Lesson Plan Overview

The Crafting Freedom Materials Project

Freedom Crafters

Lesson Plan Overview

There are 36 lesson plans with accompanying print and visual material on this website. The lessons are organized around nine 19th-century African Americans—five men and four women. Three of these individuals were born free and six were born enslaved. Five of those born into slavery were able to craft a path to their own freedom. Each of these nine individuals was an artisan, artist, entrepreneur, or an abolitionist and in most cases can be described by two or more of these terms. These "freedom crafters" created opportunities and achieved freedom for themselves and others through their own actions and ingenuity; through their works of art and craft; and through their spoken and written words.

Lesson Plans Geared to Multiple Grade Levels

The lesson plans target 3rd-5th and 6th-8th grade levels because there are so few instructional materials on these subjects available for these grade levels. However the 6-8th grade lesson plans and accompanying media and materials can also be used at the high school and even at college/adult levels with little-to-no modification. There are four lesson plans for each freedom crafter:

  1. 3rd–5th grade Social Studies
  2. 3rd–5th grade Language Arts
  3. 6th–8th grade Social Studies
  4. 6th-8th grade Language Arts

Lesson Plans Aim to Teach a Variety of Knowledge and Skills

The following are the titles of the lesson plans provided on this website:

Materials and Media Accompany Each Lesson Plan

Each lesson plan includes: a video, student handouts, and teacher tools, which provide concise background information to aid the teacher. The lesson plans, student handouts, and teacher tools are all available from the website in a printer-friendly PDF version. In addition, several of the lesson plans have accompanying PDF slide shows.

Lesson Plans are Aligned to National Standards

All of the social studies lessons are aligned to the National Council of Social Studies Standards and all of the language arts lesson plans are aligned to the standards developed by the National Council of Teachers of English.

Lesson Plans Grew Out of Teacher and Scholar Collaborations

The lesson plans originated with instructional ideas and strategies developed by classroom teachers working collaboratively with historians, scholars, and master teachers. (See: Project Origins) All of the lesson plans on this website have been revised based on scholar feedback and most have been classroom-tested and revised based on student and teacher feedback.

Lesson Plans and Materials Serve as Professional Development Tools

It is not assumed that teachers using this website have a background in 19th-century African American history and culture. Therefore, scaffolding teacher knowledge of this subject matter is built into the website design. For example, preparing and teaching any one lesson on this website will develop a knowledge base that transfers to teaching any of the other Crafting Freedom lessons. The more one uses this site, the more one's knowledge and capacity to teach this subject matter will be enhanced. There are also many opportunities through web links and a scholar-reviewed bibliography to further develop one's general and specific knowledge of this subject matter.

"Re-Mixing" Lesson Components to Create Topic or Theme–Based Lessons or Units

Teacher Tools, Student Handouts, videos and PDF slide shows have been designed to support the lessons provided on the site and they also have been designed so they can readily be integrated into other lessons or units. The following are some suggestions for "re-mixing" lesson components:

Resistance to Slavery

Historians of the African–American experience underscore the importance of learning about resistance, the ways enslaved and free blacks acted against the institution of slavery. Teacher Tool 2: Various Forms of Resistance to Slavery is a component of the Language Arts lesson, "Overt and Covert: William Henry Singleton's Resistance to Slavery." This teacher tool describes two categories of resistance (overt and covert) and provides examples of each. This could be the anchor of an extended lesson/unit that explores and analyzes the myriad ways enslaved people resisted. Other figures on the website who could be incorporated are Harriet Jacobs, Henry "Box" Brown, and William Henry Singleton—all of whom overtly resisted their enslavement by running away. Their dramatic stories can be combined into a longer unit with the theme of resistance or into a lesson/unit on fugitive slaves. Covert forms of resistance are represented on the website as well. For example, Frances E. W. Harper described in her poem "Learning to Read" (performed in a video of the same title) the many ways enslaved people resisted their captivity by teaching themselves to read, a covert act that was against the law.

Enslaved and Free Black Entrepreneurs

It is very rare that students have the opportunity to learn about small business proprietors in history and rarer still to have the chance to learn about African American entrepreneurs. Sally Thomas, Elizabeth Keckly, and George Moses Horton represent a rare but important group of Americans: slaves who had their own businesses. Keckly was able to support a household of 17 people and to buy her freedom through the proceeds of her dress design business. Horton had a business that pre-dated greeting cards. He wrote customized love poems for young men who were courting women and earned funds to support himself. Sally Thomas was an enslaved laundress who was allowed to make a living by operating a laundry. She was a "virtual slave" because she was allowed to live and work as a free person. Thomas Day and David Walker were free businessmen of color. Day was an artisan who made fine furniture in North Carolina and Walker was a proprietor of a used clothing store in Boston, Massachusetts. Both men leveraged their good reputations as businessmen in their respective communities to create greater opportunities and greater freedom for themselves, their loved ones, and for members of their race.

Two of the most popular enterprises black women managed in the 19th century were seamstress and laundry work. These are exemplified by Elizabeth Keckly, a seamstress who became a famous dress designer, and by Sally Thomas, a laundress. "So, You Want to Work in a Laundry?" is a video that accompanies the Sally Thomas lessons. It reveals the tasks involved in the operation of a 19th-century laundry. The social studies lesson, "Elizabeth Keckly: Fashioning a Public Image," examines the clothing rich and poor people wore during the antebellum period. It also provides examples of the intricately designed fashions Keckly made for her most famous client, Mary Todd Lincoln. Materials on these entrepreneurs can be "re-mixed" to create a larger unit on African American entrepreneurship during the antebellum period and beyond.

Crafting Freedom Through the Written Word

There are many examples on this website of how African Americans in the 19th century "crafted freedom" through the power of the written word. Several of the freedom crafters wrote slave narratives, autobiographical accounts of their lives during slavery with detailed descriptions of how they attained their freedom. These works testify to the harsh realities of slavery and describe the enormous risks enslaved people took in order to secure their freedom. Slave narratives are a literary genre that raised awareness about the inhumanitiy of slavery and in so doing enlisted support for the anti-slavery cause. Other examples of "crafting freedom through the written word" are poems about freedom and democracy by George Moses Horton and Frances E. W. Harper. David Walker's Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World was a bold call to freedom addressed primarily to blacks, but with some words of warning to whites. It was unapologetically in favor of violence if that was necessary to end slavery, although it was not his first choice. The poetry of Harper and Horton, excerpts from the slave narratives, and from David Walker's Appeal offer exceptional writings with which to explore the meaning of slavery and freedom through the words of those who knew these subjects best: enslaved and free African Americans.

Summary of "Re-Mixing" Lesson Components

These are but a few examples of how these lesson components can be "re-mixed" to create customized lessons or units of instruction on important themes in American history. The possibilities for using these materials to enhance the teaching of social studies and language arts—as well as other subjects—are limited only by the teacher's imagination.