February is Black History Month in the United States and Canada—and it’s a great time to educate your kids about the history of African Americans in the U.S. Sometimes we have a tendency to skip over or minimize the painful parts of U.S. history, especially the treatment of non-whites, including Native Americans, African Americans, and Asian Americans. As author and historian David McCullough says, “A nation that forgets its past can function no better than an individual with amnesia.”
If you would prefer to explore the lives of African Americans post-slavery, check out all the offerings at Teacher Vision. You’ll find dozens of resources, including teaching guides, printable books and coloring pages on famous African Americans, from George Washington Carver to Jackie Robinson to Martin Luther King Jr. You could spend weeks on this site alone!
But I think perhaps the best place to start is with the history of slavery in the United States. From lapbooks to books to internet explorations, below you’ll find a list of some excellent resources for studying slavery.
Lapbooks and Unit Studies
• In the Hands of a Child has a Slavery in North America lapbook for only $6.99. The information can be adjusted for grade levels but is most suitable for grades 4 and up.
• The Homeschool Learning Network has a Harriet Tubman unit study for only $3.50.
• Scholastic has a fantastic online guide called The Underground Railroad: Escape from Slavery with lots of links and downloadable information for teachers and students.
• You can find a free Meet Addy Unit Study and Lapbook on Homeschool Share. This goes along with the Meet Addy books in the American Girl series.
• Busy Teachers’ Café has some excellent ideas with the Abolition of Slavery study. This is written for a classroom setting but can be tailored to homeschooling.
• Teacher Created Resources has a Slavery Thematic Unit, which is probably available at your local library in the teacher resources shelves. (Or you can purchase it used for just a couple of dollars.)
- Uncle Tom’s Cabin (Young Folks Edition): This is essential, in my opinion, because so many other books refer to Harriet Beecher Stowe’s book as pivotal in the recognition of the evils of slavery in America. Although I had a copy of the book, this children’s edition is available online, too.
- Freedom Train: The Story of Harriet Tubman by Dorothy Sterling. This is an excellent book; please don’t leave this one out!
Frederick Douglass Fights for Freedom by Margaret Davidson. I loved this as a child and was thrilled to find it at our local library sale for a quarter!
- If You Traveled on the Underground Railroad by Ellen Levine. I think this whole “If You…” series is fantastic for any historical period.
- Under the Quilt of Night by Deborah Hopkinson, ill. by James Ransome. Nice picture book about one family’s journey on the Underground Railroad.
- Show Way by Jacqeline Woodson, ill. by Hudson Talbott. Traces the author’s heritage from mother to daughter back eight generations, with a wonderful thread of quilting, piecing together, writing, and freedom. Love this one.
- Alec’s Primer by Mildred Pitts Walker. Picture book retelling the true story of Alec Turner, born a slave in 1845, who was taught to read by his master’s daughter. Ultimately Alec runs away from the plantation to join the army during the Civil War. We loved this story because it is based on a real person.
- The Wagon by Tony Johnston, ill. by James Ransome. Wonderfully poetic story of a child born into slavery and his subsequent freedom after the Civil War.
- Addy: An American Girl series
- My America: Corey’s Underground Railroad Diary (3 books in series)
- I Have Heard of a Land by Joyce Carol Thomas. About the land rush in the late 1800s, post-Civil War.
- Follow the Drinking Gourd by Jeannette Winter. An Underground Railroad escape story.
- Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt by Deborah Hopkinson. Another race to freedom story.
- Only Passing Through by Anne Rockwell. The story of Sojourner Truth.
Books for 7th Grade and Up
- The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman by Ernest Gaines. Free study guide available at Glencoe Literature Library.
- The Slave Dancer by Paula Fox. A young boy is kidnapped and taken aboard a slave ship. Free study guide available at Glencoe Literature Library.
- Nightjohn by Gary Paulsen. A slave risks his life to teach other slaves to read.
- Up From Slavery by Booker T. Washington. The link will take you to the whole text, available online.
The following sites offer all kinds of activities and information, taking students through the daily life of a slave to escaping on the Underground Railroad.
- National Geographic’s History of the Underground Railroad
- Maryland and the Underground Railroad
- Roads to Freedom
- PBS: Slavery and the Making of America
And finally, I highly recommend the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. If you are within a few hours of Cincinnati, you need to put this on your field trip list! The museum is very well done and informative. Make sure you get a tour guide to lead your around and tell stories. We spent two hours in the museum and easily could have spent several more.
Sarah Small writes about homeschooling, writing, parenting, and life in general at SmallWorld at Home. She is in her 12th year of homeschooling, currently with a 9th grader and a 5th grader. Her older son, who was homeschooled all the way through high school, is a sophomore in college. The Smalls live near the Great Smoky Mountains in East Tennessee. Top photo credit: Battlecreek.