Teaching with New Technology in a “New” Era

Teaching with New Technology in a “New” Era

Dean Bacigalupo, Dennis, Belen-Morales, Tara Burk, Alexa Corben,  Alexis Farina, David Morris, Madison Hamada, and Elizabeth Tyree

All school districts in New York State were required to develop a “Continuity of Learning” plan that could be used beyond the COVID-19 pandemic if a district is not able to have full “in person” instruction.

Dean Bacigalupo: Teaching 7th graders in this new Blended/Hybrid model, I fully understand the many difficulties student teachers are experiencing. I believe there are 3 immediate challenges that both they and their cooperating teachers have.

The first is becoming fluent in technology. Districts first had to adapt a learning management system. For my district and many throughout Nassau/Suffolk the LMS is Google Classroom. Most teachers and student teachers are not proficient in using this LMS. Within Google Classroom there is a “Suite” of applications/extensions that are helpful for online learning. Some, like Docs, Slides, and Sheets, most student teachers are proficient in. Others, like Forms, Meets, Polling, Jamboard they are not. I set up my class with student teachers through Google Classroom so they could experience a “student view” and become more fluent with this LMS. These are free to create, but there are additional extensions that can be purchased. There are a number of extensions that are also free that are linked to Google Classroom, and because of this have become popular among schools. These include Edpuzzle, Screencastify, Flipgrid, Jamboard, and Nearpod. Teachers are also creating a Bitmoji and Bitmoji Classroom. Like any technology today, they are relatively easy to learn/navigate, but users need time to become proficient.

At this point, I am learning student engagement increases when:

The second is understanding how to move from a “technology rich classroom” to building a blended/hybrid learning classroom community. Because of the “virtual” shift in the flow of information, students need to take a more active role in their education, and therefore as a teacher, I am learning that I must foster a classroom that is characterized by increased online engagement, student responsibility, respectful communication, and effective online collaboration as discussion becomes even more important when students are working remotely as students who complete work at home via computer can become isolated

  • Lessons are designed for students to play a more active role in their learning. If not, students at home begin to view their computer screen like a television, and become very passive throughout a lesson/unit.
  • Students need to be proficient in any program used. I assumed they knew more than me, but in reality there is much that students needed to learn, and teachers need to be prepared to teach the technology as well as the content of their lesson.
  • Classroom rules/procedures must have increased accountability/responsibility for students in the learning process. To help students with this transition, I include celebrations at the end of each unit of study and regular (at least once in every 2 week cycle) conversations with parent/guardian to recognize the efforts of the student, or provide guidance if a student is falling behind.
  • Teachers need to foster and develop an increased sense of autonomy and independence among their students. I have found giving students a choice in project based assessment helps to build this.
  • Teachers and students are a team and must rely on each other, and their classroom built on mutual respect. They develop a learning community that works together to discover and build upon knowledge.
  • Students need to know a teacher cares when they are not there. If a student is not in class, I will have a classmate text them that I know are friends or I will call them at the beginning of class. I also include a weekly message in our Classroom Stream to the entire class to remind them of the great things we are accomplishing as a group. 
  • The “in person” and “virtual” classes need to become one classroom. This is helped when student teams are designed to connect “virtual” and “in person” students. This also allows the teacher to connect with “virtual” students through the “in person” students in the classroom as opposed to joining a virtual breakout group. 

The third challenge is really more administrative. Schools and school policies were not designed for this type of teaching, and not all students are prepared for this type of learning. Initially, there needs to be ongoing staff training on rules/routines for students to help them to succeed in a virtual setting. Additionally, there needs to be support classes for students that are having difficulty with this shift in learning. For example, if a student is not proficient in Math, they are assigned an additional A.I.S. class to help. In many cases, I am finding students that are proficient in learning “in person” are failing in a virtual setting, but there are no supports available like A.I.S. to help them to develop the skills needed. Lastly, teachers need time. Districts scheduled classes as they always had, and did not recognize that this new Blended/hybrid model required increased parent/student contact, lesson planning, grading, learning the technologies, and increased collaboration among teachers. Administrators believe they are helping by emailing links and materials to support teachers, but many are not viewing these because they are struggling to keep up with their daily lessons and grading. 

David Morris: No matter how well they use tech tools, many student teachers and teachers are frequently not quite there when it comes to classroom technology. I have students in an introductory teacher education methods class do research and present about online tools. For every session students have to think of how they would teach the lesson using an LMS. Unfortunately, it is not as effective as it needs to be unless students are working at a school and have access to school accounts. I don’t focus on Zoom because I find that students already know how to use that tool. Almost every student in my class this semester in student teaching is using Google Classroom or Schoology. Some schools only have breakout rooms with this tool because it costs the district extra money to add other applications. All the Schoology programs are quite user friendly, but you can’t use them without an account.

The problem that many student teachers (and teachers all over the country) are having is that their students are not doing the work. Even in the most middle-class school districts, many students are just not signing on or if they do, they won’t turn on their video because districts do not require it. Several of my student teachers teach to black screens everyday and have never seen the students. One reported when she dismissed the class no one was there so no one left the Zoom room. She had been talking to herself for several minutes. Schools should require videos on if a student wants to be marked as present.

Madison Hamada: When people heard I was student teaching in a hybrid setting that has become the norm due to COVID-19, the look on their faces said they were happy not to be in my shoes. However, at least from a technological perspective, I learned a lot. I lost track of how many times I was told “new young teachers” would find the new technologies easy to use. While we may be more fluent in technology than older teachers, there is a major difference between technology and educational technology; “new young teachers” are right there with the veteran teachers in learning how to use it. I may be a pro on Instagram, but I had no idea what Edpuzzle and Kami were or how to use Google Meets Breakout Rooms until I started student teaching.

Though difficult and time-consuming to learn these technologies, teachers have a powerful tool at our fingertips and should utilize it. This unique school year provided that opportunity, particularly when interacting with remote students – not knowing if they were even ‘there’ since their cameras were off. I found that the more I infused my lessons with technology, the better my chances were that my students were ‘glued to their screens’ for reasons other than Tiktok and Netflix.

I modified activities that I would typically prepare for in-person learning and was able to engage students in this setting, but not without trial and error. I created virtual gallery walks, virtual museum tours, and utilized virtual reality and breakout rooms at every opportunity. I relied on platforms such as Nearpod, TedED, and Kahoot and created review games like Jeopardy to involve my students in the lesson daily.

My goal for student teaching was to foster a classroom atmosphere that was both intellectually stimulating and enjoyable. At the end of my placement, I asked my students to fill out a teacher review as a means of self-evaluation, to help me become a better educator. One of the most frequent comments was the gratitude for lessons that enabled them to actively participate in their education and to simultaneously communicate with their friends, which made learning more fun. The students appreciated my effort to create normalcy in a year where little exists. Although it took significantly more time to plan and create lessons, it was worth it to hear my students – whether in-person or remote – partake in lively discussion about class material “together.”

Elizabeth Tyree: I’m no longer just an educator, I am now an IT personnel as well. During the pandemic, I worked at a summer camp that was converted into an educational pod where students could come and participate in online learning while parents received childcare so they can continue to work. We had about 50 students throughout the week in grades K-8 from 4 or 5 different school districts. Each district had a unique schedule and different methods of educating during the pandemic. Some adopted a hybrid schedule, some remain fully online, some were stuck somewhere in between or switched between the two. Some schools even offered a fully asynchronous option before the school year began for parents who did not want to deal with the revolving door of school changes.

Most if not all schools use Google Classroom as their online home base. However, some teachers use Google Meet while others use Zoom for video calls. Regardless of the learning platform that the teachers use, the students are still struggling with the technology. With programs like Kami that can edit PDFs the students have generally learned how to use it, however, they constantly find issues with the program and often turn in work that is too sloppy to read. Many teachers, after months, were still learning how to use these online platforms, especially those who rely heavily on Google Classroom, which has more limitations than programs like Zoom. When simply looking at the technology there are many troubles that can arise. With every student online at some point during the week it can lead to system crashes, hackers, WIFI related issues, camera and microphone problems, and other unexpected issues. Most students do not have the developed typing skills to effectively communicate through chats when microphones are malfunctioning, and they cannot easily reach out to teachers so instead they sit back unsure what to do. Even as an adult, I cannot always figure out what the issue is and students miss out on valuable instruction. Students who are using Chromebooks, which are relatively inexpensive computers, find they have many limitations and/or technical failings. Something that I have noticed from the students’ side of the screens is that very few teachers branch out in class to differentiate instruction. When on a video call, teachers may pull up a worksheet or PowerPoint, but generally stay in a lecture-based lesson style. Students sitting behind a screen for an hour or more are zoning out as there is nothing attention grabbing in their lessons. The online learning is leading to simplified instruction that is not even using the technology to its full potential.

Technology can be very useful, but not when students spend their whole day in front of a screen. They are becoming more and more passive in their learning and missing critical learning skills. Many students struggle to read for long periods of time when the reading is on a screen, and annotating that reading is even more difficult. Teachers who rely heavily on reading during the pandemic have many students who underperform on assessments. It is not that the students are incapable of understanding the concepts, but rather that they struggle with synthesizing responses when their only sources of information are online readings. Teachers are making a strong effort in such a trying time. It is not easy to teach while relying on so much technology, so teachers should be commended for any and all good they are able to do.

Alexa Corben: Student teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic was certainly challenging, however, I had the opportunity to experience many different technological platforms to use in the classroom, especially in a hybrid setting. Along with learning about new technology, the pandemic also challenged me to design creative lessons. One thing that all the teachers kept telling me was, “we are all practically first year teachers.” By this they meant they were also learning about new technology and they had to change or redo lessons they had previously taught in order to be able to teach in a hybrid setting. The school where I student-taught used Google Classroom. I am familiar with some of Google’s “Suite” programs, such as Google Docs and Google Slides, however there are other programs, like Google Forms, Jamboard, Nearpod, and Google breakout rooms that I have never used before. Although I was not familiar with certain applications, I was fortunate that my cooperating teachers informed me on how to use them. Since the school was hybrid, I had to teach students that were in my classroom and students who were learning remotely at the same time. I felt that teaching the students who were remote was the hardest part because there were many distractions around them, and they were not required to have their cameras on. This meant my lessons had to be engaging in order to keep students focused and attentive. One program that I felt was extremely useful was Nearpod. One of the benefits of Nearpod was that I was able to play videos and insert questions while we watched the video as a class. In addition to this, I was able to see which students were answering the questions and which students were not. Students were also able to take notes while I was presenting the material which was saved to their Google Drive, so they could then go back to review their notes. Another program that was extremely beneficial was Google breakout rooms. It was important that students worked together, but because of COVID[HB1] , students were not able to work together in person. The breakout rooms not only allowed students to work together, but it also allowed students to work with others who may not be in the classroom that same day.

Dennis Belen-Morales: Teaching in this new era has been quite challenging. My students in the South Bronx and I have faced many barriers including access, transitioning, and administrative adjustments. As a first-year teacher who became a student teacher at the beginning of the pandemic I understand the struggle that students have trying to adapt to online instruction. COVID-19 turned our world upside down with many professionals working longer and more exhausting hours, including myself. As a first-year teacher my main priority has been to provide my students with conditions in which they can learn.

I teach in the poorest congressional district in the country and the financial situation of many of my students meant they lacked access to technology and the Internet. Even when they had computers, they were often outdated. To bridge the digital divide, I worked with a colleague, Pablo Muriel, to develop a website that allows students to do homework using a mobile device.

A big problem in New York City has been constantly shifting modes of instruction during the pandemic. At the start of the school year we used a hybrid model with some students online and others in the classroom. Then we shifted to all remote and by April 2021 the city planned to shift back to hybrid. This inconsistency has been tough on many of my students because as teenagers in working-class families they are often older siblings charged with making sure their younger siblings attend class either in-person or online while their parents are not home.

COVID-19 also complicated administrative planning. School coordinators and counselors struggle to design schedules that balance the needs of students with class-size restrictions and teacher schedules. Repeated changes undermine student-teacher relationships vital for educational success. The pandemic drastically changed the lives of millions around the world, including our students. The post-pandemic society and classroom will have to address the problems of interrupted, social inequities, and the availability of educational resources.

Tara Burk: I student taught at a specialized public high school in Brooklyn. In the 9th and 12th grade classes there was nearly full attendance each day, however 99% of students keep their cameras off for the entire class period. Based on my experience, in addition to making sure any technology utilized in the online classroom is accessible to all students, teachers should be flexible and adapt to the particular ways in which students are engaging with technology. Just because we cannot “see” students on camera does not mean students are not showing up to class, participating, and learning. For some students, they do not have the Internet bandwidth to turn on their camera or they are unable to because they are working or looking after siblings or have no privacy. For others, refusing to turn on their cameras may be one of the only things they can control and especially if most of their peers have cameras off it makes sense they would, too. We had students engage with the class by communicating in the chat, working on Google docs together during group work, and sharing responses in full class discussions when they can be on microphone. No matter what kind of technology a teacher uses, from Zoom to Padlet to Google Classroom, I think it is important to “humanize” the tech element by taking advantage of opportunities to connect with each student individually. If a student asks a question in the chat or on Padlet a teacher can be sure to answer it, either in the chat or during the lesson. If a student completes a homework assignment on Google Classroom, getting feedback from their teacher matters because it shows their teacher is engaged with their work and invested in their success. Since there are less moments for informal feedback, such as nonverbal communication, than there might be in a traditional classroom these kinds of connections matter more during online instruction. Finally, a teacher can use technology to check in with students at the beginning of the class and assess how students are feeling (asking students to use the “thumbs up,” “thumbs down” options on Zoom) or they can use this option for formative assessment during the lesson. Based on my experiences and observations, these suggestions are effective in building classroom community. 

Alexis Farina: Who would have thought that a child’s education would be dependent on a stable WiFi connection? The Covid-19 pandemic has completely transformed teaching and learning as we know it, especially during the peak of the virus when it forced many schools to offer instruction either hybrid or remote. As a teacher in early elementary education, I wonder how much the new technology will continue to shape education? Video conferences have replaced the traditional classroom setting, online assignments have taken away from paper and pencil, teachers are teaching children they have never even met in person, students are listening to stories being told on YouTube instead of gathering on a rug. A good portion of the school day was already dedicated to using iPads or laptops. I fear technology has started to take away the authenticity of school as education has become heavily reliant on it. One of the most difficult technological situations I face is teaching a class in person while solving tech issues for students that stream in for remote learning. It requires you to split yourself in half. Tending to the students in person and online simultaneously is almost impossible, especially in the lower elementary grades. These children are not yet completely independent, and most are still learning how to read so they need an adult to guide them.  When technology works, it’s great, and when it doesn’t, it’s detrimental.

Preserving our Democracy: The Now Inescapable Mandate for Teaching Media Literacy in Elementary Social Studies Education

Preserving our Democracy: The Now Inescapable Mandate for Teaching Media Literacy in Elementary Social Studies Education

Kevin Sheehan, Emily Festa, Emily Sloan, KellyAnn Turton

Sam Wineberg’s latest treatise on the need for historical literacy, Why Learn History When It’s Already on Your Phone, could not have come at a more critical time in our history.  The inescapable truth is that the world is now sophisticated and instantaneous in providing information and insights on cell phones with a speed that truly boggles the mind. Although information is now instant, what cannot be overlooked is that our current digitally wired citizens lack the ability to accurately evaluate the reliability and credibility of this instantaneous information.

HBO’s frightening documentary, “The Social Dilemma,” points out the dangers for society in being fed our political information from social media sources. In an effort to gain our attention, social media is now able to digest our preferences and sensationalize our media feeds so that we only hear sources that support our previously demonstrated preferences. The reason behind the severity of this article’s title, Preserving our Democracy, is that the skills of media literacy are now, not only integral strategies in how we teach history, but are critical to our democracy’s survival.

The recent insurrection at our nation’s Capital and failure of much of the nation to accept our presidential election results should leave all of us with one underlying and unmistakable lesson. The ability to evaluate the validity of the information that we receive on our media platforms is now our most pressing mandate in social studies. On an almost daily basis, we suffer through the drama of surrounding claims and counterclaims on media sources of all types.

What should be painfully obvious to all of us in social studies education is an inescapable fact that currently seems invisible to the general public in the frenzy and passion of current political accusations on both sides. Regardless of which side was most harmed by the outside social media influences in our last election, more than at any time in our history, our electorate is dangerously vulnerable to cyber misinformation. This article attempts to provide a solution to how we as social studies educators might address this crisis.

Now that this Pandora’s Box of our inability to separate fact from fiction has been opened for the world to see, sanctions and even armed attack against aggressors will not be able to eliminate outside threats from using the invisible power of the Internet to influence our elections. The fact is that our recent elections have revealed that the American democratic process can now be manipulated with a laptop from anywhere in the world.  The growing awareness that our electoral process is vulnerable to foreign and internal interference puts our very democracy in peril.

Although the current state of our national politics seeks to find the culprits and punish those responsible, what is being missed in this drama that has both political sides attacking each other is who the real enemy is. In the words of the noted philosopher and long-ago comic strip superstar, Pogo, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.” The truth is that no matter who interferes and who is to blame, the real question is why are we so vulnerable to obvious, and often ridiculous misinformation?

The fact is that the most preposterous claims can affect and determine the outcome of an election is clear proof that our electorate lacks the critical skill of determining what information is credible and that which is not. We have become so addicted to our social media that we unquestionably accept the credibility of information the minute it is provided.  Not only is this damaging in political arenas, but this misinformation can spread to every arena of our lives. The good news is that we have the power to do something about this if we are willing to rethink the way we deliver social studies education and the end goal of that instruction.

Moving beyond Jeopardy to the new basics of social studies, media literacy

My sad confession, after decades as social studies instructor and a New York State Regents test designer, is that too much of my professional involvement focused on preparing students to recall and employ the vital information that was considered essential to understanding our nation’s past and present.  Said in a less flattering way, a good deal of my life’s work in this subject involved preparing students to meet demands, not unlike that of a high stakes and challenging Jeopardy game. Although state and advanced placement assessment has never been confused with the fun and excitement of a Jeopardy game, the same basic skill of recall drove both.

Now that Google has made that skill of recall less relevant in the lives of the digital natives that we teach, we must face the fact that the new skill most needed is evaluating the continuing barrage of information that invades our lives on our electronic devices on a minute-by-minute basis. According to a new study by Roger Bon at the University of California-San Diego, we are bombarded daily by an equivalent of 34 Gb (gigabytes) of information every day.  This is enough to cripple our laptops. Imagine what this overload is doing to our brains.

Inspired by a presentation by social studies supervisor, Lorraine Lupinskie of the Half Hollows Central School District, at, the Long Island Council for Social Studies, my graduate and undergraduate students created online K-5 Inquiry Design Model units with the new basics of arming our students with the tools needed to deal with this information overload.  Media Literacy is a skill that is too critical to hold off until middle or high school social studies courses. These skills need to be cultivated in the earliest grades as our students inhabit the digital world from birth.

These units, harnessing the magic of the storybooks, begin in grade one and run through grade five, can be accessed on this Molloy College website link (shorturl.at/estAM). These units, created by my Molloy College students and driven by compelling questions, deal with the key media literacy skills of sourcing, corroboration, purpose and point of view, differentiating fact from opinion, credibility and reliability, applying these constructs to their assigned curriculum.  Each unit is based on the Inquiry Design Unit Model and driven by an appropriate grade level children’s literature selection that breaks down the complicated skills of media literacy through story.  After the students absorb the media literacy skills, they are required to evaluate the credibility of the information that they receive, even from their own textbooks as well on the Internet.

Please feel free to borrow the units created by Molloy preservice students shared on our website, www.behindthecurtainsofhistory.weebly.com (K-5 Media Literacy Units—Beginning with Storybooks). The nature of this publication does not allow us to share in depth multiple examples of each unit, but in this the year of a truly controversial national political election, we share a snapshot of two of the units from the creators and implementers of those units as they impart the skills of sourcing, corroboration, purpose and point of view, differentiating fact from opinion, credibility and reliability, applying these constructs to their students.

Lessons from the Field: A Snapshot of our Second Grade Inquiry Design Model Unit: How Can We Elect a Good President?

Emily Festa and Kellyann Turton

Living in an era, where the concept of fake news and the misinterpretation of facts and ideas are prevalent, it is evident that we need to teach students the skills and techniques needed to be informed citizens, who will one day be called to effectively exercise their right to vote. Our second-grade unit, How Can We Elect a Good President, is made up of lessons that teach our youngest scholars how to identify credible sources and to corroborate those sources so that we can make effective decisions.

