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In this course, I will be using slave narratives as a foundation for the study of African

American literature. Even though this class has been designed with a regular junior American

Literature class in mind, it can be modified to be taught in order to fit the curriculum of any junior

or high school grade levels. A course like this is needed because with the growing diversity of our

society all students have a chance to learn about other cultures. The best way to learn about

another culture is to read its literature. Today because of Henry Louis Gates, Houston A. Baker,

Nellie Y. McKay, and others, a wealth of material is available for students. In studying this

literature, high school students not only experience a richness of African American literature in

this country, but gain a valuable tool to use in future studies in the whole range of American

literature. This course will fill what now is essentially a void in the average curriculum.

I believe a unique approach is needed for teaching this course. The best way to teach many

literature courses is to teach a survey of main literature in a chronological order showing

development. But for African American literature the approach needs to be somewhat different

because of the circumstances of slavery in America. The African American was cut off from his or

her native language and culture and denied the right to acquire the language and culture of this

country. In fact, it became illegal for slave masters to allow their slaves to learn to read or write.

Therefore, the root of African American literature is oral. Henry Louis Gates, who also places a

high value on the contribution of the oral tradition in African American literature, supplies a good

definition of the “vernacular” in The Norton Anthology African American literature.

In African American literature, the vernacular refers to the church songs, blues, ballads,

sermons, stories, and, in our own era, rap songs that are part of the oral, not primarily the

literature (or written down) tradition of black expression . . . The vernacular encompasses

vigorous, dynamic processes of expression, past and present. It makes up a rich


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storehouse of materials wherein the values, styles, and character types of black American

life are reflected in language that is highly energized and often marvelously eloquent.

Ralph Ellison argued that vernacular art accounts, to a large degree, for the black

American’s legacy of self-awareness and endurance (Gates 1-2).

Gates gives the oral tradition a prominent place in African American literature. The oral

tradition is still a very important part of today’s African American literature. Toni Morrison’s Song

of Solomon supports this theory because the structure of the novel uses the oral tradition.

Someone is telling the reader the story rather than imagining that he or she is reading about it.

Morrison uses the oral tradition to uncover the mystery in the book. Milkman, the main character,

finds himself at the end of the novel when his journey allows him to figure out what the words of

the reoccurring song throughout the story means. In this course I will teach the oral as well as the

written tradition of African American literature in order to give a prominent role to the oral which

has a special influence on African American literature.

Slave Narratives play a major role in African American literature. These are the works

slaves wrote during and after slavery. In recent decades these works have been found and edited

and made accessible by scholars like Henry Louis Gates. Even in the time these works were

written, they received attention because they gave much insight to was actually going on within

the institution of slavery. These Pre-Civil war accounts were published on their own merits. Slave

narratives became part of the main stream of American literature through works such as Harriet

Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Even though slave narratives are important to American

literature and are now available, most students are totally unaware of their existence. In this

course, I will lay the foundation by discussing with my students how slave narratives and the oral

tradition influenced African American literature in history. This course will end with the Harlem
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Renaissance and the work of Zora Neale Hurston. This curriculum can be followed by a second

course in modern and contemporary literature again stressing influence of the oral tradition. What

will follow are ten units that I have developed for this course along with a list of suggested

readings. In the appendix, I am including, by units, the supplemental materials I used when I

taught this class as a pilot version for the Elkhart Community School corporation in the Summer

of 1997. There is a vast amount of valuable materials for teachers interested in teaching this

course. I will include them in the bibliography.

Work Cited

Gates, Henry Louis, Jr., and Nellie Y. Mckay, eds. The Norton Anthology African American

Literature. New York: W. W. Norton, 1997.

Acknowledgments

I would like to give thanks to the following people: Dr. E Lyons who came up with the

idea for this curriculum; Alma Powell who hired me to teach Summer Schoo, in the Elkhart

Community School Corporation, l which gave me an opportunity to teach this course; Patricia
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Lorenc who allowed me the freedom and support to develop a curriculum for the Harlem

Renaissance period while I was doing my student teaching under her management; my students in

the Elkhart School Summer school program who made teaching this course exciting and

enjoyable; Dr. Eileen Bender who by, not lowering her standards, making it very clear to me that

she would only accept quality work, even with the pressures of time restraints, challenged me to

develop an effective curriculum for high school; Marjorie Fuch-Being, Dr. James Blodgett,

Charlotte D. Pfeifer, Rob Lockhart, Sister Ruth Foster, Raymond and Joan Johnson, Mrs. and

Mr. R. L. Melton, Pastor and Mrs. Eddy Miller, Dr. Margaret Scanlan, Mrs. Patricia Sell, Dr.

