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Slavery and the Making of AmericaPicture of slave women cultivating a village garden in Central Africa, Courtesy of the University of Virginia Library
Time and Place Slave Memories Resources The Slave Experience

K-12 Learning
Intro Historical Fiction Primary Sources Lesson Plans Virtual Museum Credits
Lesson Plans
Elementary Middle School High School
Middle School Lesson Plan 1
What We Leave Behind Overview Procedures for Teachers Organizers for Students
Introductory Activity:
1) Point out the seven by nine foot masking tape rectangle on the floor of your classroom. Ask for a student volunteer to sit in the rectangle. Ask your students to imagine that the rectangle is a wooden box with a lid on it. What would it be like inside the box? Ask the student volunteer how they would feel about spending an entire day sitting in the box if they couldn't see out, if there were no windows, and if they had nothing to do while inside. Excuse the first student volunteer.

2) Ask for another student volunteer to sit in the rectangle. Ask the student how they would feel about spending an entire week in the box. Tell the student that they would have food delivered to them; they might be able to have a flashlight and few books to read, but otherwise would have to remain completely silent. How would the student feel about spending an entire week in the box? Excuse the second volunteer. Point out the object that you have placed in the rectangle that is three feet high. Ask your students what life would be like in the box if it was only as tall as the three foot high object in it.

3) Ask for a third student volunteer to sit in the rectangle. Ask the student what they would have to be offered to spend an entire year in the box. What would have to be at stake? Ask the class to brainstorm what the physical and emotional challenges would be if spending a year in the box. Ask your students if they can think of any time in history when people might have had to suffer conditions similar to spending a year in such a close and confined space.

4) Tell your students that in this lesson, you will be investigating how and why an individual endured an almost unbelievable ordeal, and spent a great deal of time in a space similar in size to the masking tape rectangle on your classroom floor. Explain to your students that you will first be examining a primary source document related to this event. Ask your students to log on to the Runaway Notice for Harriet Jacobs at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part4/4h1541b.html. If you do not have access to computers print out the notice and prepare it as a handout for your students. Instruct your students to read the primary source document and identify the key events and individuals it describes. Give them approximately five minutes to complete this task.

5) Discuss the primary source document with your students. Ask the following questions:
  • What does the document appear to be?
    Answer: A notice about a runaway slave named Harriet Jacobs.

  • When do they think this document was written?
    Answer: It was published on June 30, but there is no specific year listed. It can be assumed from its content that it was written prior to 1865 and the end of the Civil War.

  • Where was the document written?
    Answer: In Edenton, North Carolina.

  • Can they give a physical description of Harriet Jacobs?
    Answer: She was a light-skinned mixed-race woman, 21 years old, who was solidly built and possibly overweight, with thick black hair that could be either curly or straight. She wore fairly fashionable clothes.

  • Who was looking for Harriet, and what was his relationship to her?
    Answer: James Norcom, who was her owner and master.

  • Where did Norcom think Harriet was trying to go?
    Answer: Norcom thought Harriet was trying to go North.
6) Ask your students why Harriet might have run away. What might have happened to Harriet if she was captured? Ask your students where they think Harriet went when she ran away. Ask your students if they have any ideas on how a small space like the rectangle on the floor of your classroom could have figured into Harriet's story.

7) Ask your students to rewrite the Runaway Notice in their own language. Give your students five to ten minutes to complete this task. Ask a few students to share their rewritten versions of the notice with the class. If you wish, collect the rewritten notices for assessment purposes.

8) Explain to your students that the Runaway Notice is an example of a historical document or artifact. Photographs, documents, and other artifacts that individuals leave behind can provide key information and insights into historical events. Tell your students that they will be examining what happened to Harriet Jacobs, why she ran away, and what important artifacts she left behind.

Learning Activity:
1) Insert SLAVERY AND THE MAKING OF AMERICA Episode 3, "Seeds of Destruction," into your VCR. CUE the video to approximately 2 minutes, where you see the camera moving over a forest of autumnal trees shrouded in fog, and you hear the narrator, Morgan Freeman, say, "Her story begins in the coastal town of Edenton, North Carolina." Before showing the video ask your students to listen for why Harriet Jacobs felt that being attractive was a curse for a slave. PLAY the video. PAUSE the video, at approximately 3.5 minutes, when you see Dr. and Mrs. Norcom seated at a dining table with Harriet polishing a sideboard behind them, and you hear Morgan Freeman say, "a girl forty years his junior." Check for comprehension, and ask your students:
  • Why did Harriet Jacobs feel that being attractive was a curse for female slaves?
    Answer: Harriet felt that being attractive was a curse for female slaves because it meant that their masters would always be "after them" sexually.