Our unit’s foundation begins with this question to engage students, “Have you ever heard a rumor about someone that wasn’t true?” To teach the concept of the credibility of rumors through story, we chose the marvelous book Mr. Peabody’s Apples by Madonna. This book ignites a discussion and activity to identify the need for credible sources in the face of rumor. Through discovering how a person’s reputation can be ruined by an unsubstantiated and false rumor, spread by misinformed members of a community, students will be able to sort through and determine what are credible sources in follow up activities that links to their everyday lives.

After learning what makes sources credible, scholars will use their newly found knowledge to learn to corroborate facts that they hear. To teach corroboration, we chose to incorporate the book, I Wanna Iguana by Karen Kaufman Orloff, in conjunction with a YouTube video, Six Insane Iguana Facts. Scholars will practice corroborating sources to see if the events covered in the story have sound corroborating evidence from the video. These skills will be then be harnessed to help our youngest citizens become informed citizens by participating in an election to determine a class ice cream election. This unit was made with the full intent to give our future voters the tools they will one day need to vote in actual elections by using literacy sources that teach underlying skills.

Lessons from the Field: A Snapshot of our Fourth Grade Inquiry Design Model Unit: How Do We Know What We Learned about the Inventors during Industrial Revolution is True? 

Emily R. Sledge

In our digital age, the introduction of media literacy in elementary education is no longer an add on but should be a necessity. How Do We Know What We Learned About the Inventors During the Industrial Revolution Is True? is a fourth-grade Inquiry Design Model (IDM) unit that consists of integrated media literacy based E.L.A. lessons and social studies lessons that address the importance of the media literacy through the skills of sourcing and corroboration. By utilizing these newly developed skills, students will be able to conclude whether or not the information from their textbook on inventors of the Industrial Revolution is credible.

To teach sourcing, we incorporated the book Mr. Peabody’s Apples by Madonna as our introductory, media literacy based E.L.A. lesson. Although this book may have been used in previous grade levels, it was our belief that the same book could viewed through different lens at a different age.  This lesson laid the groundwork for students to learn to examine and scrutinize information from various sources. In contrast to the use of the book presented on the second-grade level, the book now established a mandate to evaluate a source on all information, even textbooks.

The book led to a discussion about the danger of spreading misinformation and the need to evaluate the sources of any and all information. It was our goal in this lesson for students to walk away with the understanding that informed citizens use sound evidence and facts to draw conclusions about the accuracy and credibility of a source. After the story, opened the unit with two key questions, “What is sourcing? and Why is it so important to check the sources of the information we hear?” The goal was to get students think about the need to investigate the author of a source and the motive for author in writing the source. Students completed an activity in which they practiced sourcing, using evidence and facts to determine whether information might credible, based on the sources.

The goal of the final lessons of the unit was for students to utilize the skills of sourcing and corroboration to answer our essential question, “How Do We Know What We Learned About the Inventors During the Industrial Revolution Is True?”  To evaluate the sources that had driven our unit, we created a tool for students to put each source under the microscope. This tool we created was named, USER, (Understand, Source, Elaborate, Reliable).  On a large oak tag sheet with a different source in the middle of the poster, each group of four students was required to move around the source in the center to determine the credibility of the source by providing answers called for under each letter.

Students first collaborated under a large U, and on the bottom of the poster, wrote down what their understanding of the information that the source conveyed.  Moving the next side of the poster, they then filled in everything that they could learn about the source and the author of the source under the large S. The next letter, E, elaborate, asked students to elaborate on what they thought about the credibility of the information based on what was said (The U) and the source’s author (The S). The final letter, R, asked student if the information seemed reliable, did what they learned based on what they had learned in analyzing the source support what was in their textbook.

Groups of four evaluated different primary sources in collaborative units and shared their information with the  whole class as experts on their document.  After hearing all of the documents, our youngest student citizens were now armed with primary source evidence to answer the question of whether what their textbook taught about the inventors of the Industrial Revolution was true, based on this in-depth class corroboration exercise.

It is our hope that lessons focusing on media literacy will establish positive and integral habits that our students can take into the future. Media literacy is an essential skill that we must all be equipped with going forward if our democracy is to survive and thrive. In a technological age, when information is a click away, teaching primary and intermediate grade students the importance of evaluating the credibility of sources will ensure that our students are responsible, literate individuals who will not accept what is delivered to them on social media at face value.

(Full lesson plans, Inquiry Design Unit Plans, Unit PowerPoints, and supporting materials for the units above are available on the website http://www.behindthecurtainsofhistory.weebly.com)

References

Bohn, R., & Short, J. (2012). Measuring Consumer Information. International Journal of Communication, 6, 980-1000. Retrieved from https://ijoc.org/index.php/ijoc/article/viewFile/1566/743

Coombe, D., J., Orlowski, & Curtis, V. (Writers), & Orlowski, J. (Director). (2020, September 9). The Social Dilemma [Television series episode]. In The Social Dilemma. HBO.

Festa, E., Radburn, L., Spaulding, M., Turton, K. (Writers). (2019) Behind the curtains of history: FINDING STUDENT voice in HISTORY NCSS: Inquiry Design Unit plans. Retrieved February, 2021, from http://www.behindthecurtainsofhistory.weebly.com/

Kelly, W. (1971). Pogo [Cartoon].

Madonna; Long, L. (2003). Mr Peabody’s Apples, London: Puffin Books.

Smithsonian National Museum of American History Kenneth E.Behring Center. Engaging Students with Primary Sources. (n.d.).

Wineburg, S. S. (2018). Why learn history (when it’s already on your phone). Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Debate over the 15th Amendment Divides Abolitionists

Debate over the 15th Amendment Divides Abolitionists

Alan Singer

The 15th Amendment to the United States Constitution declares “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” The wording of the Amendment drove a wedge between different factions in the anti-slavery movement. A number of prominent women in the movement argued for a universal right to vote. Some advocates for the amendment as written believed the moment was ripe to end voting discrimination against Black men, but that adding women’s suffrage to the Amendment would mean its defeat. Some of the opposition to granting Black men the right to vote but not white women was overtly racist.

Questions

  1. Why did the 15th Amendment divide allies in the abolitionist movement?
  2. Why did women in the movement demand universal suffrage?
  3. What was the argument for limiting the 15th Amendment to voting rights for Black men?
  4. How did this debate expose racism amongst those who opposed slavery?
  5. If you were an elected representative in the 1860s, what would have been your position on the 15th Amendment? Why?

Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1865): “By an amendment of the Constitution, ratified by three-fourths of the loyal States, the black man is declared free. The largest and most influential political party is demanding suffrage for him throughout the Union, which right in many of the States is already conceded. Although this may remain a question for politicians to wrangle over for five or ten years, the black man is still, in a political point of view, far above the educated women of the country. The representative women of the nation have done their uttermost for the last thirty years to secure freedom for the negro, and so long as he was lowest in the scale of being we were willing to press his claims; but now, as the celestial gate to civil rights is slowly moving on its hinges, it becomes a serious question whether we had better stand aside and see “Sambo” walk into the kingdom first. As self-preservation is the first law of nature, would it not be wiser to keep our lamps trimmed and burning, and when the constitutional door is open, avail ourselves of the strong arm and blue uniform of the black soldier to walk in by his side, and thus make the gap so wide that no privileged class could ever again close it against the humblest citizen of the republic?”

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (1866): “You white women speak here of rights. I speak of wrongs. I, as a colored woman, have had in this country an education which has made me feel as if I were in the situation of Ishmael, my hand against every man, and every man’s hand against me . . . We are all bound up together in one great bundle of humanity, and society cannot trample on the weakest and feeblest of its members without receiving the curse in its own soul. You tried that in the case of the Negro. You pressed him down for two centuries; and in so doing you crippled the moral strength and paralyzed the spiritual energies of the white men of the country. When the hands of the black were fettered, white men were deprived of the liberty of speech and the freedom of the press. Society cannot afford to neglect the enlightenment of any class of its members. At the South, the legislation of the country was in behalf of the rich slaveholders, while the poor white man was neglected . . . Talk of giving women the ballot-box? Go on. It is a normal school, and the white women of this country need it. While there exists this brutal element in society which tramples upon the feeble and treads down the weak, I tell you that if there is any class of people who need to be lifted out of their airy nothings and selfishness, it is the white women of America.”

Petition to the Senate and House of Representatives for Universal Suffrage (1866): “The undersigned, Women of the United States, respectfully ask an amendment of the Constitution that shall prohibit the several States from disfranchising any of their citizens on the ground of sex. In making our demand for Suffrage, we would call your attention to the fact that we represent fifteen million people—one half of the entire population of the country—intelligent, virtuous, native-born American citizens; and yet stand outside the pale of political recognition. The Constitution classes us as ‘free people,’ and counts us whole persons in the basis of representation; and yet are we governed without our consent, compelled to pay taxes without appeal, and punished for violations of law without choice of judge or juror. The experience of all ages, the Declarations of the Fathers, the Statute Laws of our own day, and the fearful revolution through which we have just passed, all prove the uncertain tenure of life, liberty and property so long as the ballot—the only weapon of self-protection—is not in the hand of every citizen. Therefore, as you are now amending the Constitution, and, in harmony with advancing civilization, placing new safeguards round the individual rights of four millions of emancipated slaves, we ask that you extend the right of Suffrage to Woman—the only remaining class of disfranchised citizens—and thus fulfill your Constitutional obligation ‘to Guarantee to every State in the Union a Republican form of Government.’ As all partial application of Republican principles must ever breed a complicated legislation as well as a discontented people, we would pray your Honorable Body, in order to simplify the machinery of government and ensure domestic tranquility, that you legislate hereafter for persons, citizens, tax-payers, and not for class or caste. For justice and equality your petitioners will ever pray.”

Thaddeus Stevens (1867): “There are several good reasons for the passage of this bill. In the first place, it is just. I am now confining my arguments to Negro suffrage in the rebel States. Have not loyal blacks quite as good a right to choose rulers and make laws as rebel whites? In the second place, it is a necessity in order to protect the loyal white men in the seceded States. The white Union men are in a great minority in each of those States. With them the blacks would act in a body; and it is believed that in each of said States, except one, the two united would form a majority, control the States, and protect themselves. Now they are the victims of daily murder. They must suffer constant persecution or be exiled.”

Sojourner Truth (1867): “There is a great stir about colored men getting their rights, but not a word about the colored woman; and if colored men get their rights, and not colored women get theirs, you see the colored men will be masters over the women, and it will be just as bad as it was before.”

Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1869): “If American women find it hard to bear the oppressions of their own Saxon fathers, the best orders of manhood, what may they not be called to endure when all the lower orders of foreigners now crowding our shores legislate for them and their daughters. Think of Patrick and Sambo and Hans and Yung Tung, who do not know the difference between a monarchy and a republic, who cannot read the Declaration of Independence or Webster’s spelling-book, making laws for Lucretia Mott, Ernestine L. Rose, and Anna E. Dickinson.”

Frederick Douglass (1869): “I do not see how anyone can pretend that there is the same urgency in giving the ballot to woman as to the negro. With us, the question is a matter of life and death, at least, in fifteen States of the Union [in reference to the former slave states]. When women, because they are women, are hunted down through the cities of New York and New Orleans . . . when they are in danger of having their homes burnt down over their heads; when their children are not allowed to enter schools; then they will have an urgency to obtain the ballot equal to our own.”

Susan B. Anthony (1869): “If you will not give the whole loaf of suffrage to the entire people, give it to the most intelligent first. If intelligence, justice, and morality are to have precedence in the government, let the question of women brought up first and that of the negro last . . . Mr. Douglass talks about the wrongs of the negro; but with all the outrages that he today suffers, he would not exchange his sex and take the place of Elizabeth Cady Stanton.”

New Law? New Curriculum? What Do I Do?

New Law? New Curriculum? What Do I Do?

Cathy A.R. Brant

On Monday March 1, 2021 Governor Phil Murphy Signed Assembly Bill No. 4454 of which Section C.18A:35-4.36a which mandates that New Jersey K-12 public school curriculum to include instruction on diversity and inclusion:

Beginning in the 2021-2022 school year, each school district shall incorporate instruction on diversity and inclusion in an appropriate place in the curriculum of students in grades kindergarten through 12 as part of the district’s implementation of the New Jersey Student Learning Standards. b. The instruction shall: (1) highlight and promote diversity, including economic diversity, equity, inclusion, tolerance, and belonging in connection with gender and sexual orientation, race and ethnicity, disabilities, and religious tolerance; (2) examine the impact that unconscious bias and economic disparities have at both an individual level and on society as a whole; and (3) encourage safe, welcoming, and inclusive environments for all students regardless of race or ethnicity, sexual and gender identities, mental and physical disabilities, and religious beliefs (New Jersey Legislature, 2021)

For many teachers, it is a relief that it is now state law that issues of diversity and equity are mandated parts of the curriculum. In fact, in my work with pre-service teachers one of the most common threads I hear from my students is that they want to address issues of equity, racism, inclusion, homophobia, and other diversity related issues but have concerns about push-back from their colleagues, their administrators, and their students’ parents. For other teachers, it can seem like a daunting task to address these topics in an age-appropriate way, especially in the elementary grades.  In addition to the new diversity and inclusion law on June 3, 2020, the State Board of Education adopted the 2020 New Jersey Student Learning Standards (NJSLS) (State of New Jersey, Department of Education (2020), which go into effect during the 2022-2023 school year. This article lays out how this new curricular law could be covered in age-appropriate elementary grades using the new 2020 social studies standards. Additionally, curricular resources will be provided to help teachers address these topics.

New Jersey Diversity Law

The new NJ Diversity law has three areas of focus. The first area is highlighting and promotion of diversity.  This instruction should help children understand the differences that exist between people due to race, class, gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, disability, religious differences, etc. The goal of this law, in the elementary school setting, is for young students to understand the ways in which diversity exists in the world and to see the commonalities between their lives and the lives of others.  This idea is not new. Multicultural Education (MCE) has been around for decades (cite).  Multicultural education “an approach to teaching and learning that is based upon the democratic values and beliefs and that affirms cultural pluralism within culturally diverse societies in an interdependent world” with the goal of fostering “the intellectual, social, and personal development of all students to their highest potential” (Bennett, 2003, p. 14). Students who engage in a robust multicultural curriculum learn about aspects of identities, to appreciate and value the diversity of others in the world, and to help students develop cross-cultural competence to prepare them for lifelong interactions with people who are different from themselves.

The second part of the law focuses on understanding unconscious biases. Unconscious biases, or implicit biases:

…are social stereotypes about certain groups of people that individuals form outside their own conscious awareness. Everyone holds unconscious beliefs about various social and identity groups, and these biases stem from one’s tendency to organize social worlds by categorizing.  Unconscious bias is far more prevalent than conscious prejudice and often incompatible with one’s conscious values (University of California-San Francisco, n.d.)

Children need to understand the ways that they may unintentionally engage in biased behavior that impacts others as well as understand the ways that bias, and discrimination exist at an institutional level.

The third section talks about the instruction itself in including encouraging safe, welcoming, and inclusive environments for all students.  In other words, the instruction should include the elements presented in the first two parts of the law but should also “[accept] and [affirm]the pluralisms (ethnic, racial, linguistic, religious, economic, and gender, among others) that students, their communities and teachers reflect” (Nieto and Bode, 2008, p. 44) in a way that all students feel welcomed in the classroom and school community.  The law explicitly articulates that this instruction should include topics of race or ethnicity, sexual and gender identities, mental and physical disabilities, and religious beliefs.

It is clear why this law was enacted. Students need purposeful inclusion of cultural education in the elementary classroom (McCarty, 2010). As the children of New Jersey grow up, they continue to interact with those of different races or ethnicities, sexual or gender identities, mental and physical disabilities, and religious beliefs and will need to be prepared to be aware of the local as well as the global community (Kirkwood, 2001). They will be aware of global issues that go beyond their backyards such as global pandemics, the climate crisis, poverty, and other global inequities and transnational migration. Teachers, both explicitly and implicitly, make daily instructional decisions about “how students perceive their own culture, their nation, the lives of people around the world, and the issues and conflicts facing the planet” (Merryfield, 2002, p. 19), so there needs to be a deliberate shift in making this instruction explicit so that students can become productive citizens of their community and the world.

2020 New Jersey Social Studies Student Learning Standards

One of the major changes to the new NJSLS is the re-banding of the standards from K-4, 5-8, 9-12 to the following bands: K-2, 3-5, 6-8, 9-12. The new standards lay out the core ideas which “represent the knowledge and skills that they should be able to apply to new situations outside of the school experience” (State of New Jersey, Department of Education, 2020, p. 22). Curriculum writers and educators can use these core ideas as the basis for formative, summative, and benchmark assessments. Additionally, the standards describe the performance expectations, what students should know and be able to do by the end of the band.  The 2021 NJSLS have 18 key disciplinary concepts from the four main disciplinary domains of social studies: civics, geography, economics and history. See Table 1:

Table 1: 2021 NJSLS key disciplinary concepts:

Civics, Government, and Human Rights Civic and Political InstitutionsParticipation and DeliberationDemocratic PrinciplesProcesses and RulesHuman and Civil RightsCivic MindednessGeography, People and the Environment Spatial Views of the World Human Population Patterns Human Environment InteractionGlobal InterconnectionsEconomics, Innovation and Technology Exchange and Markets National EconomyGlobal EconomyHistory, Culture, and Perspectives Continuity and ChangeUnderstanding Perspectives Historical Sourcing and Evidence Claims and Argumentation  

In addition to the core disciplinary concepts, the new standards also present core ideas under each of these disciplinary concepts which students should be able to achieve by the end of a grade level. It is easy to see how many of these can be connected to highlighting and promoting the diversity of others. For example, under the concept of History, Culture, and Perspectives: Understanding Perspectives, by the end of Grade 2 students should be able understand that 1) Two or more individuals can have a different understanding of the same event, and 2) Respecting and understanding the views of others helps one learn about various perspectives, thoughts, and cultures. By the end of grade 5, students will be able to understand 1) Respecting and understanding the views of others helps one learn about various perspectives, thoughts, and cultures, and 2) Events may be viewed differently based on one’s perspective (State of New Jersey, Department of Education, 2020, p. 18). This is just one example of the explicit connections between the new standards and the diversity law, but what is even more important are the pedagogical practices on how to teach these concepts.

Lesson Ideas

In this section I will highlight four specific indicators, three from the K-2 band and one from the 3-5 band.  These indicators have been selected as they directly relate to the new legislation. This should serve as affirmation for elementary grade teachers that they can and are required to teach this content. One of the best ways to help students see themselves reflected and affirmed in the curriculum, and to provide windows into the lives of others who may differ from them is through high quality children’s literature (Sims Bishop, 1990). In addition to discussing how the standards can be addressed in the curriculum, I will highlight high quality multicultural children’s literature that will help teachers do so. The kindergarten through second grade standards opens up spaces in elementary classrooms to lay the foundation for addressing issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion. The third grade through fifth grade band allows teachers to add layers to what the kindergarten through second grade teachers introduced.  Once students understand that differences exist, how stereotyping and prejudice is problematic, and promoting ideas of tolerance and respect for others, teachers and students adapt a more critical lens, going beyond their own experiences to focusing on the experiences of others and greater system issues of discrimination and marginalization.

6.1.2.CivicsCM.3: Explain how diversity, tolerance, fairness, and respect for others can contribute to individuals feeling accepted.

With young children, we need to scaffold their understanding of the concepts of diversity, tolerance, fairness, and respect. Even in the youngest grades, teachers can have conversations with children about their identities, affirming their identities, and helping them appreciate and value the differences between their identities and the identities of others (Teaching Tolerance, 2018). Setting this groundwork in the early grades can allow for explicit instruction, in later grades, on more complex aspects of these topics such as personal biases and systemic oppression. The Day You Beginwritten by Jacqueline Woodson (Woodson, 2018) is a perfect book to help introduce the concepts of diversity, tolerance, fairness, and respect to young children, and helping students see the commonalities between each other. Angelina comes to school and notices the many ways in which she is different from her peers, including her skin color, hair texture, and is nervous to share the fact that she and her family did not go on any big or exciting trips over the summer vacation. Rigoberto, an immigrant from Venezuela, is embarrassed when his classmates laugh at his accent. Another student is upset when a classmate criticizes her lunch of meat, rice and kimchi. Woodson, then, has Angelina share her story about her summer vacation, and other students begin to make connections. Woodson encourages the reader to not only recognize the difference between people and not to treat people poorly because of them, but for each reader to have a sense of pride in the ways in which they are different and special.

