This semester we are doing a unit on Slavery and the Civil War for history. Today I wanted to share some of the books and DVDs we used for this part of our unit.
We first talked about the kingdoms of Africa. We began watching the first disc of the documentary, African-Americans: Many Rivers to Cross (affiliate link), which we borrowed from the library. (We stopped there because we hadn’t gotten to the Civil War yet.)
A few years ago, we covered the transatlantic slave trade in quite some depth. These were some of the books we read together… most of them had an incredible impact on the kids. You’ll need to read these and decide for yourself if they are appropriate for your own children.
From Slave Ship to Freedom Road (affiliate link) by Julius Lester — incredible paintings, thought provoking text.
Now Let Me Fly: The Story of a Slave Family (affiliate link) by Dolores Johnson wonderful story that traces a family from Africa to slavery in the USA and forced separation.
The Old African (affiliate link) by Julius Lester a very haunting tale that expresses the horrors of slavery.
The Kidnapped Prince: The Life of Olaudah Equiano (affiliate link) by Olaudah Equiano Adapted By Ann Cameron — This is the true story of an African boy who was kidnapped and sold into slavery. The descriptions of the middle passage and of slavery are powerful. We read this aloud in our homeschool and it is one of the most powerful books we’ve read together!
Story of the Civil War Coloring Book (affiliate link) by Peter Copeland
The Story of the Underground Railroad (affiliate link) by Peter Copeland – This is also a coloring book, but we copied a number of pages from this book too.
It took us nearly a week to read The Kidnapped Prince: The Life of Olaudah Equiano, (affiliate link) but it was well worth it. This autobiography was incredibly powerful and had images that we talked about in great depth. Equiano truly had an amazing life.
This year, we talked about the slave trade and filled out a number of notebook pages that the kids added to their history binders. These are available in our Slavery and the Civil War Packet. We talked a lot about the horrors of the slave ships and talked about the Zong Massacre (which we didn’t talk about several years ago because it was so terrible.) Then we went on to talk about slave auctions, the jobs that slaves had to do, fugitive slaves and the Underground Railroad.
After talking about the Middle Passage (and Triangular Trade), we watched the movie, Amistad. (affiliate link) This was a powerful movie based on the Africans who were kidnapped (in 1839) and brought to the New World. They rebelled, killing many of the sailors on board the slave ship. The ship was then captured in New England and the Africans were put on trial. This movie was powerful and riveting. It is rated R, so I suggest that you preview it before you watch it with kids. There were certain scenes that I did not let my daughters (8 and 10) watch – and I talked with my son (13) about what he would see.
My older two kids read Day of Tears (affiliate link) by Julius Lester. This book is historical fiction, but the setting and plantation owning family are based on fact. It starts with the largest slave auction that took place in Georgia in 1859 and follows the white slave holding family and some of their slaves. It was an easy read and my kids enjoyed it. Note: this book uses the *n* word and you will need to decide how you want to handle that. The kids were moved by the auction scenes and what that did to families.
We also spent time reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin (affiliate link) aloud together. This book had a profound effect on public opinion when it was published in 1852. I felt it was important for the kids to hear some of it. We are about half-way; I’m undecided whether we will finish the book (just because of time, you know!). Because of the (19th century) language style and vocabulary, this is not a book my kids could read on their own, but as a family book they beg for me to continue! The scene where Eliza leaps from ice block to ice block to flee (from slave catchers) across the Ohio River was breath taking for the kids!
One last movie (or book) that you might consider for older middle school or high school students is 12 Years A Slave. (affiliate link) This was based on the true story of a free black man who was kidnapped and sold into slavery. It showed the horrors of being someone’s property and the reality of being worked hard and facing cruel owners. This movie is also rated R; again, I suggest you preview this film to see if it is appropriate for your family. I would *not* recommend this for kids 12 and under because of the cruelty and violence portrayed. That said, it is an incredibly powerful film.
We read a couple of fugitive slave narratives from this book: The Long Walk to Freedom, Runaway Slave Narratives (affiliate link) ed. by Devon Carbado and Donald Weise. You may want to pre-read some of these selections. Some of the descriptions were rough and you will need to decide if these are appropriate for your kids.
We also enjoyed the children’s book about Henry Brown, a slave who mailed himself to freedom: Henry’s Freedom Box (affiliate link)
For younger viewers, my kids really liked Night John and Race to Freedom: The Underground Railroad. (affiliate link) These two movies were on a DVD-set with four films. These movies were riveting but not as disturbing as the two movies I mentioned above. These are appropriate for elementary students (in my opinion). We watched all four films. (We watched them in the car on our travels, errands, etc.)
We also have the documentary Up From Slavery. (affiliate link) We’ve watched selections from this as well. I would probably recommend African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross if I had to choose between the two documentaries, but we’ve learned from this one as well.
Slavery, Territorial/Westward Expansion and the Civil War Unit
Disclosure: Please note that some of the links in this post are affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you decide to make a purchase.
Other History Topics We’ve Studied in the Couple of Years or So:
- American Revolution: Last year we did a big unit on the causes and events leading to the American Revolution.
- Civics and Government: We also did a unit about the 3 branches of government, the responsibilities of each branch, the cabinet as well as the the role of federal vs. state governments.
- Middle Ages: We studied the Middle Ages. (Here are some of the projects and books we used on the Middle Ages.) We talked about Stonehenge, the early Middle Ages (King Arthur, Charlemagne), England and France in the Middle Ages (800-1200), Feudalism , and the Black Plague
- Renaissance & Reformation: Then we moved on to the Renaissance and Reformation.
- After our Slavery & Civil War Unit we’ll continue on with the Reformation again, picking up with Henry VIII.
- For links (and pictures of the various history units/topics/projects we’ve done over the years, see the history tab above)