  • How old was Harriet Jacobs when she went to work in Dr. Norcom's house?
    Answer: Twelve.

  • How much older was Dr. Norcom than Harriet Jacobs?
    Answer: Approximately forty years older.

  • Would this sort of relationship between Dr. Norcom and Harriet be frowned upon today?
    Answer: Not only would it be frowned upon it would be completely illegal! Dr. Norcom, in today's language and laws, was a rapist.
2) As they watch the next video clip ask your students to determine what Harriet's options for dealing with her harassment by Dr. Norcom were. PLAY the tape from the previous PAUSE point. PAUSE the tape, at approximately 7 minutes, when you see Nell Irwin Painter from Princeton University, and you hear her say, "it was normal. It was legal." Check for comprehension, and ask your students:
  • What would Harriet's options have been for dealing with her harassment by Dr. Norcom?
    Answer: Harriet would have had very few options for dealing with Dr. Norcom's harassment. In the eyes of the law, she was his property and she had no protection.

  • If they can remember, what did Harriet say were her only weapons in this "war" with Norcom.
    Answer: Her determination and will.

  • Do they think Harriet's dilemma was common during slavery? Why?
    Answer: It was a common dilemma. Norcom himself had many children with slaves. One historian in the video mentioned that birth rates for mulatto children were possibly higher during slavery than any other time in history. The rape of slaves by their masters was considered to be "normal."
3) Explain to your students that as she grew older, Harriet developed a relationship with another white man named Sawyer, and she had two children with him. But according to the law, Harriet and her children remained the property of Dr. Norcom's household. FAST FORWARD the video to where, at approximately 15.5 minutes, you see Harriet Jacobs sitting in a high-backed chair sewing, and you hear Morgan Freeman say, "For Harriet Jacobs, life under Norcom's grip had become intolerable, and far more complicated." PAUSE the tape. As they prepare to watch the next video segment ask your students to determine how Harriet planned to save her children, and what the conditions were in her hiding place. PLAY the video until, at approximately 21 minutes, you see Harriet Jacobs crouched in the crawlspace, and you hear a female voice say, "the strength and the resilience that African-American women had to develop to survive slavery." Check for comprehension, and ask your student to:
  • Describe how Harriet planned to save her children, and what the conditions were in her hiding place.
    Answer: Harriet decided to run away from Norcom's house, and she thought that when she was gone, Dr. Norcom would be more willing to sell her children. He wouldn't be able to use the children to manipulate her. Her plan worked, and after she ran away, he sold the children to Sawyer, who let them live with Harriet's grandmother. Her hiding place was extremely cramped, uncomfortable, boring, and she was only allowed to get out to move around once in a while. It was like being a prisoner.

  • Hypothesize why Harriet didn't let her children know that she was hiding in the crawlspace.

  • Predict what they think happened to Harriet next.
4) FAST FORWARD until, at approximately 38 minutes, you see lightning in the night sky, and you hear thunder. PAUSE the tape. Ask them to determine how long Harriet Jacobs was in hiding, and what artifact remains that proves the date she disappeared. PLAY the tape. PAUSE the tape when, at approximately 41 minutes, you see the sun setting over the sea, and you hear a female voice say, " ... what grand things air and sunlight are until I was deprived of them.
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  • Check for comprehension, and ask students how long Harriet Jacobs was in hiding, and what artifact remains that proves the date she disappeared.

  • Harriet Jacobs was in hiding for six years and seven months. We know when she disappeared because we have the advertisement that Dr. Norcom put in the newspaper when Harriet ran away.
    5) As they watch the next video clip ask them to determine what Harriet encountered in the North, and what she left behind as her legacy. PLAY the tape. STOP the tape when, at approximately 43.5 minutes, you see Jean Fagan Yellin, Harriet's biographer, and you hear her say, "Amy convinces Harriet to write her story as a contribution to the movement."
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  • Check for comprehension, and ask your students what Harriet encountered in the North, as well as what she left behind as her legacy.

  • Harriet found a very divided, white supremacist society in the North. Blacks were second or third class citizens. Harriet left behind her life story, which was published as the book "Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl."
    6) Distribute the "Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl" Reader Response handout to your students. Ask your students to log on to the "Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl: Chapter 23, Still in Prison" Web site at http://xroads.virginia.edu/~HYPER/JACOBS/hjch23.htm. If you do not have computers prepare this page as a handout for your students. Ask them to read this chapter from Harriet's autobiography and answer the questions on Part 1 of the response sheet. Explain to your students that in order to protect herself, Harriet changed Norcom's name to "Flint" in her book. Give your students fifteen to twenty minutes to complete this task.