6.1.2.HistoryUP.3: Use examples from the past and present to describe how stereotyping and prejudice can lead to conflict.

In almost every elementary classroom, teachers have heard students say phrases like, “Girls can’t do that” or “That’s a girl’s toy, not a boy’s toy,” or “Pink can’t be your favorite color, you’re a boy!” Pink is for Boys by Robb Perlmann and illustrated by Eda Kaben (Perlmann, 2018) is a book that would serve as a great entry point to talk about how stereotypes and prejudice can lead to conflict. The book goes through the various colors of the rainbow and states that the color is for both boys and girls. The book encourages children to do what they love, regardless of the gender stereotypes associated with that activity.  A teacher can read this book and have explicit discussions with children about the times that they were made fun of or criticized for liking things that were stereotypical for another gender. The teacher could lead the students to engage in critical work to think about why certain colors, toys, clothes, etc. are marketed to a specific gender instead of to all genders.  This text could also lead into conversations about children who do not fit into the gender binary.  After beginning a lesson or a unit on exploring gender stereotypes, the teacher could then introduce a book about a transgender such as When Aidan Became a Brother by Kyle Lukoff.  This text tells the story of Aidan, who when he was born, everyone thought he was a girl, but was really a transgender boy.  The book discusses how Aidan’s self-image changed when he was able to be his authentic self. This book is an excellent resource to introduce the topic of transgender individuals and how they should be treated.

6.1.5.CivicsPD.3: Explain how and why it is important that people from diverse cultures collaborate to find solutions to community, state, national, and global challenges.

The goal of this standard is for students to take the skills that they have started to learn in earlier grades about understanding and valuing cultural differences to begin to understand how people with those cultural differences can work together. This is important for students to understand the problem solving that goes on in their communities, their state, their nation, and in the world.  Students can begin to see how issues like global warming, war and poverty are relevant in the United States but across the globe and that everyone needs to do their part to work together to begin to solve these problems. Harlem Grown by Tony Hillery is a great place for young students to see how people can come together to make a difference in their community. This book is the true story about how the author, with the help of his community, turned an empty lot in Harlem, New York into a community farm (Hillery, 2020).  The book shows the way that This book could be paired with Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman. Seedfolks is a similar story set in Cleveland, Ohio in which a young Vietnamese girl plants seeds in an empty lot near her home. As her plants began to grow, other neighbors from diverse backgrounds began to plant their own fruits and vegetables. The book shares the rich diversity of the neighborhood and how the community garden brought these very different people together.

6.1.5.HistoryCC: Evaluate the impact of ideas, inventions, and other contributions of prominent figures who lived in New Jersey.

In addition to celebrating New Jersey heroes like astronaut Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, author Judy Bloom, and inventor Thomas Edison, we need to be explicit in highlighting the contributions and accomplishments of New Jersey who come from diverse backgrounds including jazz artist Count Basie, Joe Black, the first African American to win a World Series Game, suffragist Lucy Stone, and actor, singer and activist Paul Robeson. Robeson was born in Princeton, New Jersey, was an All-American football player at Rutgers College (now Rutgers University), and then got his law degree.  Despite having a degree in law, Robeson became a singer, actor and activist. Robeson believed that part of his responsibilities as a celebrity was to fight inequity and injustice. Grandpa Stops a War: A Paul Robeson Story is one example of a book that can be shared with upper elementary students. In the book the author, Susan Robeson (Paul Robeson’s granddaughter), shares the story of her grandfather using his singing talent to help raise funds for those displaced during the Spanish Civil War. What is especially poignant about this book is that fact that Robeson used his natural gifts, of song, to help make a change. A book, such as this, can help students see the ways that they can be who they are and positively impact their communities and the world. This book could also be combined with others about other activists for equality such as Lucy Stone, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Cesar Chavez.

Concluding Thoughts

These are just four examples of the intersections between the new New Jersey Assembly Bill No. 4454 and the 2020 Social Studies NJLS. One of the challenges that teachers face when thinking about enacting these two elements are resources. Teachers want to know where to find information that will provide them with the background knowledge, they need to teach these concepts and the tools needed to effectively do so. There are a few resources I specifically recommend. First, I highly recommend that all teachers review Learning for Justice’s (formerly Teaching Tolerance) website, and more specifically, their Social Justice Standards (https://www.learningforjustice.org/sites/default/files/2020-09/TT-Social-Justice-Standards-Anti-bias-framework-2020.pdf).  The Zinn Education project (https://www.zinnedproject.org) is another valuable resource for teachers with downloadable lessons and materials for teachers to use to promote the experiences, voices and perspectives of those not typically highlighted in textbooks such as people of color, Indigenous people and women. Another place that teachers can find resources is the National Council of the Social Studies Notable Trade Book list (https://www.socialstudies.org/notable-social-studies-trade-books).  This annually released list of books is a phenomenal resource for teachers, as the books are reviewed by both university faculty and classroom teachers and are annotated with a brief summary that includes the appropriate grade levels for the text.

While the new curriculum and the new New Jersey diversity law can seem daunting for New Jersey elementary social studies teachers, it is important to know that these two documents are supportive of each other. The new standards are more explicit in the emphasis on issues of equity, tolerance and difference, and the law mandates that teachers teach this content. The goal is to prepare the youth of New Jersey to work, live and play with others in our ever increasingly diverse state and country.

Picture Books Cited:

Fleischman, P. (2004). Seedfolks. HarperTrophy.

Hillery, T. (2020). Harlem grown: How one big idea transformed a neighborhood.  Simon Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books.

Lukoff, K. (2019). When Aidan became a brother. Lee & Low Books.

Perlman, R. (2018). Pink is for boys. Running Press Kids.

Robeson, S. (2019). Grandpa stops a war: A Paul Robeson story. Triangle Square.

References

Bennett, C. I. (2003).  Comprehensive multicultural education: Theory and practice (5th ed). Allyn and Bacon. 

Kirkwood, T. F. (2001). Our global age requires global education: Clarifying definitional ambiguities. Social Studies, 92(1), 10. https://doi-org.ezproxy.rowan.edu/10.1080/00377990109603969

McCarty, D. M. (2007). Using multicultural National Council for the Social Studies Notable Books in the elementary classroom. Social Studies, 98(2), 49–53. https://doi-org.ezproxy.rowan.edu/10.3200/TSSS.98.2.49-53

Merryfield, M. M. (2002). The Difference a Global Educator Can Make. Educational Leadership, 60(2), 18.

New Jersey Legislature (2021) Chapter 32. Retrieved from https://www.njleg.state.nj.us/2020/Bills/PL21/32_.PDF

Nieto, S., & Bode, P. (2008). Affirming diversity: The sociopolitical context of multicultural education (5th ed.). Longman. 

Sims Bishop, R. (1990). Mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors. Perspectives: Choosing and Using Books for the Classroom, 6(3), ix-xi.

State of New Jersey, Department of Education (2020), New Jersey Learning Standards. Retrieved from https://www.state.nj.us/education/cccs/2020/2020%20NJSLS-SS.pdf

Teaching Tolerance (2018). Social justice standards: The teaching tolerance anti-bias framework, https://www.learningforjustice.org/sites/default/files/2020-09/TT-Social-Justice-Standards-Anti-bias-framework-2020.pdf

University of California-San Francisco (n.d.). Unconscious Bias. https://diversity.ucsf.edu/resources/unconscious-bias


 

Teaching the Creativity & Purpose Behind George Washington’s Giant Watch Chain

Teaching the Creativity & Purpose Behind George Washington’s Giant Watch Chain

by Robert Skead, Author

There are so many amazing and creative aspects of the American Revolution that I never learned in school—and I was in sixth grade in 1976 during America’s Bicentennial. Things like the Culper Spy Ring, the use of invisible ink and secret codes, the American Turtle submarine 9yes there was a submarine that worked during the American Revolution), top-secret gunpowder factories (gun powder was such a precious commodity the patriots had to have secret factories) and every-day patriots who went on covert missions to help the cause of liberty.

I never discovered these truths until my own research into this time period as an adult. Add the creation of the Great Chain at West Point to all these creative devices that helped American patriots win the war and you have a hook that will engage any individual’s imagination to want to learn more.

The Great Chain at West Point had an important mission. General Washington needed to prevent the British from taking control of the Hudson River and splitting the American colonies. If the British controlled the river, they’d have the ability to launch a major invasion from Canada and cut New England off from the middle and southern colonies—allowing them to win the war. Washington and the Continental Congress were not going to let that happen! They needed to keep the British fleet in New York, so they financed a giant chain to be forged and installed across the Hudson River at West Point—and it worked!

The chain was installed on April 30, 1778. It took 40 men four days to install it. The chain was supported by a bridge of waterproofed logs, like connected rafts that stretched across the river. There was a clever system of pulleys, rollers, and ropes, and midstream, there were anchors to adjust the tension to overcome currents and tides. Creative, right?

Consider these facts:

  • The chain consisted of 1,200 large links;
  • Each iron link was 2 feet long; and
  • Each link weighed 100 to 180 pounds.

As the British fleet approached the Great Chain at West Point, they were intimidated and retreated. Had they done so, the chain would have ripped a ship’s hull apart.

General Washington kept the chain a secret in all of his correspondence in the fall of 1778, referring to it as one of “several works for the defense of the river.” A tory spy did, however, report news of the chain to the British in New York City. Later, the Great Chain was dubbed “Washington’s giant watch chain” by newspapers in New York. It was certainly a special project of his – so much so that when they decided to take it down, Washington had to be on hand to oversee the operation himself. On the day after the Continental Army took it down, November 29, 1779, Lieutenant Reynolds, Aide to Colonel Timothy Pickering, The Adjutant General, U.S. Army, West Point, wrote the following to his wife about General Washington:

“The day started with breakfast of dried beef and talk of the upcoming battles and the need to keep the British Forces split between New York and Canada.  As assistant to Colonel Pickering, I got to sit in on all meetings and see the leaders at work.  Colonel Pickering is so very calm, which I believe he has learned from General Washington.  … The chain came out of the river yesterday and it was quite an operation to behold.  General Washington took his entire staff down to River Bank to the chain emplacement and oversaw the removal of the chain personally.

“It was quite a spectacle to see as the entire staff, General Washington on his great horse, Nelson, overseeing all the Soldiers and officers conducting the boat operation to retrieve the chain before the river would freeze over.  … Boats were used to maneuver the barges and raffs toward shore where the oxen could pull the great chain up on the bank of the river.  It took the entire afternoon and evening by torchlight to get the chain onto the shore and it was none too soon as the river had ice floating in it as we finished up last night.

“I will never forget seeing General Washington riding back and forth on that great horse talking to every Soldier, talking with the head of his honor guard and with his guests.  General Washington is always at his best when riding.  He becomes more animated and actually talks to almost everyone.  … General Von Steuben and The Marquis de Lafayette both commented to Colonel Pickering that General Washington is the right man at the right time for the American Army, as he is as noble as any aristocrat on horseback yet is truly an American Patriot in demeanor and leadership.”

Robert Skead is the author of Links to Liberty, the third book in the American Revolutionary War Adventure series, from Knox Press. Patriots, Redcoats and Spies, the first book in the series, features an adventure around an urgent spy letter from the Culper spy ring that needs to be delivered to General Washington. The second book in the series, Submarines, Secrets and a Daring Rescue, teaches about the American Turtle submarine. The stories were created by Robert and his father, Robert A. Skead (now 95-years-old) to inspire readers to do great things and celebrate the creativity of colonial patriots. The Skeads are members of the Sons of the American Revolution. Their ancestor, Lamberton Clark, one of the main characters in the stories, served in the Revolutionary War as a member of the Connecticut Militia and the Continental Army. Discover more at www.robertskead.com.

Poverty and Child Labor in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era in New York City

Poverty and Child Labor in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era New York City

John Louis Recchiuti

Why are people poor? What can be done to protect children who are growing up in impoverished households? These were central questions in Progressive Era New York City and across the country as they remain today. In this workshop your group will be assigned a particular perspective on poverty and child labor and develop arguments championing that perspective. You may find the perspective you are asked to argue to be precisely the opposite of your own view on the subject. The goal is to build-out elements in the debate so that we can gain insight into the public policy challenges surrounding poverty in turn-of-the-twentieth century New York City. Your final product will be testimony before “The New York City Commission on Poverty and Youth.” Your group’s testimony should be based on material provided in this package and any additional sources you wish to consult.

Group Perspectives:

  • Group 1: ”The Undeserving Poor and the Deserving Poor”
  • Group 2: Family, Faith, Education, and Work — “No government assistance!”
  • Group 3: Our Responsibility as Consumers
  • Group 4: The Need for Mothers’ Pensions
  • Group 5: State Governments are the proper venue for laws against child labor and for child education.
  • Group 6: Federal Child Labor Laws must be Passed
Working at Home. National Child Labor Committee

Background: New York City History

Source: J. Recchiuti (2007). Civic Engagement: Social Science and Progressive-Era Reform in New York City. University of Pennsylvania Press.

At the turn of the twentieth century New York City had evolved from its early seventeenth century beginnings as a Dutch harbor-colony into an international center of finance, commerce, manufacture, and culture – competing on the world stage with London, Paris, and Berlin. The Brooklyn Bridge was completed in 1883. The Statue of Liberty, arrived from Paris, was installed in 1886. The Washington Arch at Washington Square Park went up in 1889. Carnegie Hall opened in 1893. The first subway line opened in 1904. And, the city rose vertically: the 1902 21-story steel-framed Flatiron Building was eclipsed in 1913 by the 60-story Woolworth Building. Henry Frick, Henry Phipps, the Vanderbilts, and Andrew Carnegie built mansions along Fifth Avenue. While, at the same time, many New Yorkers lived in squalor. Tens of thousands of New Yorkers lived in ill-lighted, overcrowded tenements, many without running water, flush toilets, or electricity.

New York City was, in these years, the world’s largest port, and served as the point of entry for many of the nation’s eighteen million immigrants in the quarter century before the First World War. By 1910, 87 percent of the 4,767,000 people in Greater New York were immigrants or the children of immigrants.

In today’s Gotham there are few factories, but in the early 1900s there were 30,000 manufacturers in the City, employing more than 600,000 workers, and New York City ranked first in the nation’s industrial output. The Lower East Side, around Rivington Street, was an immigrant hub, its immigrant population in the late 1880s and early 1890s mainly Germans, Poles, Russian Jews, and Rumanians. A young woman, Helen Moore, a volunteer among the poor, wrote in 1893 of “fermenting garbage in the gutter and the smell of stale beer” and “a long panorama of heart-rending sights”:

“Every window opens into a room crowded with scantily-clothed, dull-faced men and women sewing upon heavy woollen coats and trousers. They pant for air, the perspiration that drops from their foreheads is like life-blood, but they toil on steadily, wearily…. From a political, sanitary, and educational point of view it [the Tenth Ward] is the worst ward in the city, and social statistics offer no parallel in any city.”

The Lower East Side was, the urban historian Kenneth T. Jackson notes, “The most crowded neighborhood in the world.” It had only private charity — often from churches and synagogues – and some municipal sponsored free coal for heat. (Federal veterans’ pensions did supply aid for that fraction of the population who had served the Union army in the Civil War, but most of the city did not qualify.) In the long tradition of private or county-sponsored relief, places of confinement, such as prisons, orphanages, asylums, and almshouses sheltered those in need and in distress.

A. Poverty in the City

In 1910 in New York City, tens of thousands of children labored for pennies an hour in many the c. 12,000 tenement sweat-shops licensed by the state. “Our little kindergarten children at Greenwich House (located near Greenwich Village in lower Manhattan),” Mary Simkhovitch, the settlement’s founder and head resident, wrote, “go home from school to help make artificial flowers and as late as eleven o’clock at night we have found their baby fingers still fashioning the gay petals.”  

Around the country, “Boys of 10 years were common in the blinding dust of coal breakers, picking slate with torn and bleeding fingers, or sweltering all night in the glare of the white-hot furnace of the glasshouse; the incarceration of little 10-year-old girls in the dust-laden cotton mills of the South or the silk mills of Pennsylvania for 12 hours a day was looked upon with approval or indifference; tobacco and cigarette factories, canneries, sweatshops, the street trades, and the night messenger service all took unchallenged too from schoolhouse, playground, or cradle.”

In 1904 Columbia University professor Henry Seager wrote, “It might be thought that considerations of common humanity would lead employers of children to fix hours and other conditions of employment that would not be injurious to them.” “Unfortunately,” “this is not the case,” he wrote. It was a “cruelty,” he said, “not only of employers, but even of [the children’s] own parents.”

B. Corruption

New York City’s government was corrupt. Tammany Hall battled with reformers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (Tammany Hall was not vanquished until 1966). In a memorable example of corruption in city government a student in the Manhattan-based “Training School for Public Service” (founded in 1911) recounted his first assignment at the School: 

“That assignment was to go to the City Hall and attend the meeting of the City Council; I was told to walk in and take my seat at the press table. I was a complete stranger in New York and had some difficulty in finding the City Hall and where the council met. The only thing the council did that morning was to discuss some routine matters and pass one resolution appropriating $25,000 for the paving of a certain street. I returned to the office of the [Training School] and handed in my report, thinking that the task was ended. The next morning my assignment was to locate that street and to see if it needed paving. The street was more difficult to find than the City Hall but I finally located it over on the east side. I found that it had never been paved. I made this report in writing, feeling that my task was ended. The next morning my assignment was to go to the city clerk’s office and search the records to see if the street had ever been paved before. I discovered that the street every year for 25 years had been paved.” 

C. Children in the City

As in today’s New York City, children in the late 1800s and early 1900s had a broad range of experiences, experiences that often depended on their socio-economic class. Edwin Seligman, future Columbia professor of economics, was born and raised in Manhattan—the child of a wealthy German-Jewish family. Seligman was tutored as a child by the children’s author Horatio Alger, famous for his rags-to-riches stories–in which a poor but honest, industrious, and frugal lad finds himself, by dint of pluck and not a little luck, happy, married, and wealthy by story’s end. Seligman’s own family history, and his childhood experiences in New York City, in many ways mirrored Horatio Alger’s stories of childhood flourishing.

But in that same city, and in these same years, on streets near Greenwich Village, the social settlement activist Mary Kingsbury Simkhovitch wrote (in November 1903): ”A neighbor’s child was burned to death alone in a tenement house. A man was stabbed on election night by a drunken comrade. On Cornelia Street…the [Irish and Italian] Jones Street boys are fighting the colored boys nightly with one or two really serious results.” And, a “Jewish girl, sixteen years old,” was told by an employment agent that “she was going to a restaurant to work for two dollars a week and tips,” discovered that she was to be sent to a brothel instead. The girl was saved when an unidentified “assistant” paid ten dollars to the agency for her release.

“CHILD LABOR IN NEW YORK,” New York Times, January 12, 1903, pg. 8. A petition with numerous signers, many of them persons of experience and authority in such matters, has been submitted to the Legislature for amendments to the laws regulating child labor and providing for compulsory education. The chief complaint brought forward by the petitioners is that the two laws do not agree, and the discrepancies interfere with the enforcement of each. The compulsory education law, for instance, requires as to children of twelve years of age merely that they shall attend school eighty days. The child labor law requires that children shall not work until they are fourteen years of age. If the former law required compulsory schooling until fourteen, the enforcement of the latter, it is believed, would be much more practicable. On the other hand, an amendment to the school law requiring school attendance at an age earlier than eight, as at preset, would also help. Amendments are also proposed prohibiting vacation work for children of twelve, making the ten-hour limit strict without reference to shorter hours on Saturdays, including street work in the occupations forbidden under fourteen, requiring a child’s name when employed to appear on a pay roll, and requiring a certificate of ability to read and write as a condition of lawful employment. These, as we understand them, are the points made in the petition, but that document is loosely drawn and not easily interpreted. Probably amendments are needed to the laws. These should be carefully studied and collated by a competent lawyer, and such recommendations should be made perfectly clear to the Legislature.

