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Lesson Plan August 16, 2022

Images from the Past, Images from the Present: Black Excellence, Resistance, and Joy Yesterday and Today


This unit was created by Liz Taylor, a high school History teacher in Philadelphia, PA, as part of the 2021-2022 Pulitzer Center Teacher Fellowship program. It is designed for facilitation across eight lessons.

For more units created by Pulitzer Center Teacher Fellows in this cohort, click here.


Students will be able to…

  • Analyze underreported stories that center resistance and positive representations of Black Americans in early American history and contemporarily.
  • Research African American historical figures, organizations, and events in the past and in the present.
  • Use visual images coupled with text to tell an underreported story.
  • Present their collages and explanations in an in-school museum.

Unit Overview:

This unit asks students to identify underreported, yet newsworthy stories about African American historical figures, organizations, or events from U.S. history prior to Reconstruction and from the present that accurately depict Black excellence, resistance, and joy. Students use images such as photographs and historical documents to create collages that display these events. They then craft written explanations to describe the collages. This work will be accessible to the school community in a museum gallery within the building.

Essential Question: How can we find and visually display stories and images of Black Americans past and present that depict excellence, resistance, and/or joy that have not yet been properly illuminated?

Skills to Be Practiced:

  • Analysis of underreported stories
  • Research
  • Curation of  images and documents to provide visual evidence
  • Writing to explain the images of the underreported stories chosen and researched by students
  • Interviewing skills

Pedagogical Vision: It has been well documented that many attempts at teaching African American history center trauma. It is essential to provide a fuller exploration of the Black experience. According to Coshandra Dillard in her article in Learning for Justice, “One way to start right away is to tell the whole story—not just a small part—of Black history. A first step is to commit to decentering racial trauma.” In his paper, LaGarrett King argues that a manner of properly teaching “Black history is to explore Black identity through complex and nuanced narratives that attempt to get at the full humanity of Black people.” This includes teaching about joy along with other principles. Lastly, in her February 2021 article in Education Week, high school teacher Jania Hoover argued that “with a trauma- and struggle-filled narrative, the Black experience is one-dimensional and defined by pain. While there is a lot of pain, that’s only one part of the story. It is imperative for children to know that Black people experienced joy at every point in history. Black joy and Black love are central themes for understanding Black history. Simply put, without a focus on Black joy, Black history is incomplete. When we teach oppression and struggle without also teaching the joy of resistance, for instance, we miss the mark.” Thus this unit seeks to have students find and research underreported stories that reflect Black excellence, resistance, and joy both in early US history and in the present, and to display those stories for the school community.

Scope and Sequence: Students will begin by examining and discussing images that depict excellence, resistance, and joy experienced by Black Americans. Students will then analyze what an underreported story is and what makes a story newsworthy, and then they will explore an underreported story from the past and several from the present. Students will find their own underreported yet newsworthy stories that reflect the excellence, resistance, and/or joy of Black Americans. One will come from U.S. history from 1619 through the end of the Civil War. The other story will come from our contemporary era. Students will create an image/document collage to represent that person, organization, or event, and write text that explains the collage and the story. Finally, students will present their collages and writing in an in-person museum of joy hosted within our school.

Performance Task:

Students will create two collages of at least five images each. One of the collages will depict African American people, organizations or events from U.S. history from 1619 through the Civil War. The other collage will depict an underreported contemporary story about Black Philadelphians. Each collage will be supported by one to two paragraphs of written explanation of the story and the collage.

Students will present their work to the school community through a physical museum and live, in-person, gallery walk.

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Racial Justice

Racial Justice