African American Lives 2 -- Hosted by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
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"The Freedom to Fight"
by D. Andrew Yamato

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Introductory Activity:

  1. Ask students why they think people voluntarily enlist in the military during a time of war. (Accept all student answers, listing them on the blackboard or whiteboard.) Explain that some of these motivations have remained constant throughout history (e.g. a sense of duty) while others are specific to certain conflicts and contexts (for example, people who enlisted after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001).

  2. Tell students that they will be examining some primary source documents to better understand why Americans have enlisted to fight in various conflicts. Distribute a "US Military Recruitment Posters" Student Organizer to each student. Divide students into four groups, and have each group load the bookmarked URLs for the following four recruitment posters:

    If Internet access for each group is unavailable, distribute printouts of the recruitment posters to students. Provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, asking them to examine their assigned poster and answer the corresponding questions on the "U.S. Military Recruitment Posters" student organizer. Give students 10-15 minutes to complete this task.

    Check for comprehension, and ask each student group to report to the class their answers for one of the four posters. As groups report, ask each group: What visual and textual clues did they use to determine their answers? What might this say about American attitudes toward war and military service at these different points in history? Review the "U.S. Military Recruitment Poster" Student Organizer Answer Key to ensure major themes for each poster have been highlighted by the student groups.

  3. Now, explain to the class that they will be looking at one more recruitment poster together. Load the bookmarked URL for:

    Provide a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, asking students the following questions as they examine the poster:

    • From which era in American history is this poster? (The Civil War.)

    • What visual or textual evidence supports that the poster is from that era? (Similar printing style to the other Civil War-era poster; its appeal to "men of color" to fight for "the Union" and prove their courage as "freemen.")

    • How is this poster different from the other Civil War recruitment poster? (It appeals specifically to African Americans.)

    • What is the Army offering potential recruits? (An opportunity to help free their people, prove their courage, and silence racist critics.)

    • What does the poster tell us about the attitude of African Americans toward military service during the Civil War? (It was seen as a means to greater equality and respect as Americans.)

    Tell students that in they will now be taking a closer look at the experience of African American soldiers during the Civil War.

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Major corporate funding for African American Lives 2 and its outreach initiatives is provided by The Coca-Cola Company and Johnson & Johnson. Additional corporate funding is provided by Buick.
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