Group 1:”The Undeserving Poor and the Deserving Poor”

Josephine Shaw Lowell

You are assigned to give testimony to “The New York City Commission on Poverty and Youth.” Your group will explain its view that government does harm if it gets involved in aiding poor men and women whose poverty arises because they are “indolent” (lazy). Your group will refer to these men and women as “the undeserving poor.” You will report to the “Commission” as Mrs. Lowell and members of her Charity Organization Society of the late 1800s. You believe the “Undeserving Poor” must be offered jobs and not given “alms” (money). The poor need to learn the discipline of work, and private organizations such as the Charity Organization Society can help them get in the habit of work. Children who watch their parents work hard and take moral responsibility for their lives are likely themselves also to become responsible, hardworking citizens. Society needs to teach the underserving poor to take responsibility for their own lives. They must overcome their indolence, alcoholism, or drug dependency. The undeserving poor need to get a job!

Josephine Lowell founded the Charity Organization Society (COS) in the late nineteenth century. The COS sent “friendly visitors” into New York City’s poor neighborhoods. “Friendly visitors” used questionnaires to determine whether a poor man or woman deserved Charity Organization Society support. “Friendly visitors” went into apartments of the poor and asked questions. If the poor person was judged “undeserving” (that is, undeserving of being given money by the COS—for example, the “friendly visitor” might see evidence of alcohol or abuse) then the poor person would be refused alms.

Josephine Lowell said “recipients of alms become dependent, lose their energy, are rendered incapable of self-support, and what they receive in return for their lost character is quite inadequate to supply their needs; thus they are kept on the verge almost of death by the very persons who think they are relieving them.” 

Josephine Lowell continued “It is the greatest wrong that can be done to him to undermine the character of a poor man–for it is his all”; “almsgiving and dolegiving are hurtful–therefore they are not charitable”; “the proof that dolegiving and almsgiving do break down independence, do destroy energy, do undermine character, may be found in the growing ranks of pauperism in every city, in the fact that the larger the funds given in relief in any community, the more pressing is the demand for them, and in the experience and testimony of all practical workers among the poor.” (NOTE the importance of this last sentence: Lowell is arguing that when we as a society give out money to those who won’t work—as ‘welfare’ or alms—we find that more and more (and ever more) money is demanded by them. 

Lowell did fault “the pressure of the unjust social laws and legislative enactments which produce hardship and cause more people to become idlers than would otherwise be the case,” but, “the usual cause of poverty,” she wrote, “is to be found in some deficiency–moral, mental, or physical–in the person who suffers.”

The Charity Organization Society’s “Friendly Visitors” assessed the worthiness of each individual poor person who applied to it for aid, and also lectured the poor–and tried to find them jobs. The COS even hired many of the poor. Women deemed employable were sent to wash and iron at a Charity Organization Society laundry that opened in 1889 at 589 Park Avenue and moved to the Society’s Industrial Building at 516 West 28th Street in 1900. By the early 1900s the laundry was training eighty or ninety women a month. The system began first “over steaming wash-tubs, advances them to starching and ironing, and graduates them with a recommendation after thorough instruction in the ironing of filmy lace curtains and finest linen.”

The Charity Organization Society also opened a wood yard in 1884 on East 24th Street, where young men were sent to test their willingness to work. The Society sold tickets to the charitable for them to offer to street beggars in lieu of cash–each ticket entitled its bearer to a day’s work in the wood yard. Beggars who showed themselves willing to work were placed–as jobs became available–as domestic servants, factory workers, janitors and furnace men, messengers and delivery boys, porters, watchmen, drivers, dishwashers, bootblacks, and the like. The Charity Organization Society functioned, in this way, as an employment agency.

The Charity Organization Society did not content itself with its private activities but took public action against what it perceived as New York City’s indiscriminate charity. When the city persisted in distributing free coal to the poor (a practice it had begun in 1875), the COS lobbied legislators and the practice stopped. It even urged the municipal government to follow the European practice of giving lengthy prison sentences to vagrants and street beggars. And, when, in 1904, “a flurry of excitement over children who go breakfastless to school” created a movement to provide “free meals” at public expense, the Charity Organization Society opposed it in hearings before the city’s special committee of the Board of Education. 

Two years later, another proposal was offered to “give eye-glasses to all for whom they were prescribed” among the city’s school children, and the Society took a stand against it as “’certainly unnecessary’“ “in view of the admitted ability of parents in the very great majority of all cases to take care of their own children.” Although, the COS was stern but not heartless: it would “supply the needs of any child” whose family was truly unable to feed them or buy eyeglasses. (And, to be fair to Lowell, by the end of the century she was, increasingly asserting the need for some government assistance to the poor.)

Group 2: Family, Faith, Education, and Work — “No government assistance!”

John W. Burgess

You are assigned to give testimony to “The New York City Commission on Poverty and Youth” from the following perspective. You will explain the view held by Columbia University political scientist John W. Burgess that poverty will best be addressed and curtailed through faith, family, education, and individual moral responsibility.  John W. Burgess was a political conservative who believed, as he wrote in 1912: ”We dare not call anything progress . . . which contemplates . . . the expansion of governmental power.” He argued that “improvement and development of — the system of popular education, — revival of the influence of religion, –the restoration of a better family life, producing a more enlightened individual conscience and a more general conscientiousness would … be the truer way, the American way, the real progressive way of overcoming the claimed failure of our system.” In his writings, Burgess advocated government by the elite. “It is difficult to see why the most advantageous political system, for the present, would not be a democratic state with an aristocratic government, provided only the aristocracy be that of real merit, and not of artificial qualities. If this be not the real principle of the republican form of government then I must confess that I do not know what its principle is.”

Burgess also held racist ideas. He believed “Teutonic nations are particularly endowed with the capacity for establishing national states . . . they are intrusted [sic], in the general economy of history, with the mission of conducting the political civilization of the modern world.” In a book on Reconstruction after the Civil War he wrote “black skin means membership in a race of men which has never of itself succeeded in subjecting passion to reason, has never, therefore, created any civilization of any kind.”

Group 3: Our Responsibility as Consumers

Florence Kelley

Your Group is assigned to give testimony to “The New York City Commission on Poverty and Youth,” from the perspective that each of us as consumers can end poverty by buying goods and services made by workers being paid a living wage. This means buying from stores, farms, and manufacturers that pay a living (good/high) wage to employees — and from employers who do not hire children. If we will each buy goods and services made by workers (especially unionized workers) we can, by our individual shopping habits, reduce poverty among the working class–and end child labor (because working adults will be earning a living wage and will be able to afford to send their kids to school instead of into the factories to earn money to supplement parents’ low wages). Your group will argue from the perspective of Florence Kelley’s National Consumers’ League headquartered in New York City.

Under Kelley’s leadership the Consumers’ League worked against industrial sweatshops and against sweated labor in tenements, it sought an end to child labor, and to excessive hours and night work for women. In 1904 the League published a “Standard Child Labor Law” intended as a model for uniform laws across the country. A “Consumers’ League label” was affixed to articles “made under conditions approved by the League” and the League published a “White List” (the reverse of a blacklist) of recommended retail stores, where working conditions were, by League standards, fair. Kelley also championed state and federal minimum wage laws, and laws to regulate hours of labor, but she urged that we, individually, as consumers must also do our part by buying goods made by workers paid a living wage.

In 1907, Florence Kelly argued “An association of persons who in making their purchases strives to further the welfare of those who make or distribute the things bought. The act of shopping seems to many trivial and entirely personal, while in reality it exerts a far reaching, oft-repeated influence for good or evil.” Kelley also wrote “the interest of the community demands that all workers should receive, not the lowest wages, but fair living wages . . . Responsibility for debilitating workplace conditions “rests with the consumers who persist in buying in the cheapest markets regardless of how cheapness is brought about.” 

Frances Perkins, secretary of the New York branch of the Consumers’ League and later United States Secretary of Labor in Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s administration), wrote “The Consumers’ League is an organization of persons who wish to improve the industrial conditions by utilizing the shopping power, the buying power of the consumers, who are banded together, that is, by pledging themselves in their shopping to do their buying in such a way as to improve conditions, rather than make them worse.” 

According to Florence Kelley pensions would “lift the burden from the widowed mother by giving her, as her right and not as the dole of a private charity…an allowance out of public funds on condition that she stay in her home and keep her children at home and in school.” Jean M. Gordon, a National Child Labor Committee member, wrote in The Child Labor Bulletin: “I contend it is just as much the duty of the State to pension dependent mothers as dependent veterans. Certainly the mother does as much for the country in rearing her children as the veterans did in killing her sons!”

Group 4: The Need for Mothers’ Pensions

“Public aid would have to be administered with intelligence and care,” Mary Simkhovitch wrote in an essay, “Women’s Invasion of the Industrial Field.” “But the difficulty of developing the technique of such a plan is not to be compared with the difficulty the state will meet through the inadequate care of families.”

Your group will give testimony to “The New York City Commission on Poverty and Youth” explaining that mothers in single-headed households (households in which a father is not present) must be provided with money from New York City and New York State so that these mothers can feed, clothe, and shelter their children. In the early twentieth century the term “pension” was used in the context of giving people state tax dollars — there were, for example, Civil War Pensions in which former Union soldiers from the Civil War were given old age pensions. Your group will urge the Commission to create a system of Mothers’ Pensions (money the state will give single moms to help them raise their children). Your positions is that private charity organizations alone simply cannot feed and clothe all needy children.

Group 5: State Governments are the proper venue for laws against child labor and for child education.

Edgar Gardner Murphy

In your testimony to “The New York City Commission on Poverty and Youth,” you will argue that individual states, not the federal government, must pass laws to regulate child labor. You are in agreement with Edgar Murphy and his allies that child labor laws are the responsibility of individual state governments only. Edgar Murphy’s argument was grounded in federalism. Federalism is the view that powers not granted by the Constitution to the Federal government are powers that are retained by individual state governments. Since the regulation of child labor was not listed in the U.S. Constitution as a power of the Federal government, Child Labor must fall under the regulatory power of individual State governments.

Edgar Murphy was an Episcopal minister from the South and the first secretary of the National Child Labor Committee. In 1903, Murphy wrote “The conditions of industry vary so greatly and so decisively from state to state and from locality to locality that the enactment of a federal child labor law, applicable to all conditions and under all circumstances, would be inadequate if not unfortunate.” 

Murphy claimed he was “interested in the question of child labor, not merely because I have photographed children of six and seven years whom I have seen at labor in our factories for twelve and thirteen hours a day, not merely because I have seen them with their little fingers mangled by machinery and their little bodies numb and listless with exhaustion, but because I am not willing that our economic progress should be involved in such conditions; and because . . . I am resolved to take my part, however humbly, in the settling of the industrial character of our greatest industry . . . I believe that an intelligent moral interest in the conditions of the factory, and the jealous guarding of its ethical assumptions, will minister not merely to the humanity of its standards and the happiness of its operatives, but to the dignity, currency and value of its properties.”

Group 6: Federal Child Labor Laws must be Passed

Samuel McCune Lindsay

Your group will testify to “The New York City Commission on Poverty and Youth” that a Federal Child Labor law is needed. You will advise the Commission to support passage of the Keating-Owen Child Labor Bill, a 1916 bill that would regulate child labor from the federal level by forbidding the interstate shipment of products of child labor. 

Samuel McCune Lindsay, Professor of Social Legislation at Columbia University argued at the 1911 National Child Labor Committee conference: ”Is it not our duty to seek for greater uniformity in the protection of working children, so that the children of all states may enjoy the same rights to a normal childhood, to life, education and leisure, to a time for play, a chance to grow and an opportunity to develop their best abilities whether they are raised in Alabama or Pennsylvania, in Georgia or Massachusetts, in Texas or Ohio? It is precisely to promote and secure this equality of opportunity for all American children that we are organized as a National Child Labor Committee [and therefore a FEDERAL LAW making child labor illegal is needed].”

Black Lives that Mattered

Black Lives that Mattered

Alan Singer

Teachers are grappling with ways to develop a more culturally-responsive social studies curriculum. An excellent starting point for revising the United States history curriculum overall is Voices of a People’s History, a document collection by Howard Zinn and Anthony Arnove that is a companion to Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. Voices includes African American spokespeople from a number of eras. Featured Black abolitions include David Walker (1830), Henry Bibb (1844), Frederick Douglass (1852), Sojourner Truth (1851), and Harriet Jacobs (1861). Civil Rights activists include Ida B. Wells-Barnett (1893), Langston Hughes (1951), Paul Robeson (1956), John Lewis (1963), Malcolm X (1963), Fannie Lou Hamer (1964), Martin Luther King (1967), and Anne Moody (1968). More recent speakers and writers include George Jackson (1970), Angela Davis (1970), Assata Shakur (1978), Marian Wright Edelman (1983), Public Enemy (1990), June Jordan (1991), Mumia Abu-Jamal (2001), and Danny Glover (2003). Important websites for adding Black achievements to in the United States to the curriculum are:

When teachers are resistant to change, “awoke” students have a role to play. Social Studies lessons are usually organized so students can answer essential or compelling historical or contemporary questions. Many teachers start the lesson with an AIM question that defines the lesson and often also serves as a summary question at the end of lesson. If teachers aren’t asking these questions, students can politely ask them during the course of a lesson. “I don’t understand”:

  • What role did the trans-Atlantic slave trade play in the settlement of the Americas?
  • How could the signers of the Declaration of Independence proclaim “all men are created equal” and then keep almost 20% of the population enslaved?
  • Is the wealth of the United States and its position in the world today based on the enslavement of Africans?
  • How did Frederick Douglass feel about the American celebration of July 4th?
  • Why did Abraham Lincoln promise the South they could keep Africans enslaved?
  • To whom did Abraham Lincoln offer “malice toward none” and “charity for all”?
  • How could the Supreme Court in the 1850s, the 1880s, and the 1890s blindly ignore what the Constitution says about equal rights?
  • Why did the federal government abandon Blacks after the Civil War and Reconstruction?
  • Why were American troops racially segregated in World War I and World War II?
  • Why did Martin Luther King ask “What is to be done?” after passage of the 1960s Civil Rights acts?
  • Why do housing and job discrimination and school segregation continue in the 21st century?
  • Why do so many Black men and women continue to be injured or killed by police?

These activity sheets introduce students to thirteen African Americans who made major contributions to American democracy, but who are normally not included in the United States history curriculum. Elizabeth “Mum Bett” Freeman, Julia Williams Garnet, Henry Highland Garnet, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Elizabeth Jennings Graham, Sarah Tompkins Garnet, Susan McKinney Steward, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, W.E.B. DuBois, A. Philip Randolph, Paul Robeson, Ralph Bunche, and Fanny Lou Hamer are in chronological order based on the year of their birth. An examination of these lives introduces students to major themes in African American and United States history, as well as to “Black Lives that Mattered.”

Elizabeth “Mum Bett” Freeman (c. 1744-1829): A Black Life that Mattered

Statue of Elizabeth Freeman, National Museum of African American History and Culture. An important source is the Ashley House historic site website. https://thetrustees.org/content/elizabeth-freeman-fighting-for-freedom/

Elizabeth “Mum Bett” Freeman was born enslaved in Claverack, New York in present day Columbia County. As a teenager she was sold to Colonel John Ashley and moved to his property in western Massachusetts near Great Barrington where she was kept enslaved for thirty years. In the 1770s, Mum Bett overheard conversations about revolutionary unrest in Massachusetts, challenges to British colonial rule, the Declaration of Independence, and a new Massachusetts constitution. Her decision to sue in court for freedom was probably in response to abuse by Mrs. Ashley. Mum Bett intervened when Hannah Ashley tried to hit another enslaved woman, who might have been Mum Bett’s sister or daughter, with a kitchen shovel. Mum Bett was hit instead in the face and was scarred. After the attack, Mum Bett sought help to escape slavery from Theodore Sedgwick, a lawyer in Stockbridge.

In 1780, Massachusetts adopted a state constitution that was largely drafted by future President John Adams. It drew on the promise of equality and liberty made in the Declaration of Independence and included a Bill of Rights that declared “All men are born free and equal, and have certain natural, essential, and unalienable rights.

With Sedgwick’s help, Mum Bett sued for freedom in a Massachusetts Court of Common Pleas. In Brom and Bett v. Ashley, a local jury found that Mum Bett and another enslaved African, Brom, were legally free people and awarded them 30 shillings in damages. In 1781, the jury’s decision was affirmed by the Massachusetts Supreme Court and in 1783, citing its decision in Brom and Bett v. Ashley, the state’s Supreme Court declared slavery a violation of the Massachusetts state constitution. After securing her freedom, Mum Bett chose the name Elizabeth Freeman. John Ashley offered to hire her as a paid employee, but she refused to work for the family again.

Documents:

Sheffield Resolves (Sheffield, Massachusetts, 1773): “RESOLVED: That mankind in a state of nature are equal, free and independent of each other and have a right to the undisturbed enjoyment of their lives, their liberty and property.”

Declaration of the Rights of the Inhabitants of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Article I: “All men are born free and equal, and have certain natural, essential, and unalienable rights; among which may be reckoned the right of enjoying and defending their lives and liberties; that of acquiring, possessing, and protecting property; in fine, that of seeking and obtaining their safety and happiness.”

https://malegislature.gov/laws/constitution

Chief Justice William Cushing charge to the jury in case of Quok Walker (1781): “As to the doctrine of slavery and the right of Christians to hold Africans in perpetual servitude, and sell and treat them as we do our horses and cattle, that (it is true) has been heretofore countenanced by the Province Laws formerly, but nowhere is it expressly enacted or established . . . But whatever sentiments have formerly prevailed in this particular or slid in upon us by the example of others, a different idea has taken place with the people of America, more favorable to the natural rights of mankind, and to that natural, innate desire of Liberty, with which Heaven (without regard to color, complexion, or shape of noses — features) has inspired all the human race. And upon this ground our Constitution of Government, by which the people of this Commonwealth have solemnly bound themselves, sets out with declaring that all men are born free and equal – and that every subject is entitled to liberty, and to have it guarded by the laws, as well as life and property – and in short is totally repugnant to the idea of being born slaves. This being the case, I think the idea of slavery is inconsistent with our own conduct and Constitution; and there can be no such thing as perpetual servitude of a rational creature, unless his liberty is forfeited by some criminal conduct or given up by personal consent or contract.”

https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part2/2h38t.html

Massachusetts Supreme Court Ruling (1783): “These sentiments led the framers of our constitution of government – by which the people of this commonwealth have solemnly bound themselves to each other – to declare – that all men are born free and equal; and that every subject is entitled to liberty, and to have it guarded by the laws as well as his life and property. In short, without resorting to implication in constructing the constitution, slavery is in my judgment as effectively abolished as it can be by the granting of rights and privileges wholly incompatible and repugnant to its existence.”

Elizabeth Freeman’s Statement on Freedom: “Any time, any time while I was a slave, if one minute’s freedom had been offered to me & I had been told I must die at the end of that minute I would have taken it — just to stand one minute on God’s earth a free woman — — I would.”

https://www.wbur.org/news/2020/01/27/elizabeth-freeman-sheffield-slave-ashley-sedgwick

Epitaph on Elizabeth Freeman’s grave stone (Stockbridge, MA): ELIZABETH FREEMAN known by the name of MUMBET Died Dec 28, 1829 Her supposed age was 85 Years. She was born a slave and remained a slave for nearly thirty years. She could neither read nor write, yet in her own sphere she had no superior nor equal. She neither wasted time nor property. She never violated a trust, nor failed to perform a duty. In every situation of domestic trial, she was the most efficient helper, and the tenderest friend. Good Mother, farewell.

https://www.wbur.org/news/2020/01/27/elizabeth-freeman-sheffield-slave-ashley-sedgwick

Julia Williams Garnet (1811-1870): A Black Life that Mattered

Julia Williams was an African-American abolitionist who was active in Massachusetts, New York, Jamaica, and Washington DC. Williams was born free in Charleston, South Carolina and as a child moved with her family to Boston. While she did not leave her own written record, she often collaborated with her husband, Reverend Henry Highland Garnet, on his speeches and writings. Her life touched on a number of major abolitionist organizations and events. Williams was a student at both the Canterbury Female Boarding School in Connecticut and the Noyes Academy in Canaan, New Hampshire. Canterbury was a school for “young Ladies and little Misses of color.” Noyes had an interracial student body. Both schools were attacked by white mobs while she was attending and forced to close. Williams finally completed her education at the abolitionist run Oneida Institute in New York. Williams later was a member of the Boston Female Anti-Slavery Society, attended the 1837 Anti-Slavery Convention of American Women in New York, was a missionary in Jamaica where she headed an industrial school for girls, and after the Civil War worked with freedmen in Washington, DC. 

