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Lesson Plans

Why we shouldn't forget that U.S. presidents owned slaves

February 3, 2017

Full Lesson


Note: This video lesson contains important and serious themes from U.S. history and should be previewed before showing to your class.

  • In honor of Black History Month, poet and Harvard University doctoral student Clint Smith offers his take on the history of racial inequality in the United States.
  • In Smith’s collection of poems, “Counting Descent,” he addresses a letter to five presidents who owned slaves and states why Americans need to remember and acknowledge this part of our history.
  • Smith discusses the important role and impact education has on a student’s understanding of U.S. history when it comes to teaching multiple perspectives and including a variety of voices from the past, including those seldom heard.
  • For Smith’s poem, click HERE.

Class discussion questions 

  1. Essential question: How does poetry allow people to discuss important issues in a way that other forms of writing may not?
  2. How did you feel when you heard Smith point out how presidents like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson oppressed human beings through slavery? Were you aware these men owned enslaved people?
  3. “Oppression doesn’t disappear just because you decided not to teach us that chapter,” Smith says in his poem. Why do you think schools neglected to teach students key parts of U.S. history, including atrocities such as the Trail of Tears, for many decades?
  4. Why does the U.S. have Black History Month? Do you think it’s important we have a month dedicated to African-American history? Explain your answer.

Media literacy education

What is media literacy?

Media literacy is the ability to access, evaluate and create all types of media, including news media.

All of NewsHour Classroom's resources contain lessons in media literacy, including questions like who produced the piece and what do you know about them?

Start by evaluating this video introducing NewsHour Classroom here.