Doris Walker, and my mother Yvonne Graham and my late grandmother Lucinda Greer-Graham,

who by having faith in my abilities, gave me the strength to undertake such a project.

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Angelou, Maya. Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now. New York: Bantam Books, 1993.
5

Baker, Robert J. (JRB@FSCVAX.WVNET.EDU) “Douglass” E-mail to Graylen Todd Graham


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Hughes, Langston. “Thank You, M’am” Reading Literature The McDougal, Littell English
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Hughes, Langston. “I, Too” Literature and Language ML HM 11 Yellow Level. Evanston,
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Northeastern University Press, 1995.

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1993.

Wong, Harry K., and Rosemary Tripi Wong. The First Days of School How to be an Effective
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Wright, Richard. Native Son. New York: Harper Perennial, 1993.

Zora Is My Name! Dir. Neema Barnette; Teleplay, Ann Wallace; Producer, Iris Merlis; Executive
Producer, Samuel J. Paul. With Ruby Dee, Louis Gossett Jr., Paula Kelly, Roger Mosley, Flip
Wilson. PBS 213, 1989.

General Classroom Methodology

In teaching this course general classroom methodology is essential for student success.

Introduction to African American literature is a good human relations course. Since students have

different backgrounds, the teacher must be prepared for the different attitudes and baggage

students will bring in the first day of class. The goal of this class is to build mutual understanding

of this course as well as one another. Literature helps us know more about other cultures. Class

discussion will consist of things that will shape and change attitudes. In order to do this, students

most learn to work together cooperatively. Cooperative learning will also aid the teacher in

setting high expectations for students’ learning by requiring them to have a high responsibility to

be active in their own learning. Group work will help develop students’ responsibility for their

own learning as well as make them active participants. Students will have an individual and

collaborative responsibility in this class. This responsibility is challenging because learning is now

up to the students. Personal growth will stem from developing self responsibility. Working

collaboratively will also be beneficial to the bulk of material that will be covered in this course.

I will use Harry K. Wong’s theory of cooperative learning in this course. Teachers should

not assume that their students know how to work cooperatively in groups. The procedure and

importance for cooperative learning should be explained to students before breaking them up into
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small groups. Students should be made aware that in life they “will be working with many

different combinations of people on committees, in groups, and on project teams for different

lengths of time” (Wong 249). I would inform students that their individual groups would be

called “support groups” and that their partners would be considered “support persons.” I will also

make them aware that each person in the support group will be assigned a duty and that the

number of members in for each group project would be determine by the number of duties needed

to successfully complete each assignment. For instance, I would break the class into groups of

three if I needed a recorder, a reader, and a presenter. After completing the assignment each

group’s’ presenters would be asked to present their findings to the whole class. Also, “each time

the class is divided into groups, the length of the group activity will depend on the nature of the

activity . . . When the activity is finished, the group will be disbanded” (Wong 249). I would also

inform students that since they were all making the same “salary” it was important that each

member perform his or her duty well in order for the group to be successful. If an individual has a

question concerning the material or the assignment, he or she must first seek the assistance of

their support person rather than asking the teacher. If none of the members of the group is able to

answer the question than the group, as a committee, must formulate a specific question to present

to the teacher. It is important that students learn that they can only solve a problem by knowing

what the specific problem is. Cooperative learning is also a good way to cover a lot of material in

a short period. There is so much material in this course that no one could cover all of it

individually. With the mass and nature of material in this course, classroom management is also

essential.

I would use the following procedure for starting the class found in Harry K. Wong’s The

First Days of School. When the students first walked into my class, I’d informed them that they
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would find their names on their assigned seats for the semester. I would also let them know that

the seating arrangement was subject to change as I got to know them better. I would discuss a

couple of procedures they needed to follow in my class. One of the procedures I’d ask them to

observe would be a daily assignment on which I’d wanted them to get started immediately when

they first entered my room. I would point to the assignment I had already written on the board

and assure them that they would find a new assignment each day written in the same place. I

would inform them that I was doing this to instill in them the fact that I started my class and not

the bell. While the students are completing this assignment, I would be able to take attendance

and as well as perform other duties required of the teacher before class. Then I could direct my

full attention to my students. With the mass of material needing to be covered in this class, this

procedure aids in not wasting valuable class time as well as helping my students to begin focusing

on the day’s lesson. Students will also learn vocabulary in the context of the material presented. I

will assign vocabulary words at the beginning of each unit. I will explain to students that by

defining the word, they will have a better understanding of the material. I have found that when

students work together in group vocabulary workshops, they as a whole do better on individual

vocabulary tests. Students will be required to take a vocabulary test at the end of each unit.