Documents:

The Liberator Report on the Destruction of Noyes Academy (1835)

Source: https://www.newspapers.com/clip/19369301/noyes-academy-removal-criticism/

“The Superintending Committee appointed by said town to remove the ‘Noyes Academy’ proceeded at 7 o’clock, A.M of the 10th inst. [August 10] to discharge their duty; the performance of which they believe the interest of the town, the honor of the State, and the good of the whole community (both black and white) required without delay. At an early hour, the people of this town and of the neighboring towns assembled, full of the spirit of ’75 [sic], to the number of about three hundred, with between ninety and one hundred yoke of oxen, and with all necessary materials for the completion of the undertaking. Many of the most respectable and wealthy farmers of this and the adjacent towns rendered their assistance on this occasion . . . The work was commenced and carried on with very little noise, considering the number engaged, until the building was safely landed on the common near the Baptist meeting-house, where it stands, . . . the monument of the folly of those living spirits, who are struggling to destroy what our fathers have gained.

Address of the Boston Female Anti-Slavery Society (1836)

Source: www.Docsteach.Org/Documents/Document/Address-Boston-Antislavery-Society?Tmpl=Component&Print=1

“As women, it is incumbent upon us, instantly and always, to labor to increase the knowledge and the love of God that such concentrated hatred of his character and laws may no longer be so entrenched in men’s business and bosoms that they dare not condemn and renounce it. As wives and mothers, as sisters and daughters, we are deeply responsible for the influence we have on the human race. We are bound to exert it; we are bound to urge men to cease to do evil, and learn to do well. We are bound to urge them to regain, defend, and preserve inviolate the rights of all, especially those whom they have most deeply wronged. We are bound to the constant exercise of the only right we ourselves enjoy — the right which our physical weakness renders peculiarly appropriate — the right of petition. We are bound to try how much it can accomplish in the District of Columbia, or we are as verily guilty touching slavery as our brethren and sisters in the slaveholding States: for Congress possesses power ‘to exercise exclusive legislation over the District of Columbia in all cases whatsoever,’ by a provision of the Constitution; and by an act of the First Congress, the right of petition was secured to us.”

An Appeal to the Women of the Nominally Free States, Issued by an Anti-Slavery Convention of American Women (1837)

Source: https://archive.org/stream/appealtowomenofn00anti/appealtowomenofn00anti_djvu.txt

The women of the North have high and holy duties to perform in the work of emancipation — duties to themselves, to the suffering slave, to the slaveholder, to the church, to their country, and to the world at large; and, above all, to their God. Duties which, if not performed now, may never be performed at all . . .  Many regard the excitement produced by the agitation of this subject as an evidence of the impolicy of free discussion, and a sufficient excuse for their own inactivity. Others so undervalue the rights and responsibilities of woman, as to scoff and gainsay whenever she goes forth to duties beyond the parlor and the nursery . . . Every citizen should feel an intense interest in the political concerns of the country, because the honor, happiness, and well-being of every class, are bound up in its politics, government and laws. Are we aliens because we are women? Are we bereft of citizenship because we are the mothers, wives, and daughters of a mighty people? Have women no country — no interest staked in public weal — no liabilities in common peril — no partnership in a nation’s guilt and shame? . . . Moral beings have essentially the same rights and the same duties, whether they be male or female. This is a truth the world has yet to learn, though she has had the experience of fifty-eight centuries by which to acquire the knowledge of this fundamental axiom. Ignorance of this has involved her in great inconsistencies, great errors, and great crimes, and hurled confusion over that beautiful and harmonious structure of human society which infinite wisdom had established.

Henry Highland Garnet (1815-1882): A Black Life that Mattered

This biography of Henry Highland Garnet is drawn from a number of online sources and New York and Slavery: Time to Teach the Truth (SUNY, 2008). It concludes with excerpts from Garnet’s 1843 speech at a National Negro Convention in Buffalo, New York. In the speech, Garnet called for active resistance to slavery.

Henry Highland Garnet was born to enslaved parents in Kent County, Maryland in 1815. In 1824, his parents received permission to attend a funeral and used it as an opportunity to escape to New Jersey. The Garnets arrived in New York City in 1825, where Henry entered the African Free School on Mott Street. After a sea voyage to Cuba as a cabin boy in 1829, Henry returned to New York where he learned that his family had separated in a desperate effort to evade slave catchers. Enraged and worried, Garnet wandered up and down Broadway with a knife. Eventually friends were able to arrange refuge for him with abolitionists on Long Island.

In 1835, while he was attending the interracial Noyes Academy in Canaan, New Hampshire, a mob destroyed the school and attacked the house where Garnet and the other Black students were living. They fought back but were eventually forced to flee the town. Garnet later graduated from Oneida Institute near Utica, New York and in 1842, he became a pastor of the Liberty Street Presbyterian Church in Troy, New York. While there, Garnet edited abolitionist newspapers which called for enslaved Blacks to rise up in rebellion. He joined the Liberty Party and was known as an effective orator, but more mainstream abolitionists like Frederick Douglass thought he was too radical. In a speech to the National Negro Convention, Garnet urged enslaved Africans to rebel against their chains because they were better off dying free than living as slaves. In the 1850s, he became a missionary in Jamaica and encouraged Blacks to move there. During the Civil War, Garnet was a minister at the Shiloh Presbyterian Church in Manhattan and chaplain for Black troops stationed at Riker’s Island. In July 1863, draft rioters stalked Garnet, forcing his family to hide with neighbors. Later in his career, Garnet founded the African Civilization Society and advocated migration to a West African colony in Yoruba. In 1881, he was appointed a United States representative to Liberia

In an 1843 speech at a National Negro Convention in Buffalo, New York, Henry Highland Garnet beseeched his enslaved brethren to “Awake, awake; millions of voices are calling you! Your dead fathers speak to you from their graves. Heaven, as with a voice of thunder, calls on you to arise from the dust. Let your motto be resistance! resistance! resistance! No oppressed people have ever secured their liberty without resistance.”

Document: Henry Highland Garnet Calls for Resistance! (1843)

“Brethren, it is as wrong for your lordly oppressors to keep you in slavery, as it was for the man thief to steal our ancestors from the coast of Africa. You should therefore now use the same manner of resistance, as would have been just in our ancestors, when the bloody foot-prints of the first remorseless soul-thief was placed upon the shores of our fatherland. The humblest peasant is as free in the sight of God as the proudest monarch. Liberty is a spirit sent out from God and is no respecter of persons. Brethren, arise, arise! Strike for your lives and liberties. Now is the day and the hour. Let every slave throughout the land do this, and the days of slavery are numbered. You cannot be more oppressed than you have been, you cannot suffer greater cruelties than you have already. Rather die freemen than live to be slaves. Remember that you are four millions!”

“In the name of God, we ask, are you men? Where is the blood of your fathers? Has it all run out of your veins? Awake, awake; millions of voices are calling you! Your dead fathers speak to you from their graves. Heaven, as with a voice of thunder, calls on you to arise from the dust. Let your motto be resistance! resistance! resistance! No oppressed people have ever secured their liberty without resistance. Trust in the living God. Labor for the peace of the human race, and remember that you are four millions.”

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (1825-1911): A Black Life that Mattered

Source: https://www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/frances-ellen-watkins-harper

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper was an abolitionist, poet, novelist, suffragist, lecturer, teacher and reformer who co-founded the National Association of Colored Women. She was born to free Black parents in Baltimore, Maryland during the era of slavery. When she was 26, she became the first female instructor at Union Seminary, a school for free African Americans in Wilberforce, Ohio. She published her first book of poetry when she was twenty years old and her anti-slavery poetry was printed in the abolitionist press. While living in Philadelphia in the 1850s, she assisted freedom seekers escaping on the Underground Railroad. In May 1866,Frances Ellen Watkins Harper addressed the Eleventh National Women’s Rights Convention in New York City. Other speakers included white suffragettes Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Lucretia Mott.

Documents:

Eliza Harris (Excerpt) https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/52447/eliza-harris

Like a fawn from the arrow, startled and wild, 

A woman swept by us, bearing a child; 

In her eye was the night of a settled despair, 

And her brow was o’ershaded with anguish and care. 

She was nearing the river—in reaching the brink, 

She heeded no danger, she paused not to think! 

For she is a mother—her child is a slave— 

And she’ll give him his freedom, or find him a grave! 

“We Are All Bound Up Together” (11th National Women’s Rights Convention in New York City, 1866)

Source: https://awpc.cattcenter.iastate.edu/2017/03/21/we-are-all-bound-up-together-may-1866/

“We are all bound up together in one great bundle of humanity, and society cannot trample on the weakest and feeblest of its members without receiving the curse in its own soul. You tried that in the case of the Negro. You pressed him down for two centuries; and in so doing you crippled the moral strength and paralyzed the spiritual energies of the white men of the country. When the hands of the black were fettered, white men were deprived of the liberty of speech and the freedom of the press . . . This grand and glorious revolution which has commenced, will fail to reach its climax of success, until throughout the length and breadth of the American Republic, the nation shall be so color-blind, as to know no man by the color of his skin or the curl of his hair. It will then have no privileged class, trampling upon outraging the unprivileged classes, but will be then one great privileged nation, whose privilege will be to produce the loftiest manhood and womanhood that humanity can attain.

I do not believe that giving the woman the ballot is immediately going to cure all the ills of life. I do not believer that white women are dew-drops just exhaled from the skies. I think that like men they may be divided into three classes, the good, the bad, and the indifferent. The good would vote according to their convictions and principles; the bad, as dictated by prejudice or malice; and the indifferent will vote on the strongest side of the question, with the winning party . . . You white women speak here of rights. I speak of wrongs. I, as a colored woman, have had in this country an education which has made me feel as if I were in the situation of Ishmael, my hand against every man, and every man’s hand against me. Let me go to-morrow morning and take my seat in one of your street cars — I do not know that they will do it in New York, but they will in Philadelphia — and the conductor will put up his hand and stop the car rather than let me ride.

In advocating the cause of the colored man, since the Dred Scott decision, I have sometimes said I thought the nation had touched bottom. But let me tell you there is a depth of infamy lower than that. It is when the nation, standing upon the threshold of a great peril, reached out its hands to a feebler race, and asked that race to help it, and when the peril was over, said, “You are good enough for soldiers, but not good enough for citizens . . . Talk of giving women the ballot-box? Go on. It is a normal school, and the white women of this country need it. While there exists this brutal element in society which tramples upon the feeble and treads down the weak, I tell you that if there is any class of people who need to be lifted out of their airy nothings and selfishness, it is the white women of America.”

Elizabeth Jennings Graham (1827-1901): A Black Life that Mattered

Source: New York and Slavery: Complicity and Resistance

On July 14, 1854, Elizabeth Jennings and her friend, Sarah Adams, walked to the corner of Pearl and Chatham streets in lower Manhattan. They planned to take a horse-drawn street car along Third Avenue to church. When Jennings tried to enter a street car reserved for whites she was ordered to leave. When she refused, she was physically thrown off the street car.

An account of what happened to Elizabeth was presented on July 17 at a protest meeting at the First Colored Congregational Church in New York City. Elizabeth wrote the statement but did not speak because she was recovering from injuries. Peter Ewell, the meeting’s secretary, read Elizabeth’s testimony to the audience. At the meeting at the First Colored Congregational Church, a Black Legal Rights Association was formed to investigate possible legal action. Elizabeth Jennings decided to sue the street car company. She was represented in court by a young white attorney named Chester A. Arthur, who later became a military officer during the Civil War and a politician. In 1880, Chester A. Arthur was elected Vice-President of the United States and he became president when James Garfield was murdered in 1881.

The court case was successful. The judge instructed the jury that transit companies had to respect the rights all respectable people and the jury awarded Elizabeth Jennings money for damages. While she had asked for $500 in her complaint, some members of the jury resisted granting such a large amount because she was “colored.” In the end, Elizabeth Jennings received $225 plus an additional ten percent for legal expenses.

At the time of this incident, Jennings was a teacher at the African Free School and a church organist. She later started New York City’s first kindergarten for African-American children and operated it from her Manhattan home until her death in 1901.

Documents:

“Outrage upon Colored Persons, “New York Tribune, July 19, 1854, 7:2.

“I (Elizabeth Jennings) held up my hand to the driver and he stopped the cars. We got on the platform, when the conductor told us to wait for the next car. I told him I could not wait, as I was in a hurry to go to church. He then told me that the other car had my people in it, that it was appropriated (intended) for that purpose. I then told him I wished to go to church, as I had been going for the last six months, and I did not wish to be detained.

He insisted upon my getting off the car, but I did not get off. He waited some few minutes, when the driver, becoming impatient, said to me, “Well, you may go in, but remember, if the passengers raise any objections you shall go out, whether or no, or I’ll put you out.”  I told him I was a respectable person, born and raised in New York, that I had never been insulted before while going to church, and that he was a good for nothing impudent (rude) fellow for insulting decent persons while on their way to church. He then said he would put me out.

I told him not to lay his hands on me. I took hold of the window sash and held on. He pulled me until he broke my grasp and I took hold of his coat and held onto that. He ordered the driver to fasten his horses, which he did, and come and help him put me out of the car. They then both seized hold of me by the arms and pulled and dragged me flat down on the bottom of the platform, so that my feet hung one way and my head the other, nearly on the ground. I screamed murder with all my voice, and my companion screamed out “you’ll kill her. Don’t kill her.”

The driver then let go of me and went to his horses. I went again in the car, and the conductor said you shall sweat for this; then told the driver to drive as fast as he could and not to take another passenger in the car; to drive until he saw an officer or a Station House.

They got an officer on the corner of Walker and Bowery, whom the conductor told that his orders from the agent were to admit colored persons if the passengers did not object, but if they did, not to let them ride. When the officer took me there were some eight or ten persons in the car. Then the officer, without listening to anything I had to say, thrust me out, and then pushed me, and tauntingly told me to get redress if I could. I would have come up myself, but am quite sore and stiff from the treatment I received from those monsters in human form yesterday afternoon.”

“A Wholesome Verdict,” New York Tribune, February 23, 1855, 7:4.

“The case of Elizabeth Jennings vs. the Third Ave. Railroad Company, was tried yesterday in the Brooklyn circuit, before Judge Rockwell. The plaintiff is a colored lady, a teacher in one of the public schools, and the organist in one of the churches in this City. She got upon one of the Company’s cars last summer, on the Sabbath, to ride to church. The conductor finally undertook to get her off, first alleging the car was full, and when that was shown to be false, he pretended the other passengers were displeased at her presence. She saw nothing of that, and insisted on her rights. He took hold of her by force to expel her. She resisted, they got her down on the platform, jammed her bonnet, soiled her dress, and injured her person. Quite a crowd gathered around, but she effectually (effectively) resisted, and they were not able to get her off. Finally, after the car had gone on further, they got the aid of a policeman, and succeeded in getting her from the car.

Judge Rockwell gave a very clear and able charge, instructing the Jury that the Company were liable for the acts of their agents, whether committed carelessly and negligently, or willfully and maliciously. That they were common carriers, and as such bound to carry all respectable persons; that colored person, if sober, well-behaved, and free from disease, had the same rights as others; and could neither be excluded by any rules of the Company, nor by force or violence; and in case of such expulsion or exclusion, the Company was liable. The plaintiff claimed $500 in her complaint, and a majority of the jury were for giving her the full amount; but others maintained some peculiar notions as to colored people’s rights, and they finally agreed on $225, on which the Court added ten per cent, besides the costs.

Railroads, steamboats, omnibuses, and ferry boats will be admonished from this, as to the rights of respectable colored people. It is high time the rights of this class of citizens were ascertained (respected), and that it should be known whether they are to be thrust from our public conveyances (vehicles), while German or Irish women, with a quarter of mutton or a load of codfish, can be admitted.”

“Legal Rights Vindicated,” Frederick Douglass’ Paper, March 2, 1855, 2:5

“Our readers will rejoice with us in the righteous verdict. Miss Elizabeth Jennings, whose courageous conduct in the premises is beyond all praise, comes of a good old New York stock. Her grandfather, Jacob Cartwright, a native African, was a soldier in the Revolutionary War, and took active part in city politics until the time of his death in 1824; her father, Mr. Thomas L. Jennings, was mentioned in our paper as having delivered an oration on the Emancipation of the slaves in this State in 1827, and he was a founder of the New York African Society for Mutual Relief and of other institutions for the benefit and elevation of the colored people. In this suit he has broken new ground, which he proposes to follow up by the formation of a ‘Legal Rights League.’ We hold our New York City gentleman responsible for the carrying out this decision into practice, by putting an end to their exclusion from cars and omnibuses; they must be craven indeed if they fail to follow the lead of a woman.”

Sarah Tompkins Garnet and Susan McKinney Steward: Black Lives that Mattered

Sources: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sarah_J._Garnet; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Susan_McKinney_Steward

Sarah and Susan Smithwere highly accomplished sisters. Their father, Sylvanus Smith, was one of the founders of the African-American community of Weeksville in Kings County, now Brooklyn, and one of the very few Black Americans eligible to vote in New York when the state still had slavery. Their mother Anne (Springsteel) Smith, was born in Shinnecock in Suffolk County and may have had Native American ancestry.

Sarah Tompkins Garnet (1831-1911)

Sarah Tompkins Garnet was an educator and suffragist and the first female African-American school principal in the New York City public school system. She began teaching at the African Free School of Williamsburg in 1854 and became principal of Grammar School No. 4 in 1863. When she retired in 1900, Garnet had been a teacher and principal for 37 years. Garnet was the founder of the Brooklyn Equal Suffrage League and a leader of the National Association of Colored Women. She married noted abolitionist and minister Henry Highland Garnet in 1879 and they traveled together to Africa. She and her sister Susan McKinney Steward participated in the 1911 Universal Races Congress in London. Public School 9 in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn is named after her.

Susan McKinney Steward (1847-1918)

Susan McKinney Steward was an American physician and author. She was the first African-American woman to earn a medical degree in New York State. Her medical career focused on prenatal care and childhood disease. Between 1870 and 1895, Steward had her own practice in Brooklyn and co-founded the Brooklyn Women’s Homeopathic Hospital and Dispensary. She was also on the board and practiced medicine at the Brooklyn Home for Aged Colored People. Later she was a college physician at Wilberforce University. In 1911, she delivered a paper, “Colored American Women”” at the Universal Race Congress in London.

Documents:

“Mrs. Garnet’s Reception,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle. 25 June 1907.

“Mrs. Sarah J. S. Garnet, who for many years was the principal of Public School No. 80 and who was an active worker or the retention of Afro-American teachers in the public schools of this state and is now on the retired teachers’ list, gave a reception to New York teachers at her residence, 74 Hancock Street, last evening. There was an excellent program of impromptu speeches varied with music by Professor [Walter] Craig, a pupil of Mrs. Garnet.”

“School to change name in honor of 1st African-American female principal in NYC”

http://brooklyn.news12.com/story/40287636/school-to-change-name-in-honor-of-1st-africanamerican-female-principal-in-nyc

An elementary school in Prospect Heights is changing its name to honor Sarah Smith Garnet, the first African-American female school principal in New York City. P.S. 9 Teunis G Bergen is currently named after a Brooklyn politician in the 1800s who was a slave owner. Parents say the current name sends a bad message. For the past year, parents have discussed changing the name and students got involved. Ninety-three fifth-graders signed a petition for the name change. The new name was decided by a vote. The Department of Education is backing the decision calling Garnet, “a trail-blazing leader who changed our schools and city.” The school’s principal says it is an empowering move for the school, where 40% of the students are black. “It’s important for our children to understand that everyone has a voice and no matter your race, your religion, no matter who you are, you do have a voice and your voice counts,” says principal Sandra D’Avilar.

MARASMUS INFANTUM, By S. S. McKinney, M. D., BROOKLYN, N. Y.

https://archive.org/stream/transactions14yorkgoog/transactions14yorkgoog_djvu.txt

Of the many diseases to which children are victims, marasmus is to me one of the most interesting, from the fact that my success in entering upon and building up a comparatively fair practice is, in a measure, due to the good results I have had in the treatment of this disease. One of my very first cases after graduation was that of a little patient afflicted with this disease, whose parents had become discouraged with the old school treatment, and, as they stated, were willing to give me a trial. The case was a typical one. I put forth my best efforts, supplemented by careful nursing on the part of a loving and intelligent mother, and in time my little patient rounded out into a fine healthy looking child, rewarding my labors in its behalf by being the means of other children being brought to me, similarly afflicted. Thus all along the line up to the present time I find myself being called upon as one able to alleviate the sufferings, if not always able to cure the condition.

