected to the U.S. Congress. The same year saw the passage of the 15th Amendment, which granted male suffrage regardless of "race, color, or previous condition of servitude." In addition, the first series of Enforcement Acts were passed to control the Ku Klux Klan and guarantee civil and political rights to blacks through federal courts. By 1877, Reconstruction was over and things started to change regarding the civil and political rights of African Americans. Have students research the Reconstruction and post Reconstruction periods. In what ways did the Fisk Jubilee Singers represent an ideal of hope and promise for African Americans? You could also break students into pairs and have them document the struggles of African Americans to find a place in American society after Emancipation, by assigning each pair or group to report on specific periods from Reconstruction through the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement.

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