    7) After your students have completed Part 1 of the Reader Response handout, check for comprehension and discuss their answers to each of the questions in the Answer Key. Ask your students if they would have made choices similar or different from Harriet's? Why?

    8) Explain to your students that Jean Fagan Yellin, one of the historians featured in the documentary, recently wrote a new biography of Harriet Jacobs and was interviewed on National Public Radio. Log on to "The Remarkable Life of Former Slave Harriet Jacobs" at http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=1869987. If you do not have computers prepare this page as a handout for your students. Ask them to record any additional information they learn about Harriet Jacobs in Part 2 of the Reader Response handout. PLAY the sound file of the radio interview with Jean Fagan Yellin. Check for comprehension, and ask your students if they learned any additional information about Harriet Jacobs from the radio interview.

    Culminating Activity:
    1) Explain to your students that Harriet Jacobs' autobiography is just one of the many thousands of artifacts and primary sources left behind from slavery. Tell your students that they will be visiting an online Virtual Museum that houses artifacts relevant to the history of slavery. Divide your students into groups of three. Ask your students to log on to the SLAVERY AND THE MAKING OF AMERICA Virtual Museum at http://www.pbs.org/slavery/teachers/virtual.html. If you do not have computers prepare this page as a handout for your students. Ask each team to select one item from the Virtual Museum, and to complete the questions on Part 3 of their handout. Give your students ten to fifteen minutes to complete this task. Tell students that each group will be responsible for presenting their artifact to the rest of the class.

    2) Ask each team to present their artifact to the rest of the class. Each presenting team can guide the rest of the class to the artifact's location online, or show their artifact to the class as a whole if a computer/projector system is available. Collect the "Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl" Reader Response handout from your students for assessment purposes.

    3) Ask your students to think about what items from today most accurately reflect the lives of middle school students. What artifacts would prove useful to historians investigating the lives of middle school students in 100 years? Alternately, your students can research what artifacts from slavery can be found in their local community. Students can download the Virtual Museum PowerPoint Template from http://www.pbs.org/slavery/teachers/virtual.html and create their own exhibit using artifacts from the past or present.

    4) Tell your students that you are investigating the possibility of creating a time capsule to leave behind in your school to be opened by students in 100 years. Tell your students that you have a limited amount of space in the time capsule-the box is only the size of your classroom's TV set. As a homework assignment, ask your students to brainstorm a list of 15 items that will fit into the time capsule and accurately reflect each of the following five categories:

    1. Your School
    2. Your Town
    3. Current Events
    4. Entertainment
    5. Technology
    Students should write 1-2 sentences about why they selected each artifact, and what they hope to illustrate to future historians. Students may wish to read the online article "A Brief History of Time Capsules" at http://www.queenstribune.com/archives/
    anniversaryarchive/anniversary98/tb_an_capsules.html
    for further information about the history and decision-making process involved in the creation of time capsules.

    5) In class, ask your students to share the artifacts they would choose to include in the time capsule to accurately reflect each category. How are their choices similar? How are they different?

    6) If time, interest, and feasibility permit, construct an actual time capsule to leave behind in your school. For some pointers in creating effective time capsules, visit the International Time Capsule Society Web site at http://www.oglethorpe.edu/about_us/
    crypt_of_civilization/time_capsule_tips.asp
    .

    Cross-Curricular Extensions
    SOCIAL STUDIES/HISTORY
    Harriet Jacobs lived in Rochester, New York for a time after she left the South. Research the lives of prominent nineteenth century Rochesterians such as Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony. How did they impact the Abolitionist and women's rights movements? Alternately, investigate Rochester's connections to the Underground Railroad, and the geographical reasons for its role.

    MATH
    Conduct a survey or poll in your school to determine which artifacts should be included in a time capsule meant to be opened by students in your school in 100 years. Graph the results of your survey.

    LANGUAGE ARTS
    In the radio clip, Jean Fagan Yellin refers to Harriet Jacobs' story as "an Anne Frank story." Read Anne Frank's "Diary of a Young Girl" or the play "The Diary of Anne Frank." How is Anne Frank's story similar to Harriet's? How is it different?

    SCIENCE/HEALTH
    Investigate the physical and mental problems caused by long periods of inactivity or limited mobility, and the consequences of each. How do prisoners, hostages, and others physically and mentally cope with their circumstances?

    Community Connections
    • Research whether or not there are any time capsules in your community. Where are they? Who placed them? When are they scheduled to be opened?

    • Interview older friends or relatives and collect oral histories about the sacrifices they had to make for their children. Transcribe the oral histories and create a class book.

    • Visit a local museum or historical society to investigate artifacts "left behind" by earlier citizens of your community.
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