The word marasmus is derived from the Greek, meaning ‘I grow lean,’ and is used synonymously with the word atrophy. The name has been fitly chosen for the condition, and indicates a general waste of all the tissues from malnutrition. This disease may develop at any stage of infantile life, and is chiefly the result of the following causes: Unsuitable food, chronic vomiting, chronic diarrhea, worm in the alimentary canal, and more especially inherited syphilis.

The most prominent symptoms are: Emaciation exhaustion, hectic fever, vomiting, diarrhea or constipation, dark and shriveled skin, anorexia or great voracity, thirst, sweats, bloated and hard abdomen, enlargement of the glands, great restlessness and nervous irritability, and a host of other symptoms.

In taking charge of a case of this disease, I make it a rule never to promise a cure, but say I will do all I can to restore the little patient to health. I shape my course of treatment to suit each individual case as presented, directing careful attention to the dietary and hygienic needs of the little patients and apply homoeopathic remedies according to their symptomatology.

Ida B. Wells-Barnett (1862-1931): A Black Life that Mattered

Source: https://spartacus-educational.com/FWWwells.htm

In 1901, Ida B. Well published Lynching and the Excuse for It. She argued that the main reasons for lynchings was to intimidate Blacks from demanding their rights and to maintain white power in the South. She was a founding member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1909 and headed the organization’s push to make lynching a federal crime. A strong supporter of the right of women to vote, she challenged segregation in the suffrage movement, refusing to march in the back of a march in Washington with a separate black delegation of women. In 1894, Ida B. Wells married Fernand Barnett and they had four children.

Documents:

On Women’s Rights (1886): “I will not begin at this late day by doing what my soul abhors; sugaring men, weak deceitful creatures, with flattery to retain them as escorts or to gratify a revenge.”

Preface to Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases (1892): “The greater part of what is contained in these pages was published in the New York Age June 25, 1892, in explanation of the editorial which the Memphis whites considered sufficiently infamous to justify the destruction of my paper, The Free Speech. Since the appearance of that statement, requests have come from all parts of the country that ‘Exiled,’ (the name under which it then appeared) be issued in pamphlet form . . . It is with no pleasure I have dipped my hands in the corruption here exposed. Somebody must show that the Afro-American race is more sinned against than sinning, and it seems to have fallen upon me to do so. The awful death-roll that Judge Lynch is calling every week is appalling, not only because of the lives it takes, the rank cruelty and outrage to the victims, but because of the prejudice it fosters and the stain it places against the good name of a weak race. The Afro-American is not a bestial race. If this work can contribute in any way toward proving this, and at the same time arouse the conscience of the American people to a demand for justice to every citizen, and punishment by law for the lawless, I shall feel I have done my race a service. Other considerations are of minor importance.”

Letter to President McKinley (1898): “For nearly twenty years lynching crimes have been committed and permitted by this Christian nation. Nowhere in the civilized world save the United States of America do men, possessing all civil and political power, go out in bands of 50 to 5,000 to hunt down, shoot, hang or burn to death a single individual, unarmed and absolutely powerless. Statistics show that nearly 10,000 American citizens have been lynched in the past 20 years. To our appeals for justice the stereotyped reply has been the government could not interfere in a state matter.”

Protest Against the Execution of 12 Black Soldiers (1917): “The result of the court-martial of those who had fired on the police and the citizens of Houston was that twelve of them were condemned to be hanged and the remaining members of that immediate regiment were sentenced to Leavenworth for different terms of imprisonment. The twelve were afterward hanged by the neck until they were dead, and, according to the newspapers, their bodies were thrown into nameless graves. This was done to placate southern hatred. It seemed to me a terrible thing that our government would take the lives of men who had bared their breasts fighting for the defence of our country.”

Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Crusade for Justice (1828): “All my life I had known that such conditions were accepted as a matter of course. I found that this rape of helpless Negro girls and women, which began in slavery days, still continued without let or hindrance, check or reproof from the church, state, or press until there had been created this race within a race – and all designated by the inclusive term of ‘colored.’ I also found that what the white man of the South practiced as all right for himself, he assumed to be unthinkable in white women. They could and did fall in love with the pretty mulatto and quadroon girls as well as black ones, but they professed an inability to imagine white women doing the same thing with Negro and mulatto men. Whenever they did so and were found out, the cry of rape was raised, and the lowest element of the white South was turned loose to wreak its fiendish cruelty on those too weak to help themselves. No torture of helpless victims by heathen savages or cruel red Indians ever exceeded the cold-blooded savagery of white devils under lynch law. This was done by white men who controlled all the forces of law and order in their communities and who could have legally punished rapists and murderers, especially black men who had neither political power nor financial strength with which to evade any justly deserved fate. The more I studied the situation, the more I was convinced that the Southerner had never gotten over his resentment that the Negro was no longer his plaything, his servant, and his source of income . . . I’d rather go down in history as one lone Negro who dared to tell the government that it had done a dastardly thing than to save my skin by taking back what I have said. I would consider it an honour to spend whatever years are necessary in prison as the one member of the race who protested, rather than to be with all the 11,999,999 Negroes who didn’t have to go to prison because they kept their mouths shut.”

W.E.B. DuBois (1868-1963): A Black Life that Mattered

Source: https://spartacus-educational.com/USAdubois.htm

W.E.B. DuBois was a leading American scholar and civil rights activist at the end of the 19th and the first half of the 20th century. He was the first African American to earn a doctorate at Harvard University, a founder of the NAACP in 1909, and editor of its journal, The Crisis.

William Edward Burghardt DuBois was born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts in 1868. After graduating from high school, he earned a scholarship to Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee where he worked as a teacher while attending school. DuBois studied for two years at the University of Berlin and then returned to the United States to complete his education. His Harvard doctoral dissertation on the trans-Atlantic slave trade was later published as a book. His other influential books included The Souls of Black Folk, a biography of John Brown, and Black Reconstruction in America.

As editor of The Crisis, DuBois campaigned against lynchings and Jim Crow laws and for women’s suffrage and equal rights. He also became a socialist, supporting Eugene Debs for President in 1912. His positions brought him into sharp conflict with other African American leaders, particularly Booker T. Washington and Marcus Garvey.

Starting in the 1930s, DuBois’ views were increasingly aligned with Marxism and its interpretation of race relations in the United States. He supported Henry Wallace’s Progressive Party candidacy for President in 1948, was the party’s candidate for the United States Senate from New York in 1950, and in 1951, during the McCarthy anti-communist witch hunts he was accused of being a Soviet agent and denied a U.S. passport.

In 1961, DuBois joined the Communist Party – USA declaring “Capitalism cannot reform itself. Communism – the effort to give all men what they need and to ask of each the best they can contribute – this is the only way of human life.” DuBois moved to Ghana at the age of 91 where he became a citizen and lived until his death.

Documents:

The Philadelphia Negro (1899): “Such discrimination is morally wrong, politically dangerous, industrially wasteful, and socially silly. It is the duty of the whites to stop it, and to do so primarily for their own sakes. Industrial freedom of opportunity has by long experience been proven to be generally best for all. Moreover the cost of crime and pauperism, the growth of slums, and the pernicious influence of idleness and lewdness, cost the public far more than would the hurt to the feelings of a carpenter to work beside a black man, or a shop girl to start beside a darker mate.”

The Forethought, The Souls of Black Folks (1903): “Herein lie buried many things which if read with patience may show the strange meaning of being black here at the dawning of the Twentieth Century. This meaning is not without interest to you, Gentle Reader; for the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color line.” 

Speech at the Niagara Movement (1906): “We will not be satisfied to take one jot or tittle less than our full manhood rights. We claim for ourselves every single right that belongs to a free-born American, political, civil and social; and until we get these rights we will never cease to protest and assail the ears of America. The battle we wage is not for ourselves alone but for all true Americans.”

The Crisis (1911): “Every argument for Negro suffrage is an argument for women’s suffrage; every argument for women’s suffrage is an argument for Negro suffrage; both are great moments in democracy. There should be on the part of Negroes absolutely no hesitation whenever and wherever responsible human beings are without voice in their government. The man of Negro blood who hesitates to do them justice is false to his race, his ideals and his country.”

Black Reconstruction in America (1935): “The unending tragedy of Reconstruction is the utter inability of the American mind to grasp its real significance, its national and world wide implications . . . This problem involved the very foundations of American democracy, both political and economic.”

The Autobiography of W.E.B. DuBois (1968): “Perhaps the most extraordinary characteristic of current America is the attempt to reduce life to buying and selling. Life is not love unless love is sex and bought and sold. Life is not knowledge save knowledge of technique, of science for destruction. Life is not beauty except beauty for sale. Life is not art unless its price is high and it is sold for profit. All life is production for profit, and for what is profit but for buying and selling again?”

A. Philip Randolph (1889-1979): A Black Life that Mattered

Source: https://spartacus-educational.com/USArandolph.htm

Asa Philip Randolph was born in Florida in 1889. His father was a tailor and an African Methodist Episcopal Church minister. His mother was a seamstress. After high school, Randolph moved north to attend the City College of New York where he studied economics and philosophy, became a socialist, and founded The Messenger, a radical monthly magazine that opposed lynching and U.S. participation in World War I. Randolph was arrested and charged with treason for urging African American men to avoid the military draft but was never prosecuted. As a member of the Socialist Party, Randolph ran a number of unsuccessful campaigns for local office in New York City. During the 1920s, A. Philip Randolph organized Black workers in laundries, clothes factories, and sleeping car porters and in 1929 became president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.

Documents:

The Messenger, July 1918: “We are fighting ‘to make the world safe for democracy,’ to carry democracy to Germany . . . We are conscripting the Negro into the military and industrial establishments to achieve this end for white democracy four thousand miles away, while the Negro at home, through bearing the burden in every way, is denied economic, political, educational and civil democracy.”

The Messenger, July 1919: “The IWW is the only labor organization in the United States which draws no race or color line. There is another reason why Negroes should join the IWW. The Negro must engage in direct action. He is forced to do this by the Government. When the whites speak of direct action, they are told to use their political power. But with the Negro it is different. He has no political power. Therefore the only recourse the Negro has is industrial action, and since he must combine with those forces which draw no line against him, it is simply logical for him to draw his lot with the Industrial Workers of the World.”

Statement on Proposed March on Washington (January 1941): “Negro America must bring its power and pressure to bear upon the agencies and representatives of the Federal Government to exact their rights in National Defense employment and the armed forces of the country. I suggest that ten thousand Negroes march on Washington, D. C. with the slogan: “We loyal Negro American citizens demand the right to work and fight for our country.” No propaganda could be whipped up and spread to the effect that Negroes seek to hamper defense. No charge could be made that Negroes are attempting to mar national unity. They want to do none of these things. On the contrary, we seek the right to play our part in advancing the cause of national defense and national unity. But certainly there can be no national unity where one tenth of the population are denied their basic rights as American citizens.”

Speech at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom (August 1963): “We are not an organization or a group of organizations. We are not a mob. We are the advance guard of a massive moral revolution for jobs and freedom. The revolution reverberates throughout the land, touching every city, every town, every village where blacks are segregated, oppressed and exploited. But this civil rights demonstration is not confined to the Negro; nor is it confined to civil rights; for our white allies knew that they cannot be free while we are not. And we know that we have no future in which six million black and white people are unemployed, and millions more live in poverty. Those who deplore our militancy, who exhort patience in the name of a false peace, are in fact supporting segregation and exploitation. They would have social peace at the expense of social and racial justice. They are more concerned with easing racial tensions than enforcing racial democracy.”

Paul Robeson (1898-1976): A Black Life that Mattered

Paul Robeson was an American social activist, actor, singer, lawyer, and All-American athlete. As an activist, he received global recognition, but in the United States he was persecuted for his radical ideas and suspected communist ties. In August 1949, rioters supported by local law enforcement and the KKK prevented him from performing at a concert in Peekskill, New York. In 1950, his passport was revoked by the United States State Department and in 1956 he was forced to appear at a sub-committee hearing of the House Un-American Activities Committee where he was threatened with indictment for contempt of Congress.

In 1945, Robeson received the NAACP Spingarn medal for outstanding achievement by an African American. In 1978, after his death, he was recognized by the United Nations General Assembly for his efforts challenging apartheid in South Africa. He is a member of the College Football, American Theater, and New Jersey Hall of Fames.

Robeson was born on April 9, 1898, in Princeton, New Jersey. He was the youngest child of Maria Louisa Robeson and Reverend William Robeson, a Presbyterian minister. Reverend Robeson was born enslaved in North Carolina in 1844. In 1901, Reverend Robeson was forced to resign as pastor of the Witherspoon Street Presbyterian Church in Princeton because of his outspoken opposition to racial injustice. Paul Robeson credited his commitment to social justice to the way his father was treated.

During World War II, Robeson help rally Americans to support the war effort. In 1940 he broadcast and then recorded Ballad for Americans, a song that defined the United States as an inclusive nation committed to rights for all. Although many considered Robeson the country’s leading entertainer and he continually performed in benefit concerts, he was sometimes prevented from performing or staying in hotels because of racial segregation. In New York City, Robeson performed at the Polo Grounds, the former stadium of the Giants baseball team and at Lewisohn Stadium on the City College campus, both located in Harlem. Among his other interests, Robeson lobbied to desegregate Major League Baseball.

Robeson’s political troubles began at the conclusion of the war. After four African Americans were lynched in July 1946, Robeson met with President Harry Truman. The meeting ended abruptly when Truman declared it was not the right time for a federal anti-lynching law. Robeson responded by founding the American Crusade Against Lynching.

In his testimony before the House Un-American Activities sub-committee, excerpted below from the History Matters website, Paul Robeson accused committee members of being the real Un-Americans and defended fundamental American constitutional rights. James Earl Jones has a narrated version of the testimony available on YouTube.

Document: Testimony of Paul Robeson before the House Committee on Un-American Activities, June 12, 1956

Source: Congress, House, Committee on Un-American Activities, Investigation of the Unauthorized Use of U.S. Passports, 84th Congress, Part 3, June 12, 1956; in Thirty Years of Treason: Excerpts from Hearings Before the House Committee on Un-American Activities, 1938–1968, Eric Bentley, ed. (New York: Viking Press, 1971), 770.

Part 1: “Are you now a member of the Communist Party?”

RICHARD ARENS (counsel for HUAC and a former aide to Senator McCarthy): Are you now a member of the Communist Party?

PAUL ROBESON: Oh please, please, please.

CONG. GORDON SCHERER (R-OH): Please answer, will you, Mr. Robeson?

PAUL ROBESON: What is the Communist Party? What do you mean by that?

CONG. SCHERER: I ask that you direct the witness to answer the question.

PAUL ROBESON: What do you mean by the Communist Party? As far as I know it is a legal party like the Republican Party and the Democratic Party. Do you mean a party of people who have sacrificed for my people, and for all Americans and workers, that they can live in dignity? Do you mean that party?

ARENS: Are you now a member of the Communist Party?

PAUL ROBESON: Would you like to come to the ballot box when I vote and take out the ballot and see?

ARENS: Mr. Chairman, I respectfully suggest that the witness be ordered and directed to answer that question.

CONG. FRANCIS WALTER, CHAIRMAN (D-PA): You are directed to answer the question.

PAUL ROBESON: I stand upon the Fifth Amendment of the American Constitution.

ARENS: Do you mean you invoke the Fifth Amendment?

PAUL ROBESON: I invoke the Fifth Amendment.

ARENS: Do you honestly apprehend that if you told this Committee truthfully —

PAUL ROBESON: I have no desire to consider anything. I invoke the Fifth Amendment, and it is none of your business what I would like to do, and I invoke the Fifth Amendment . . . [W]herever I have been in the world, Scandinavia, England, and many places, the first to die in the struggle against Fascism were the Communists and I laid many wreaths upon graves of Communists. It is not criminal, and the Fifth Amendment has nothing to do with criminality. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Warren, has been very clear on that in many speeches, that the Fifth Amendment does not have anything to do with the inference of criminality. I invoke the Fifth Amendment.

Part 2: “To whom am I talking?”

PAUL ROBESON: To whom am I talking?

CONG. WALTER: You are speaking to the Chairman of this Committee.

PAUL ROBESON: Mr. Walter?

CONG. WALTER:  Yes.

PAUL ROBESON: The Pennsylvania Walter?

CONG. WALTER: That is right.

PAUL ROBESON: Representative of the steelworkers?

CONG. WALTER:  That is right.

PAUL ROBESON: Of the coal-mining workers and not United States Steel, by any chance? A great patriot.

CONG. WALTER:  That is right.

PAUL ROBESON: You are the author of all of the bills that are going to keep all kinds of decent people out of the country.

CONG. WALTER:  No, only your kind.

PAUL ROBESON: Colored people like myself, from the West Indies and all kinds. And just the Teutonic Anglo-Saxon stock that you would let come in.

CONG. WALTER:  We are trying to make it easier to get rid of your kind, too.

PAUL ROBESON: You do not want any colored people to come in?

Part 3: “The reason I am here today”

PAUL ROBESON: Could I say that the reason that I am here today, you know, from the mouth of the State Department itself, is: I should not be allowed to travel because I have struggled for years for the independence of the colonial peoples of Africa. For many years I have so labored and I can say modestly that my name is very much honored all over Africa, in my struggles for their independence . . . The other reason that I am here today, again from the State Department and from the court record of the court of appeals, is that when I am abroad I speak out against the injustices against the Negro people of this land. I sent a message to the Bandung Conference and so forth. That is why I am here. This is the basis, and I am not being tried for whether I am a Communist, I am being tried for fighting for the rights of my people, who are still second-class citizens in this United States of America. My mother was born in your state, Mr. Walter, and my mother was a Quaker, and my ancestors in the time of Washington baked bread for George Washington’s troops when they crossed the Delaware, and my own father was a slave. I stand here struggling for the rights of my people to be full citizens in this country. And they are not. They are not in Mississippi. And they are not in Montgomery, Alabama. And they are not in Washington. They are nowhere, and that is why I am here today. You want to shut up every Negro who has the courage to stand up and fight for the rights of his people, for the rights of workers, and I have been on many a picket line for the steelworkers too. And that is why I am here today.”

Part 4: “I belong to the American resistance movement.”

PAUL ROBESON: Would you please let me read my statement at some point?

CONG. WALTER: We will consider your statement.

ARENS: I do not hesitate one second to state clearly and unmistakably: I belong to the American resistance movement which fights against American imperialism, just as the resistance movement fought against Hitler.

PAUL ROBESON: Just like Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman were underground railroaders, and fighting for our freedom, you bet your life . . . Four hundred million in India, and millions everywhere, have told you, precisely, that the colored people are not going to die for anybody: they are going to die for their independence. We are dealing not with fifteen million colored people, we are dealing with hundreds of millions.

Part 5: “My people died to build this country.”

PAUL ROBESON: In Russia I felt for the first time like a full human being. No color prejudice like in Mississippi, no color prejudice like in Washington. It was the first time I felt like a human being. Where I did not feel the pressure of color as I feel [it] in this Committee today.

CONG. SCHERER: Why do you not stay in Russia?

PAUL ROBESON: Because my father was a slave, and my people died to build this country, and I am going to stay here, and have a part of it just like you. And no Fascist-minded people will drive me from it. Is that clear? I am for peace with the Soviet Union, and I am for peace with China, and I am not for peace or friendship with the Fascist Franco, and I am not for peace with Fascist Nazi Germans. I am for peace with decent people.

CONG. SCHERER: You are here because you are promoting the Communist cause.

PAUL ROBESON: I am here because I am opposing the neo-Fascist cause which I see arising in these committees. You are like the Alien [and] Sedition Act, and Jefferson could be sitting here, and Frederick Douglass could be sitting here, and Eugene Debs could be here . . .[Y]ou gentlemen belong with the Alien and Sedition Acts, and you are the non-patriots, and you are the un-Americans, and you ought to be ashamed of yourselves.

Ralph Bunche (1904-1971): A Black Life that Mattered

Documents:

Segregation in Los Angeles (1926)

“I hope that the future generations of our race rise as one to combat this vicious habit at every opportunity until it is completely broken down. I want to tell you that when I think of such outrageous atrocities as this latest swimming pool incident, which has been perpetrated upon Los Angeles Negroes, my blood boils. And when I see my people so foolhardy as to patronize such a place, and thus give it their sanction, my disgust is trebled. Any Los Angeles Negro who would go bathing in that dirty hole with that sign—‘For Colored Only,’ gawking down at him in insolent mockery of his Race, is either a fool or a traitor to his kind.”

