Warm-up: What do you know about how slavery began in America?
Introducing the Lesson: What is the Middle Passage?
Analyzing the Texts:
- "The Middle Passage" by N.J. Amistad (excerpt)
- "The Middle Passage" poem by Clint Smith (from the New York Times)
- A Slave Pen from the Stanford History Education Group.
- "Roots: The Middle Passage" video from the History Channel.
Discussion and Activities:
- Stanza-by-stanza analysis of poem.
- "In Their Shoes" written activity.
In this lesson, students learn about the experience and journey of enslaved Africans along the Middle Passage. This lesson aligns with both modules, in which students write narratives with a focus on understanding perspectives. Students will read two texts, one from The 1619 Project and another from N.J. Amistad. Using the texts, visuals and video, students will write a narrative piece from the perspective of an enslaved African.
Students will be able to:
- Understand the journey of an enslaved African traveling along the Middle Passage.
- Create a visual to illustrate the author’s meaning of the poem.
- Write from the perspective of an enslaved African.
- What conditions did Africans endure on their voyages to the New World?
- How were enslaved African families and personal lives different than those of otherAmericans?
- What personal and emotional connections to the author’s meaning of the poem?
Black Lives Matter Guiding Principles
Discuss one or two of these principles and have students talk about how they connect to them. Recommended principles for discussion are in bold.
- Collective Value means that all Black lives, regardless of actual or perceived sexual identity, gender identity, gender expression, economic status, ability, disability, religious beliefs or disbeliefs, immigration status, or location, matter.
- Empathy is one’s ability to connect with others by building relationships built on mutual trust and understanding.
- Diversity is the celebration and acknowledgement of differences and commonalities across cultures.
- Loving Engagement is the commitment to practice justice, liberation, and peace.
- Restorative Justice is the commitment to build a beloved and loving community that is sustainable and growing.
- Black Men we are committed to building a Black men affirming space. We reject the over sexualization, criminalization and mass incarceration of our Black boys and men. Furthermore, we are committed to dismantling the school to prison pipeline, adultification of Black and brown boys, and the senseless killing of unarmed Black and brown men.
Have students highlight the words within the text and review meaning as necessary.
- anvil: a heavy steel or iron block with a flat top and typically a pointed end, on which metal can be hammered and shaped
- axis: an imaginary line which a body rotates around
- cavalcade: a formal procession of people walking
- dysentery: infection of the intestines resulting in severe diarrhea
- enslaved: a person forced into slavery
- hemisphere: half of the earth, usually divided into the northern and southern halves by the equator, or into the western and eastern halves
- Middle Passage: the sea journey of slave ships from West Africa to theAmericas.
- converted: to change something into a different thing
- justified: to give a reason for, explain
- barter: exchange (goods or services) for other goods or services without using money
- substantial: of importance, size, or worth
Facilitate a whole group discussion for students to respond to the following questions. As an option, provide about 2 minutes for students to write responses to the questions in a chat box if using a virtual platform or on some other class forum prior to responding in a whole group discussion format.
- What do you know about how slavery began in America?
- Estimate the number of Africans forced into slavery.
- Who are the descendants of enslaved Africans today, are they experiencing inequality?
Introduction to Texts
Excerpt: "The Middle Passage" by N.J. Amistad
The excerpt provides information about the Middle Passage, trading of goods and how religion was used to justify the enslavement of Africans.
In the early years of its existence, the United States’ economy depended on trade routes that stretched across the Atlantic Ocean in many directions. The money paid for one set of goods would be used to pay for another set of goods, and so on. This trade of goods for other goods is a barter system.
In early American settlement, goods came from two main sources: England and Africa. The profits from the global trade of sugar, tea, and coffee were the major force behind the triangular trade. For centuries it provided substantial capital for the Industrial Revolution and the development of the western European economy.
Pope Alexander VI wrote a document that allows Spain and Portugal to colonize the Americas and its Native peoples as subjects. It gives the right for Spain and Portugal to colonize, convert, and enslave. It also justifies the enslavement of Africans. Here the Pope argues that since many Africans had converted to the Catholic faith, the action was justified.
During the “Triangular Trade” Africans were taken as captives and transported to the Western Hemisphere. This part of the Diaspora of Africans is the “Middle Passage.” The voyage from Africa to the Americas or the Caribbean would last from thirty-five to ninety days and as many as half of the Africans would die of disease, hunger, or illness. The captives often revolted during the voyages.
From the New York Times: "The Middle Passage" by Clint Smith
The 1619 Project is a major initiative from The New York Times observing the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery. It aims to reframe the country’s history, understanding 1619 as our true founding, and placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are. One of 17 literary works from the New york Times's 1619 Project, that brings to life, critical moments in African American history. The poem describes the experience of an enslaved African traveling on a ship to the “New World”.
A Slave Pen
From the Stanford History Education Group.
The Frayer Model
From the History Channel: "Roots: The Middle Passage" (2:34 mins)
This video goes with the "In Their Shoes" written activity.
- Display a picture of a world map, drawing attention to all the continents, with a focus on North America, South America, Europe and Africa. Show where Brazil, Ghana, Jamaica and Angola are located.Explain that Brazil is a part of South America, and Jamaica is a part of North America, in addition to many other Caribbean countries. Have students identify what continent Ghana and Angola are located on.
- Explain that these continents and countries were a few of the many countries involved in the transport of Africans to the Caribbean, Brazil and the United States, known as the Middle Passage.
- Guide the reading of the excerpt from N.J. Amistad to support background knowledge. Stop after each section of text to clarify and check for understanding. Students will need support with the vocabulary (converted, profits, justified, barter, substantial, and capital).
- Instruct students to first read The 1619 Project text independently. As they read, instruct students to highlight words and phrases that stand out to them. Also, instruct students to star (*) the stanza that resonates with them the most. Then, read the 1619 text aloud to students.
- Facilitate a whole-group discussion using the following questions:
- What words and phrases stand out, and why? What do you think the author meant by these words and phrases?
- What is the “New World” that the author is referring to in the poem?
- What emotional reactions do you have after reading this passage, and why?
- What new information about the slave trade did you learn?
- How does our class’s estimation of the number of Africans forced into slavery compare to the information from the 1619 text?
- Have students analyze the poem by creating a visual to represent each stanza. There are 8 stanzas – assign a stanza to each student. Provide time for students to create a visual.
- Facilitate a share out of the visuals, ensuring that each stanza has been represented. Discuss visuals and how they connect to the poem.
- Suggestion: Organize students’ visuals into a digital format such as a video clip or PowerPoint.
- Discuss the remainder of the poem and clarify any misunderstandings.
- Show the video "Roots: The Middle Passage" from the History Channel (2:34 mins).
- Ask students what they noticed about the treatment of Africans on the ship.
- Show students the slave pen that was used to hold enslaved people before being sold at auction.
- “In Their Shoes” written activity.This activity asks students to produce a narrative piece (a 6-8 sentence paragraph) that tells about an experience from the perspective of an enslaved African.
- Allow time for students to share out and collect students’ responses for review.
This lesson was generously shared with the Pulitzer Center from the Office of Culturally and Linguistically Responsive Initiatives at Buffalo Public Schools in Buffalo, New York.