Lesson Plan

Abolitionists and the Underground Railroad

A black and white engraving from the 19th century showing an African American man emerging from a shipping crate while four other men look on.
Henry Box Brown escaped slavery by shipping himself to freedom.

Library Company of Philadelphia

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Grade Level:
Seventh Grade-Twelfth Grade
African American History and Culture, Community, Government, History, Slavery, Social Studies
One to two class sessions
Group Size:
Up to 36
National/State Standards:
Reading History RH (9-10).2, RH (9-10).8, Speaking & Listening SL (9-10).1
liberty, Slavery, Abolition


Students work individually and in groups to learn about the contributions of abolitionists, and the work of the abolition movement.


Students become aware of the risks taken by fugitive slaves and the people who helped them, while gaining an understanding of the goals, actions, and symbols of the abolition movement.


Teachers will need the Abolitionist Student Worksheet.



Suggestions for Formal Evaluation:

Students write a persuasive letter, trying to convince the South that slavery is wrong and should be abolished.

Students write a persuasive letter to a friend or someone that they know, and try to convince them to join the abolitionists.

The teacher has students imagine that they have been approached several times by abolitionists wanting them to join their fight, but recently there have been many people in this anti-slavery struggle who have been fined, jailed, and recently a group of anti-abolitionists turned violent and burned down Pennsylvania Hall (an abolitionist building in Philadelphia). Students have to write a letter telling the abolitionists whether or not they will join them and explain their reasoning.


Park Connections

This lesson plan helps students understand the promise and paradox of liberty granted in our nation's founding documents.


Further Study of the Liberty Bell:

Teachers may find it helpful to use the Liberty Bell lesson plans available on the park's website to extend their students' knowledge about the Liberty Bell. The Liberty Bell is discussed in this lesson in the context of being given its name and used as a symbol by the abolitionists. These resources and activities would assist students in knowing more about the Bell before their site visit to Independence National Historical Park.

Additional Resources

Print Resources:
Ayres, Katherine. North by Night: A Story of the Underground Railroad. Yearling Books, 2000.

Ayres, Katherine. Stealing South. Yearling Books, 2002.

Bial, Raymond. The Underground Railroad. Houghton-Mifflin, 1999.

Blockson, Charles L. African Americans in Pennsylvania: Above Ground and Underground, An Illustrated Guide. RB Books, 2001.

Fradin, Dennis Brindell. Bound for the North Star: True Stories of Fugitive Slaves. Houghton-Mifflin, 2000.

Hanson, Joyce and Gary McGowan, and James Ransome. Freedom Roads: Searching for the Underground Railroad. Cricket Books, 2003.

Lasky, Kathryn. True North: A Novel of the Underground Railroad. Scholastic, 1998.

Sterling, Dorothy. Freedom Train: The Story of Harriet Tubman. Scholastic, 1991.

Switala, William J. Underground Railroad in Pennsylvania. Stackpole Books, 2001.

Web Resources:
The National Park Service Underground Railroad Website

The History Channel's Underground Railroad Website

Library of Congress African American Odyssey Website

National Geographic Underground Railroad Simulation Website

National Underground Railroad Freedom Center

PBS Underground Railroad-Africans in America Website

NASA Website that explains the meaning of the song Follow the Drinking Gourd



Abolitionist, anti-slavery, fugitive