Some Reflections on Peace in Our Time (1950)

“In this most anxious period of human history, the subject of peace, above every other, commands the solemn attention of all men of reason and goodwill. Moreover, on this particular occasion, marking the fiftieth anniversary of the Nobel Foundation, it is eminently fitting to speak of peace. No subject could be closer to my own heart, since I have the honour to speak as a member of the international Secretariat of the United Nations.  In these critical times – times which test to the utmost the good sense, the forbearance, and the morality of every peace-loving people – it is not easy to speak of peace with either conviction or reassurance. True it is that statesmen the world over, exalting lofty concepts and noble ideals, pay homage to peace and freedom in a perpetual torrent of eloquent phrases. But the statesmen also speak darkly of the lurking threat of war; and the preparations for war ever intensify, while strife flares or threatens in many localities.

The words used by statesmen in our day no longer have a common meaning. Perhaps they never had. Freedom, democracy, human rights, international morality, peace itself, mean different things to different men. Words, in a constant flow of propaganda – itself an instrument of war – are employed to confuse, mislead, and debase the common man. Democracy is prostituted to dignify enslavement; freedom and equality are held good for some men but withheld from others by and in allegedly “democratic” societies; in “free” societies, so-called, individual human rights are severely denied; aggressive adventures are launched under the guise of “liberation”. Truth and morality are subverted by propaganda, on the cynical assumption that truth is whatever propaganda can induce people to believe. Truth and morality, therefore, become gravely weakened as defences against injustice and war. With what great insight did Voltaire, hating war enormously, declare: ‘War is the greatest of all crimes; and yet there is no aggressor who does not colour his crime with the pretext of justice’.”

Racial Prejudice in America (1954)

“The existence of racial prejudice, the practice of racial or religious bigotry in our midst today, should be the active concern of every American who believes in our democratic way of life. Such attitudes and practices subvert the foundation principles of our society. They are more costly and more dangerous today than ever before in our history. Indeed, it is impossible to calculate the tremendous costs to the nation of such attitudes and their shameful manifestations. They are a seriously divisive influence amongst our people. They create resentment, unrest and disturbances in our communities. They deprive us of our maximum national unity at a time when our way of life and all that we stand for is gravely threatened from without. They prevent us from using a substantial part of our manpower effectively, even though we are seriously short of manpower, to meet the challenge confronting us from an external world.”

Letter to 4th graders (1964)

“The habit of always looking on the bright side of things may make one appear naive now and then, but in my experience it is the best antidote for worry and ulcers. I am often called an optimist. No doubt I am; but if so, it is by training rather than by nature – my mother’s training. I am convinced that nothing is ever finally lost until faith and hope and dreams are abandoned, and then everything is lost. This, I feel, is what my mother meant.”

Fannie Lou Hamer (1917-1977): A Black Life that Mattered

Fannie Lou Townsend’s parents were sharecroppers on the Marlow Plantation in the Mississippi River delta region of Sunflower County, Mississippi. Fannie Lou was the youngest of her parent’s twenty children. As a child, Hamer helped her family pick cotton and grow corn. She was only able to attend school until sixth grade. In 1945, Fannie Lou married Perry Hamer, a tractor driver and sharecropper on the Marlow plantation. The couple never had children.

In 1961, Hamer had a hysterectomy and was sterilized without her consent. It is suspected this was part of a plan by the State of Mississippi to reduce the number of poor blacks in the state.

 In 1962, after participating in a bus trip organized by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) to register African-Americans voters, Fanny Lou Hamer was recruited to work for that organization. Her demand to vote led to threats on her life and the lives of family members and she was forced to move away to protect them.

In June 1963, Fanny Lou Hamer was arrested on a false charge and severely beaten by police in Winona, Mississippi. In 1964, she helped found and was elected vice-chair of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. On August 22, 1964, Hamer addressed the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey where she challenged Mississippi’s all-white and anti-civil rights delegation. Hamer ran for Congress in 1964 and 1965, and in 1968 was a member of Mississippi’s official delegation to the Democratic National Convention. She died of heart failure in 1977.

This biography of Fannie Lou Hamer is drawn from a number of online sources including Timeline, Wikipedia, and American Public Media. It concludes with excerpts from her testimony at the 1964 Democratic Party presidential nominating convention and a speech she delivered in Harlem, New York in December 1964.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fannie_Lou_Hamer

https://timeline.com/hamer-speech-voting-rights-d5f6ddc7470a

Documents:

Fannie Lou Hamer testifies before the Credentials Committee of the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey (August 22, 1964)

http://americanradioworks.publicradio.org/features/sayitplain/flhamer.html

“My name is Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer, and I live at 626 East Lafayette Street, Ruleville, Mississippi, Sunflower County, the home of Senator James O. Eastland, and Senator Stennis. It was the 31st of August in 1962 that eighteen of us traveled twenty-six miles to the county courthouse in Indianola to try to register to become first-class citizens. We were met in Indianola by policemen, Highway Patrolmen, and they only allowed two of us in to take the literacy test at the time. After we had taken this test and started back to Ruleville, we were held up by the City Police and the State Highway Patrolmen and carried back to Indianola where the bus driver was charged that day with driving a bus the wrong color.

After we paid the fine among us, we continued on to Ruleville, and Reverend Jeff Sunny carried me four miles in the rural area where I had worked as a timekeeper and sharecropper for eighteen years. I was met there by my children, who told me that the plantation owner was angry because I had gone down to try to register. After they told me, my husband came, and said the plantation owner was raising Cain because I had tried to register. Before he quit talking the plantation owner came and said, “Fannie Lou, do you know – did Pap tell you what I said?” And I said, “Yes, sir.” He said, “Well I mean that.” He said, “If you don’t go down and withdraw your registration, you will have to leave” . . . And I addressed him and told him and said, “I didn’t try to register for you. I tried to register for myself.” I had to leave that same night.

June the 9th, 1963, I had attended a voter registration workshop; was returning back to Mississippi. Ten of us was traveling by the Continental Trailway bus. When we got to Winona, Mississippi . . . I stepped off of the bus to see what was happening and somebody screamed from the car that the five workers were in and said, “Get that one there.” When I went to get in the car, when the man told me I was under arrest, he kicked me. I was carried to the county jail . . . And it wasn’t too long before three white men came to my cell . . . I was carried out of that cell into another cell where they had two Negro prisoners. The State Highway Patrolmen ordered the first Negro to take the blackjack. The first Negro prisoner ordered me, by orders from the State Highway Patrolman, for me to lay down on a bunk bed on my face. I laid on my face and the first Negro began to beat. I was beat by the first Negro until he was exhausted. I was holding my hands behind me at that time on my left side, because I suffered from polio when I was six years old. After the first Negro had beat until he was exhausted, the State Highway Patrolman ordered the second Negro to take the blackjack . . . Is this America, the land of the free and the home of the brave, where we have to sleep with our telephones off the hooks because our lives be threatened daily, because we want to live as decent human beings, in America?”

“I’m Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired,” Harlem, New York (Dec. 20, 1964)

https://awpc.cattcenter.iastate.edu/2019/08/09/im-sick-and-tired-of-being-sick-and-tired-dec-20-1964/

“For three hundred years, we’ve given them time. And I’ve been tired so long, now I am sick and tired of being sick and tired, and we want a change. We want a change in this society in America because, you see, we can no longer ignore the facts and getting our children to sing, “Oh say can you see, by the dawn’s early light, what so proudly we hailed.” What do we have to hail here? The truth is the only thing going to free us. And you know this whole society is sick . . . But this is something we going to have to learn to do and quit saying that we are free in America when I know we are not free. You are not free in Harlem. The people are not free in Chicago, because I’ve been there, too. They are not free in Philadelphia, because I’ve been there, too. And when you get it over with all the way around, some of the places is a Mississippi in disguise. And we want a change. And we hope you support us in this challenge.”

Lyddie the Mill Girl – An Interdisciplinary 7th Grade Unit

Lyddie the Mill Girl – An Interdisciplinary 7th Grade Unit

Natalie Casale, Dena Giacobbe, Amanda Nardo, and Jamie Thomas

In these lessons, we will look back to the 19th century where workers were not protected and oftentimes had to work in awful conditions, like the young women who worked in the mills in Lowell, Massachusetts. These young women, known as mill girls, worked long hours and were often hurt by the machinery. If they were lucky enough to escape getting hurt by the machines, after working in the mills for a couple of years, the girls started to have respiratory health problems. The novel Lyddie is about a young girl who worked in the Lowell mills. By reading the book, the students have learned about what a typical day is like working at the mills and have read about Lyddie and her friends enduring horrible working conditions and getting hurt as a result. This lesson will explore what the conditions were like working in the mills in the 19th century. Students will examine a picture of a mill girl working the machinery and recall the effects the mills had on Lyddie and her friends. The students will then read about the Lowell mills and about one mill girl’s life, Sarah Bagley. Students will compare and contrast Lyddie and Bagley’s experiences in the mills. By the end of the lesson, the students will be able to describe what it is like to work in the mills and recommend what future mill girls should keep in mind when working in the mills. The students will be grouped homogeneously, working with partners throughout the lesson.

 (A) Sarah George Bagley

Source: https://www.nps.gov/lowe/learn/historyculture/sarah-bagley.htm

The Mill Girls of Lowell
https://www.nps.gov/lowe/learn/historyculture/the-mill-girls-of-lowell.htm

(A) Sarah George Bagley
Source: https://www.nps.gov/lowe/learn/historyculture/sarah-bagley.htm

Sarah George Bagley was born April 19, 1806 to Nathan and Rhoda Witham Bagley. Raised in rural Candia, New Hampshire, she came to the booming industrial city of Lowell in 1837 at the age of 31, where she began work as a weaver at the Hamilton Manufacturing Company. Though older than many of the Yankee women who flocked to Lowell’s mills, Bagley shared with them the shift from rural family life to the urban industrial sphere. While working in the Lowell mills, Sarah Bagley’s view of the world around her changed radically. While much of her life remains surrounded by questions, the record of Bagley’s experiences as a worker and activist in Lowell, Massachusetts, reveals a remarkable spirit. Condemned by some as a rabble rouser and enemy of social order, many have celebrated her as a woman who fought against the confines of patriarchal industrial society on behalf of all her sisters in work and struggle.

“Let no one suppose the ‘factory girls’ are without guardian. We are placed in the care of overseers who feel under moral obligation to look after our interests.” – Sarah Bagley, 1840

 “I am sick at heart when I look into the social world and see woman so willingly made a dupe to the beastly selfishness of man.” – Sarah Bagley, 1847

While many found a sense of independence in coming to the city and earning a wage for the first time, the presence of paternalistic capitalism ensured that working women would never be “without guardian;” or as Bagley would later assert, that factory women would never experience true freedom. Bagley was initially inclined to accept the prescribed order in the Spindle City—she became an excellent weaver and began to write for the Lowell Offering, a literary magazine written by mill workers but overseen and partly funded by the mill corporations. Bagley’s 1840 essay entitled “The Pleasures of Factory Work,” which argued that cotton mill labor was congenial to “pleasurable contemplation” and other noble pursuits, was representative of the positive, proper image of the mills presented in the pages of the Offering.

An 1850 illustration of the Middlesex Manufacturing Company in Lowell Stirrings of Conflict

Was it deteriorating conditions in the cotton factories or some internal shift in Sarah Bagley’s worldview that precipitated her transformation from “mill girl” to ground-breaking labor activist in the span of only a few short years? By 1840 the exploitation of Lowell mill workers was becoming increasingly apparent: the frequent speedups and constant pressure to produce more cloth drove Bagley from the weave room into the cleaner, more relenting dressing room. Here she oversaw the starching (or “dressing”) of the warp threads that constitute the framework for woven cloth.

By 1842 the pressures that Bagley had experienced as a weaver began to erupt in the form of labor conflict. In that year the Middlesex Manufacturing Company, one of Lowell’s textile giants, announced a speedup and subsequent 20% pay cut. In protest, seventy female workers walked out. All were fired and blacklisted. Lowell’s industrial capitalists made it very clear that they would not tolerate challenges to their authority, especially not by young female workers.

The walkout of 1842 did not instantly convert Sarah Bagley into a labor activist; several months after the unsuccessful strike by the Middlesex weavers, Bagley returned to weaving, this time as an employee of the Middlesex mills.

A radical change in Sarah’s own views of the world around her, however, was not far off. How exactly she became involved with the labor movement is uncertain. In 1844, the Lowell Female Labor Reform Association (LFLRA) was founded, becoming one of the earliest successful organizations of working women in the United States, with Sarah Bagley as its president. Working in cooperation with the New England Workingmen’s Association (NEWA) and spurred by a recent extension of work hours, the organizations submitted petitions totaling 2,139 names to the Massachusetts state legislature in 1845. These petitions demanded the reduction of the workday to ten hours on behalf workers’ health as well as their “intellectual, moral and religious habits.” In response, the legislature called a hearing and asked Bagley, among eight others, to testify. Despite the efforts of Bagley and her colleagues, the legislators ultimately refused to act against the powerful mills.

While advocating for the ten-hour workday and against corporate abuses remained the cornerstones of the LFLRA’s activism under Bagley’s presidency, women’s rights issues quickly assumed a prominent role as well. Speaking at the first New England Workingmen’s Association convention at a time when public speaking represented a radical departure from acceptable feminine behavior, Bagley called on male workers to exercise their right to vote on behalf of female workers who lacked political representation.

The year 1845 also saw Sarah taking on new responsibilities as a writer and editor for the Voice of Industry, founded in 1844 by the New England Workingmen’s Association. In a July Fourth speech, Bagley—just named one of the NEWA’s five new vice presidents—condemned the Lowell Offering and its editor Harriet Farley as “a mouthpiece of the corporations,” voicing a deep transformation of her own views. The ensuing public feud belied Bagley’s own praise of the mill companies published in the Offering only five years prior.

1846 was a busy year for Bagley and the Female Labor Reform Association, as she and several associates traveled throughout New England recruiting workers and organizing chapters of the FLRA and the NEWA. She also served as a delegate to numerous labor conventions and associated with a wide variety of progressives beyond the immediate labor movement, from abolitionists to prison reformers. Having left mill work in early 1846, Bagley now considered labor reform her primary calling. 1846 also saw an increase in the Lowell Female Labor Reform Association’s activities, mounting a campaign against yet another speedup and piece rate reduction, establishing a lecture series for workers, and penning pamphlets exposing the contradictions of mill owner paternalism and decrying the “ignorance, misery, and premature decay of both body and intellect” caused by mill work.

These achievements, however, were tempered by continued frustration on the ten-hour front. A second petition, this time numbering 4,500 signatures, was submitted to the legislature and rejected. Perhaps in part owing to the lack of success in attaining this goal, the Lowell Female Labor Reform Association began to shift its focus away from the militant labor activism espoused by Sarah Bagley. Around this time Bagley also came into conflict with the Voice of Industry’s new editor, John Allen, over the role of women in the newspaper’s production. In October of 1846 Bagley published her last piece in the Voice of Industry; in early 1847 she left the Female Labor Reform and Mutual Aid Society (formerly LFLRA) after three brief but influential years of radical activism.

Sarah Bagley once again defied expectations and gendered boundaries in the latter half of 1846 when she took a job as the nation’s first female telegraph operator, first in Lowell and then in Springfield, Massachusetts. Local newspapers were skeptical of both this new technology and of the ability of a woman to fill the position of telegraph depot superintendent—one paper mused, “Can a woman keep a secret?” However, Bagley proved well-suited to this work and through her example opened the new occupational field of telegraphy to women around the country.

Bagley remained employed at the telegraph depot until 1848, when Hamilton mill records show her mysteriously returning to work in the weave room for five months. Bagley had been out of the mills for two years; it must have been a melancholy return for the woman who had risen to fame as an activist against the corporations that she now for whatever reason had to rely upon once again. In September of 1848 she left Lowell to care for her sick father and never returned. At this point Bagley’s life lapses again into partial obscurity—some report that she moved to Philadelphia and worked as a social reformer before marrying and moving to upstate New York to practice homeopathic medicine. While there is some evidence to support this story, others have asserted that she in fact dropped completely from the historical record after 1848. Her date of death is unknown.

(B) The Lowell Mill Girls Go on Strike (1836)

by Harriet Hanson Robinson

Source: Harriet Hanson Robinson, Loom and Spindle or Life Among the Early Mill Girls (New York, T. Y. Crowell, 1898), 83–86. http://hti.osu.edu/sites/hti.osu.edu/files/Harriet-Robinson-account.pdf

A group of Boston capitalists built a major textile manufacturing center in Lowell, Massachusetts, in the second quarter of the 19th century. The first factories recruited women from rural New England as their labor force. These young women, far from home, lived in rows of boardinghouses adjacent to the growing number of mills. The industrial production of textiles was highly profitable, and the number of factories in Lowell and other mill towns increased. More mills led to overproduction, which led to a drop in prices and profits. Mill owners reduced wages and speeded up the pace of work. The young female operatives organized to protest these wage cuts in 1834 and 1836. Harriet Hanson Robinson was one of those factory operatives; she began work in Lowell at the age of ten, later becoming an author and advocate of women’s suffrage. In 1898 she published Loom and Spindle, a memoir of her Lowell experiences, where she recounted the strike of 1836.

One of the first strikes of cotton-factory operatives that ever took place in this country was that in Lowell, in October, 1836. When it was announced that the wages were to be cut down, great indignation was felt, and it was decided to strike, en masse. This was done. The mills were shut down, and the girls went in procession from their several corporations to the “grove” on Chapel Hill, and listened to “incendiary” speeches from early labor reformers.

One of the girls stood on a pump, and gave vent to the feelings of her companions in a neat speech, declaring that it was their duty to resist all attempts at cutting down the wages. This was the first time a woman had spoken in public in Lowell, and the event caused surprise and consternation among her audience.

Cutting down the wages was not their only grievance, nor the only cause of this strike. Hitherto the corporations had paid twenty—five cents a week towards the board of each operative, and now it was their purpose to have the girls pay the sum; and this, in addition to the cut in the wages, would make a difference of at least one dollar a week. It was estimated that as many as twelve or fifteen hundred girls turned out, and walked in procession through the streets. They had neither flags nor music, but sang songs, a favorite (but rather inappropriate) one being a parody on “I won’t be a nun.”

“Oh! isn’t it a pity, such a pretty girl as I-

Should be sent to the factory to pine away and die?

Oh ! I cannot be a slave,

I will not be a slave,

For I’m so fond of liberty

That I cannot be a slave.”

My own recollection of this first strike (or “turn out” as it was called) is very vivid. I worked in a lower room, where I had heard the proposed strike fully, if not vehemently, discussed; I had been an ardent listener to what was said against this attempt at “oppression” on the part of the corporation, and naturally I took sides with the strikers. When the day came on which the girls were to turn out, those in the upper rooms started first, and so many of them left that our mill was at once shut down. Then, when the girls in my room stood irresolute, uncertain what to do, asking each other, “Would you?” or “Shall we turn out?” and not one of them 1laving the courage to lead off, I, who began to think they would not go out, after all their talk, became impatient, and started on ahead, saying, with childish bravado, “I don’t care what you do, I am going to turn out, whether any one else does or not;‘’ and I marched out, and was followed by the others.

As I looked back at the long line that followed me, I was more proud than I have ever been since at any success I may have achieved, and more proud than I shall ever be again until my own beloved State gives to its women citizens the right of suffrage.

The agent of the corporation where I then worked took some small revenges on the supposed ringleaders; on the principle of sending the weaker to the wall, my mother was turned away from her boarding-house, that functionary saying,” Mrs. Hanson, you could not prevent the older girls from turning out, but your daughter is a child, and her you could control.”

It is hardly necessary to say that so far as results were concerned this strike did no good. The dissatisfaction of the operatives subsided, or burned itself out, and though the authorities did not accede to their demands, the majority returned to their work, and the corporation went on cutting down the wages.

And after a time, as the wages became more and more reduced, the best portion of the girls left and went to their homes, or to the other employments that were fast opening to women, until there were very few of the old guard left; and thus the status of the factory population of New England gradually became what we know it to be to-day.

Note: Harriet Robinson worked in the Lowell Mills intermittently from 1835 to 1848. She was 10 when she started at the mills and 23 when she left them to marry. Presumably, she wrote this account in the 1890s, for it was published in her Loom and Spindle; or, Life among the Early Mill Girls in 1898.