Duties of Group Vocabulary workshops:


1.) One member of the group will be responsible for finding the vocabulary words in the
story.
2.) One member of the group will be responsible for looking up the definition in the
dictionary that comes closest to how the words are used in the story.
3.) One member of the group will be responsible for finding words in the thesaurus with
the same meaning as the vocabulary words.
4.) One member of the group will be responsible for writing out, with help from the others in
the group, sentences using the new words. Each new word must be used in a separate
sentence.
5.) Each group will turn in one copy of the sentences using the new words.

Note: Each member of the group must have his or her name on the copy in order to get credit
for the group assignment. The group has the right to remove from the sheet being turned
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in the name of any member who has not shared equally in participation.
6.) Each group member must have a copy of the vocabulary definitions, because he or she will
be required to turn them in the day of the vocabulary test.

An example: “With a supreme effort; Jamel’s father reached out and held him tight.”
Dictionary definition of the word supreme: ultimate (the~sacrifice)
New words found in the thesaurus: highest/utmost
The example of sentence using the new word: With the utmost effort, Lynn made sure she got to
school on time.

Unit One: The Oral Tradition

Questions: 1.) What part did slave narratives play in American history?
2.) Why did the authors write? (What were their motivations/purposes?)
3.) What is the message of the Negro Spirituals?
4.) Who are the characters and what part (role) do they play in the song?

Background Information on Slave Narratives

When I first started working on the curriculum for African American literature, I wasn’t

very familiar with slave narratives. I knew a lot about the Harlem Renaissance period because I

had taught it before. While looking for criticism on Gloria Naylor’s Linden Hills, I came across a

book entitled African American Writers by Valerie Smith, which had a very informative chapter on

slave narratives. The African American Writers gave me the background knowledge I needed to

develop a concrete understanding of slave narratives. In order to lay the foundation for my

students to gain a better concept of African American literature. It soon became apparent to me

that I could not effectively understand (not alone teach) African American Literature unless I had

a strong concept of the oral as well as the written tradition of slave narratives. Valerie Smith’s

chapter entitled “The Slave Narrative in American Literature,” Identifies are some major recurring

elements in slave narratives. I must caution that it would be ludicrous to assume that these

elements would be found in all slave narratives. The collection of works is too complex for such

simplicity. However, Smith’s formula provides a useful introductory approach and aided in giving
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me a more concrete understanding of slave narratives.

First, there is the narrator. The narrator is the story teller who is reflecting back on his or

her cruel experience as a slave as well as the events that led up to actually reaching the land of

freedom. There are some exceptions such as Phillis Wheatley who was encouraged by her master

to write poetry while she was still a slave. Second, the narrator attributes his or her successful

journey to divine intervention which usually includes people who symbolize angels aiding in the

escape. There is allusion to the Bible, especially to the story of Moses and the Israelites, because

of the similarities to the black slave experience. Also, as Smith points out, “It is well-known that

many slave narratives originated in an oral tradition that depended on formulaic patterns to

facilitate the speaker’s memory” (Smith 410). Slave narratives were usually told orally and

written down later because it was illegal to teach slaves how to read or write.

Slaves wrote their stories for two main reasons. First, according to Smith, by sharing their

experiences, they were trying to appeal to the sympathetic nature of whites, especially white

women, who were in a position to help them (slaves) out of their cruel circumstances. Slave

narrators used certain themes, in their writings, as a vehicle to gain sympathetic support from

white Females. Blacks wanted to dispel the “prominently accepted false impression of the ‘happy

slaves’” (Smith 403). “The happy-go-lucky, shallow-paced, subservient creature who spoke in a

thick dialect was no longer an acceptable representation of the black man” (Stern 9). According to

Gayle Dantzler, “America has promoted the myths . . . America has not taught its children that

slavery is our national shame, bestowed by our Founding Fathers, paid for with blood for more

than 200 years” (Dantzler). A slave like Olaudah Equiano felt “very self-conscious about thrusting

his life story before a predominantly white readership,” but he knew that their support was

essential for social change (Smith 397). Stern states in her introduction to The Annotated Uncle
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Tom’s Cabin, “although fiction is not called upon to right the wrongs of the world, once in a great

while a novel does bring to public attention something which badly needs correction . . . The

novel of social protest has done much to improve the condition of mankind” (Stern 11).

