Use the Activities
By looking at "Journey from Slavery to Statesman:" The Homes of Frederick Douglass, students can more easily understand the various experiences of being an African American from the early to the late 19th century. The following activities will provide students with an opportunity to better comprehend the different experiences of enslavement and freedom and the lingering prejudices that remained after the Civil War.
Activity 1: The Life and Times of Me
Have students read a chapter or two from one of Douglass's autobiographies (these can be found online through a variety of sources). Then ask students to write a couple pages of their own autobiographies. First, have each student create a timeline of important events in his or her life. Next, have them think about what values are important to them in their lives. What values do they think they represent? What events in the community and in the world coincided with the important events in their lives? If possible, have students interview an author in the community to learn about the skills needed to write a book. Ask students to read their autobiographies to the class. Hold a class discussion about how events classmates have shared have had similar or different meaning among the students.
Activity 2: The Great Orator
Have students learn part of a Frederick Douglass speech and recite it in class. Several examples of Douglass's speeches can be found at this Frederick Douglass website and his "Independence Day Speech at Rochester" can be found at this PBS website. Ask students to choose their favorite excerpt and explain why. Next, have students think about an event in their life that made a difference to them and write a short speech about why it was important. Have students deliver the speech to their classmates as if they do not have shared experiences. When choosing an event, students should provide context for their experience. Based on the scale of the event, students should explain what was going on in the community at the time (local, state, national, international). What external factors influenced their experience? What internal factors influenced their experience? How did the event make them feel? Were those feelings shared in the community? Was there anything that made their experience unique? Geography? Beliefs? Age? Gender? Ethnicity? Once everyone has presented, hold a class discussion highlighting how people can experience similar things in different ways based on various factors.
Activity 3: Traveling the Underground Railroad
Have students create an exhibit using the information found in the slave narrative. Display the exhibits around the classroom and ask each team to explain its exhibit to their classmates. You might even consider displaying the exhibits in the school library or auditorium and arranging for the students to present their findings to other classes.
For narratives, see "Documenting the American South: Slave Narratives" website, especially:
Activity 4: Slavery All Over
Divide students into groups to research various early 19th century solutions for slavery. Ask each group to report to the class. Then hold a class discussion on the pros and cons of each argument. How did their "solution" compare with Douglass's attitudes about slavery? Can students think of a solution that was not created at the time? Have students address the long-term and short-term consequences of each option. Do students think there was any other option aside from going to war? Why or why not?Activity 5: Modern Injustice
Slavery may have been ended with the Civil War but other great social injustices in society continued or came about later. Have students search for an example of social injustice in their community (past or present). Have students search popular media outlets for discussion of their issue. How is it portrayed? Does it seem important to people? Have students survey friends and family members and make a chart of their responses. How do most people react to this issue? How do the reactions of people today to social injustices compare to the reaction to slavery of Douglass and fellow activists? Do people have suggestions for solutions? Have students come up with some of their own solutions. Are there any local organizations where students can volunteer to help solve the modern problems? Have students consider a modern injustice like homelessness or inequality of health care and consider volunteer work to address the problem. If possible, have students interview a local official about the problem. What suggestions does the official have for addressing the problem? Were they aware of its history? If the issue is not receiving a lot of attention, have the official explain why certain issues take precedent over others. Students should write a report about their findings and submit it to the local archive or library.