 (C) Factory Girls Described by Harriet Hanson Robinson

Source: https://www.historyisaweapon.com/defcon1/robinsonfactgirls.html

“When I look back into the factory life of fifty or sixty years ago, I do not see what is called “a class” of young men and women going to and from their daily work, like so many ants that cannot be distinguished one from another; I see them as individuals, with personalities of their own. This one has about her the atmosphere of her early home. That one is impelled by a strong and noble purpose. The other,—what she is, has been an influence for good to me and to all womankind. 

Yet they were a class of factory operatives, and were spoken of (as the same class is spoken of now) as a set of persons who earned their daily bread, whose condition was fixed, and who must continue to spin and to weave to the end of their natural existence. Nothing but this was expected of them, and they were not supposed to be capable of social or mental improvement. That they could be educated and developed into something more than work-people, was an idea that had not yet entered the public mind. So little does one class of persons really know about the thoughts and aspirations of another! It was the good fortune of these early mill-girls to teach the people of that time that this sort of labor is not degrading; that the operative is not only “capable of virtue,” but also capable of self-cultivation. 

At the time the Lowell cotton-mills were started, the factory girl was the lowest among women. In England, and in France particularly, great injustice had been done to her real character; she was represented as subjected to influences that could not fail to destroy her purity and self-respect. In the eyes of her overseer she was but a brute, slave, to be beaten, pinched, and pushed about. 

It was to overcome this prejudice that such high wages had been offered to women that they might be induced to become mill-girls, in spice of the opprobrium that still clung to this “degrading occupation.” At first only a few came; for, though tempted by the high wages to be regularly paid in “cash,” there were many who still preferred to go on working at some more genteel employment at seventy-five cents a week and their board. 

But in a short time the prejudice against the factory labor wore away, and the Lowell mills became filled with blooming and energetic New England women. They were naturally intelligent, had mother-wit, and fell easily into the ways of their new life. They soon began to associate with those who formed the community in which they had come to live, and were invited to their houses. They went to the same church, and sometimes married into some of the best families. Or if they returned to their secluded homes again, instead of being looked down upon as “factory girls” by the squire’s or lawyer’s family, they were more often welcomed as coming from the metropolis, bringing new fashions, new books, and new ideas with them. 

In 1831 Lowell was little more than a factory village. Several corporations were started, and the cotton-mills belonging to them were building. Help was in great demand; and the stories were told all over the country of the new factory town, and the high wages that were offered to all classes of work-people,—stories that reached the ears of mechanics’ and farmers’ sons, and gave new life to lonely and dependent women in distant towns and farmhouses. Into this Yankee El Dorado, these needy people began to pour by the various modes of travel known to those slow old days. The stage-coach and the canal-boat came every day, always filled with the new recruits for this army of useful people. The mechanic and machinist came, each with his home-made chest of tools, and oftentimes his wife and little ones. The widow came with her little flock of scanty housekeeping goods to open a boarding-house or variety store, and so provided a home for her fatherless children. Many farmers’ daughters came to earn money to complete their wedding outfit, or buy the bride’s share of housekeeping articles. 

Women with past histories came, to hide their griefs and their identity, and to earn an honest living in the “sweat of their brow.” Single young men came, full of hope and life, to get money for an education, or to lift the mortgage from the home-farm. Troops of young girls came by stages and baggage-wagons, men often being employed to go to other States and to Canada, to collect them at so much a head, and deliver them to the factories…. 

These country girls had queer names, which added to the singularity of their appearance. Samantha, Triphena, Plumy, Kezia, Aseneth, Elgardy, Leafy, Ruhamah, Lovey, Almaretta, Sarepta, and Flotilla were among them. 

Their dialect was also very peculiar. On the broken English and Scotch of their ancestors was ingrafted the nasal Yankee twang; so that many of them, when they had just come down, spoke a language almost unintelligible. But the severe discipline and ridicule which met them was as good as a school education, and they were soon taught the “city way of speaking”…

(D) Letter from Mary Paul to her Family (1845)

https://www.albany.edu/history/history316/MaryPaulLetters.html

“I received your letter on Thursday the 14th with much pleasure. I am well which is one comfort. My life and health are spared while others are cut off. Last Thursday one girl fell down and broke her neck which caused instant death. She was going in or coming out of the mill and slipped down it being very icy. The same day a man was killed by the [railroad] cars. Another had nearly all of his ribs broken. Another was nearly killed by falling down and having a bale of cotton fall on him. Last Tuesday we were paid. In all I had six dollars and sixty cents paid $4.68 for board. With the rest I got me a pair of rubbers and a pair of 50.cts shoes. Next payment I am to have a dollar a week beside my board. We have not had much snow the deepest being not more than 4 inches. It has been very warm for winter. Perhaps you would like something about our regulations about going in and coming out of the mill. At 5 o’clock in the morning the bell rings for the folks to get up and get breakfast. At half past six it rings for the girls to get up and at seven they are called into the mill. At half past 12 we have dinner are called back again at one and stay till half past seven. I get along very well with my work. I can doff as fast as any girl in our room. I think I shall have frames before long. The usual time allowed for learning is six months but I think I shall have frames before I have been in three as I get along so fast. I think that the factory is the best place for me and if any girl wants employment I advise them to come to Lowell. Tell Harriet that though she does not hear from me she is not forgotten. I have little time to devote to writing that I cannot write all I want to. There are half a dozen letters which I ought to write to day but I have not time. Tell Harriet I send my love to her and all of the girls. Give my love to Mrs. Clement. Tell Henry this will answer for him and you too for this time.”

Historic New York: Hudson Valley History Lessons

Historic New York: Hudson Valley History Lessons

Debra Bruno

Edited and reprinted with permission from the Washington Post magazine, July 22, 2020.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/magazine/2020/07/22/after-i-discovered-that-my-ancestors-had-enslaved-people-i-connected-with-descendant-those-who-were-enslaved/?arc404=true

I didn’t know much about my Dutch ancestry when I was growing up in New York’s Hudson Valley in the 1960s and ’70s. I thought of myself as Italian. My father was the second son of an immigrant named Pasquale Bruno, who had made his way to New York as a teenager from southern Italy’s impoverished Calabria region. Our holidays were feasts of pasta, meatballs and eggplant Parmesan. The smell of tomato sauce simmering on a Sunday is all I need to feel at home.

But of course, there is also my mother’s side. Her maiden name is Van Valkenburg. All I really knew about her ancestors was that they had helped settle New Netherland, as New York State and the surrounding territory was called in the 1600s. “Think Rip Van Winkle,” I would tell people about that part of my heritage. The Dutch side, I thought, was more white-bread plain. Yet I did wonder about those Dutch, and when the boom in companies like Ancestry turned millions of Americans into amateur genealogists, I joined the trend and started researching. I imagined I’d find a string of farmers and housewives and shopkeepers and laborers, living modest, quiet lives.

Then one day, scrolling through the Ancestry website, I came upon the 1796 last will and testament of one Isaac Collier, born in 1725 in a place called Loonenburg, which is today named Athens. That’s my hometown. And Collier is my grandmother’s maiden name. Isaac was my five-times-great-grandfather.

Isaac was thinking about his legacy. In his will, the 70-year-old carefully divided his land, working out in precise detail where his property lines extended and to which of his five surviving sons each parcel went. Then he got to other items: to his son Joel, “one other Feather Bed, one Negro Boy named Will and my sorrel mare and sorrel stallion, one wagon and harrow.” To his granddaughter Christina Spoor went a “negro wench named Marie.”

“The remains of my negro slaves male and female,” I read, were to be “equally divided” among his remaining sons and one grandson, “share and share alike.”

I sat very still. This will, written in a beautiful, sweeping script, with elegant phrases like “whenever it shall please the Almighty to take me to himself,” hit me with a gut punch. Here was a man blithely imagining his reception into heaven while painstakingly leaving this permanent record of sin.

Here, in the branches of my family tree, was incontrovertible evidence that my Dutch ancestors weren’t just innocent farmers. That I was the descendant of people who enslaved others. How could this be? Growing up in the North, I’d rarely thought about slavery, and the civil rights struggles of the 1960s seemed as distant as the moon landing. But suddenly, slavery was as real as the rolling hills beside the Hudson River that flowed past my parents’ home. Suddenly, my sense of Northern disengagement from our country’s original sin was snapped away.

As a child, I’d learned nothing about New York state’s history of slavery. I didn’t even know that there had been enslaved people in the North. We weren’t like those racist Southerners, or so we thought.

In elementary school, we took the requisite trips to places like the Bronck House in Coxsackie, built in 1663 for one of the region’s first families, from whom the Bronx gets its name. Low beams, enormous fireplaces, historians wearing colonial dress. No one mentioned slavery other than in relation to the Civil War, a war that happened elsewhere and much later in history. Northern slavery wasn’t part of our school lessons. Only since about 2016 has New York state slavery been listed as a small part of the seventh-grade social studies curriculum.

Some scholars believe that Northern slavery was deliberately whitewashed from the history books. Leslie M. Harris, a professor of history at Northwestern University and author of “In the Shadow of Slavery: African Americans in New York City, 1626-1863,” says that the idea of a free North that helped end slavery is “one of the most powerful elements of our culture.” Adding in Northern slavery “complicates what is otherwise a simple, heroic story.”

But slavery was not only a powerful institution in New York; it lasted for nearly 200 years there. Not long after colonizing New Netherland in the 1600s, Dutch settlers, needing to fill a labor shortage, began buying enslaved people from traders with the Dutch West India Company. (The Dutch also tried to enslave the Native Americans who lived nearby, but many of them escaped. They also tried using indentured servants imported from Europe, but those people also tended to die very young or run off, according to Historic Hudson Valley, an organization with a website dedicated in part to teaching about slavery in New York. Of course, it was impossible for Africans to blend in and escape in the same way.)

New York was one of the last Northern states to outlaw slavery. But instead of a sudden explosion of freedom, the state passed the Gradual Emancipation Act of 1799, which slow-rolled freedom over nearly 30 years. It was a compromise measure designed to placate the Dutch farmers reluctant to give up their property.

My roots in the mid-Hudson Valley run deep, and now I suspected that if one family in my tree enslaved people, there had to be others. So I dove in. The more I dug, the more enslavers I found in wills and census records: Hallenbeck, Vosburgh, Van Petten, Van Vechten, Conine, Brandow, Houghtaling and, yes, Bronck.

I also realized that I was not alone. Jonathan Palmer, archivist at the Vedder Research Library in Coxsackie, says that anyone with deep-enough Dutch roots in the region will eventually find enslavers. “For them to have that moment when they confront that is special for me as an archivist,” he says, “for them to stare at a mirror and realize this was the side they were on.”

Castle Garden: An Early Gateway to the United States

Castle Garden: An Early Gateway to the United States

Jenny Ashcraft

Since the founding of the United States, millions of people hoping for a brighter future left their home countries and immigrated to the United States. The number of immigrants increased dramatically after the Civil War with nearly 12 million arriving between 1870-1900. More than 70% of all immigrants entered through New York City. Castle Garden opened in 1855 as the primary immigration processing center and operated as such until Ellis Island’s opening in 1892 (though from 1890-1892, the center was moved to the U.S. Barge Office). These are some of the stories behind some of those immigrants’ arrivals.

Excerpted and adapted from an article “Before Ellis Island: Entering America Through Castle Garden, 1855-1890” by Jenny Ashcraft, https://blog.newspapers.com/before-ellis-island-entering-america-through-castle-garden-1855-1892/

Source: New York Public Library: Drawing c. 1861
1870 Currier and Ives map of Lower Manhattan. Castle Garden is the circular building on the southwest side of the island.
This brief notice, published in 1855 described the arrival experience for immigrants. They registered their names, the amount of money they carried was recorded, and were taken to a bathhouse where up to twenty-four people bathed at the same time, men and women in separate compartments.
An 1884 article in the New York World told the story of Maggie and Mary Slinsby who arrived at Castle Garden from County Tipperary in Ireland. The sisters, aged 9 and 10, traveled alone and were on their way to meet their parents in Urbana, Ohio. The children were wearing cardboard breastplates with their identification.
Prospective immigrants to the United States had to be careful about swindlers who preyed on immigrants unfamiliar with English. This 1884 clipping from the New York Tribune warns of a swindler selling fraudulent railroad tickets.

Documents A-H

A. Sisters Arrive at Castle Garden with Names Painted on Boards Attached Like Breastplates, Boston Globe, September 6, 1884: 4 (reprinted from the New York World)

“Maggie and Mary Slinsby, 9 and 10 years old, from Tipperary, Ireland. arrived at Castle Garden yesterday on the steamer Republic. They are going to their parents in Urbana, O. The most noticeable feature about them was an elaborate, heavy cardboard breast-plate on which the name of each child was neatly printed, evidently by a professional painter. The cards were attached to the body by a profusion of green ribbons. Clerk Kilroy. who took charge of the children, declared the cardboard breast-plates to be “the high – tonedest [sic] affairs he had ever seen at the Garden.”

B. Unaccompanied small children arrive at Castle Garden, The Inter Ocean, Chicago, Illinois, April 17, 1887: 6
“Among the passenger of the steamship Britannic, which arrived at Castle Garden to-day, were two children. James and Annie Morris, 9 and 11 year old. Eight years ago their parent left Ireland to seek fortune in his country. They left their children with a grandmother and recently sent for them. There was no one at the Garden to welcome too children after their long and stormy voyage. Their parents live in Cleveland, Ohio. They were at once notified by telegraph. The children will be cared for at Castle garden until their parents send money for their fare to Cleveland.

C. Three children tagged and shipped to Chicago to meet their father after arriving at Castle Garden, New York Times, August 9, 1887: 3.

“Otto Heinzman, Superintendent of the Castle Garden Landing Bureau, placed tags yesterday on Louisa Schmidt, aged 8, and her brothers, who are twins, several years younger than herself, and shipped them to their father, who resides in Chicago. They arrived at Castle Garden Saturday.”

D. A 10-year-old girl arrives at Castle Garden to reunite with her mother, Boston Globe, September 14, 1887: 4

Among the crowd of immigrants who arrived at Castle Garden today were two more remarkable than the rest. One was a woman over 80 years of age; the other a child of 10. The old woman was going to Elmira to die with her only daughter and two sons. The little girl was on her way to her mother. who is living in Webster, Mass. The two are from the same barony in county Clare, Ireland, but are wholly unknown to each other. The old woman. whose name is Margaret Collins, cannot speak a word of English; but the little girl speaks it with a fluency and vivaciousness that interested everybody in the garden. Her name is Mary Whalen. Twenty-three years ago, Mrs. Collins said, her three children, Patrick. John and Jane, left her and their father to try their fortune in America, and settled in Elmira. Herself and the old man, Pat, remained on the old sod, cultivating the little farm they had held ever since they were married, and on which their children had been born. She received a letter, she said, every Michaelmas. Christmas and Lady day from her children, bringing her money to make herself and the old man comfortable, and to pay the landlord the rent of the little patch of land. But on Lady day last year the old man died, and then she had no one in the old land on whom she could rely. Her children learned of their father’s death and insisted on her coming to this country. One of them, Mrs. Jane Costello, wife of Martin Costello, South Main street, Elmira. is herself a grandmother. As soon as the old lady arrived at Castle Garden word was sent to her children at Elmira, and a grave-looking old gentleman presented himself, stating that he wanted his mother. She was given to him, and be took her away to die amid her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. The other immigrant was born after her father’s death, and, after being nursed for a little over four years by her mother, was left in the care of the nuns at Kilrush. in the County Clare, in which the child was born. Her mother. with her two eider children, boys, at that time immigrated hither and settled in Webster, Mass. Mrs. Whalen worked as a dressmaker and nut her two boys to the tailoring business, and will now be happy in the possession of her little daughter.”

E. “To Meet Her Lover,” The Oakes Times, Oakes, North Dakota, December 12, 1890: 5.

At 5:30 in the morning a well-dressed young woman arrived in Utica from Castle Garden. He had come all this way from a place in western Russia, and was on her way to meet her lover in Duluth, Minn., who had left her two years before to find a home for both of them in the New World. He went to Duluth and became fairly prosperous. As soon as he was able he wrote to his sweetheart and urged her to come to him, but the age and sickness of her parents kept her in Russia until this year. Both her parents having died, the young man sent her tickets to bring her to America, with what was supposed to be sufficient money for the journey. The young woman began her journey more than a month ago, and when she arrived at Castle Garden thought she must be within a few hours’ journey of her friend. She came on to Utica, as stated, and was taken to the Central depot, whence she was to proceed on her journey by another train. She waited about the depot all day, and at night in broken German told Leonard Pruey, the baggage master, that she had not had anything to eat all day, and had only twenty cents in her purse. When she had recited the whole story, and Mr. Pruey told her that instead of a few hours she would yet have several days of travel, her distress was pitiful. The kind hearted baggageman promised to do all he could for her, and began his ministrations by giving her a square meal. He then interested himself in bettering her financial condition, and told Conductor John Unser, of Rome, Watertown and Ogdensburg, about it. Mr. Unser was bound north with his train and made no promises, but early the next morning when he came to Utica again, he gave Mr. Pruey a purse of money which he had collected on his train to help the girl on her way. She finally left Utica, after a delay of about twenty-four hours, with a big bag of provisions and many good wishes.”

F. New immigrants visit bathhouse at Castle Garden, New York Times, August 4, 1855: 1.

“Next, the emigrant is shown to the baths. We join the crowd of males that flock in to the right. Here we find a large room, in the centre of which hang several coarse roller towels, and along the side is a deep trough of running Croton. This is the wash-room. Soap abounds- we hope no motives of niggardly economy will ever make it less plenty. Behind a screen that reaches across the room is the basin for bathing. A dozen or two can be accommodated in it at the same time. Indeed, every facility is granted the new corner, whatever may be his condition on entering it, to leave Castle Garden personally clean. The female bath and wash-room were the counterpart of the male, but as it was in use at the time, we consented to take the statement of our conductor and forego a personal investigation.”

G. “A Pitiful Story, If True,” Oakland Tribune, Oakland, California, January 14, 1879: 3

“An old man yesterday morning appealed to Superintendent Jackson of Castle Garden, for assistance to reach, his home in Hungary. His name is Paul Ostrich, 66 years old. He arrived at Castle Garden, he says, on the steamship Pennsylvania last March, with $500 in money, having been told by immigrant agents in Hungary that he would soon become a wealthy man in America. He was a farmer, and finally hired a few acres of ground in Washington Territory, but on account of lack of rain his crops failed, and he lost everything. He then wandered to San Francisco, and, applying to a German society, was furnished with a ticket to Omaha and $3 in money. Letters were given him by railroad agents in San Francisco to those in Omaha, asking them to help him on, but at Omaha all assistance was refused him. Ostrich then started on foot September 17th for New York, inquiring his way as he went along. With the exception of two nights, when he was entertained by German families, he slept either in the fields or barns. He walked the entire distance to New York barefooted and scantily clothed, his food consisting of bread and pork, which he was able to buy with his small pittance, and which lasted him until a few days ago. Sometimes he picked up a few apples. He could not describe the route by which he came, but remembers passing through Chicago. Upon his arrival here, his limbs were swollen and his feet blistered and sore. Dr. Villaniyi gave him food, doctored his wounds and gave him two dollars. The doctor also took him to a clergyman, who gave him a pair of shoes and a supply of clothing, and then directed him to Castle Garden.

H. A Castle Garden Romance, New York Times, October 1, 1878: 8

“A little over five years ago Michael O’Brien left his wife and four children in Tipperary and came to this country to seek his fortune. For a while he corresponded with and sent money to his family. Suddenly both letters and remittances ceased, and they heard nothing more from him until recently, when his wife received information that he had married again. She immediately resolved to seek him out, and on Wednesday last she and the children landed at Castle Garden from the Bothnia. She knew that he had worked at one time in a dyeing factory at Glenwood, NJ, near Fort Lee; so on Friday she took the boat to the latter place in the hope of tracing him. On the boat she met some persons who knew him, and when they heard her story they directed her to the factory where he was still employed. She walked up to where he was working in ignorance which must have been blissful, and quietly tapped him on the back. She says he confessed his fault with many tears and promised reformation, but she is reticent as to whether any arrangement looking towards a happy reunion was arrived at. The Castle-Garden officials are of the opinion that this is so, and that she is trying to shield him from the consequences of his bigamy and the wrath of her rival.”