Others like Henry Louis Gates Jr. believe that slaves wrote for reasons other than to

change the status quo. According to Gates, they were trying to prove to the world, through their

narratives, that blacks were just as intellectual as whites.”Godwyn’s account of the claims that

Africans were not human beings and his use of the possession of reason and its manifestations

through ‘Reading and Writing’ to refute these claims were widely debated during the

Enlightenment, generally at the African’s expense” (Gates xxix). As Gates suggests, “African

American slaves, remarkably, sought to write themselves out of slavery by mastering the Anglo-

American belletristic tradition” (Gates xviii). The third edition of The American heritage

Dictionary defines the word “belletristic” as “literature regarded for its artistic value rather than

for content.” Gates believes that African American slaves were able to master literature for art’s

sake. If one found value that could aid in bringing forth social change than that was fine but the

author’s work was intended for artistic purposes only. It is amazing how people who were denied

literacy were able to master the art of literature through the oral tradition. Some perfected that art

so well orally that they were able to maintain the work of art until they became literate so that

they could write their stories down.

I also discovered that many proslavery activists supported slavery because they believed

that blacks were intellectually inferior to whites and that their only valuable contribution to

society was in the status of a servant. On the other hand, antislavery activists also augured the

opposite. “For example, reviewers of Wheatley’s book argued that the publication of her poems

meant that the African was indeed a human being and should not be enslaved” (Gates xxxii). Even
16

though slave narrators’ stories helped to change social consciousness, Gates did not believe that

this was their intended purpose.

Slave narrators used certain themes in their writings as a vehicle to gain sympathetic

support from white females. Many white women could sympathize with the theme of an immoral

breakup of the family and sexual abuse toward a female slave. Literature like Uncle Tom’s Cabin

“was especially effective with women readers, because the book showed how helpless females

slaves were in that essential part of their lives which had to do with sex, marriage, childbearing”

(Stern 8). “Domesticity and family relations were often exploited as a rhetorical strategy by which

predominantly female, white audiences would be able to identify with the wrenching horror of

family disruption among the black slaves”( Smith 402). Even though Harriet Beecher Stowe was

raised in an abolitionist family who ingrained in her strong anti-slavery views, it wasn’t until after

the death of her own son that she could identify her own grief with that of a slave mother whose

child was forcibly taken away from her. She is quoted as saying, “‘it was at his dying bed and at

his grave that I learned what a poor slave mother may feel when her child is torn away from her’”

(Ammons viii).

The work of Harriet Jacobs was very descriptive in painting a vivid picture of the turmoil

slave mothers went through on auction day held on the first of January. Harriet Jacobs recounts

her experience of “the hideous scenes of the slave auctions, where families are divided by the

auctioneer’s hammer” (Smith 408). Many slave narrators also described their internal sense of

helplessness concerning their masters’ sexual misconduct toward them. In Incidents in the Life of

a Slave Girl, Jacobs writes of her feelings of helplessness, at the age of fifteen, when she was

sexually pursued by her fifty-five-year-old master. The jealous nature of the master’s wife made it

impossible for young Harriet Jacobs to find refuge in her. Even male slave narrators focused on
17

the cruel mistreatment of female slaves to gain sympathetic support from white female readers.

“An important theme in Douglass’ accounts of the brutal whipping of his aunt are that of sexual

abuse of female slaves” (Smith 407). This seems to be a good strategy since the majority of these

who read books were American white women. These issues are important in introducing this first

unit.

Goals: Introducing slave narratives and other oral literature to my students by bridging their
current knowledge with the new information.

Notes: Negro spirituals, like other great works, have a surface (external) meaning which is
obvious to the listener and a deeper (complex) meaning which isn’t so apparent.
The double meaning of the songs was a safe vehicle for slaves to use in order to
communicate with one another. It was illegal for slaves to congregate without a
white person being present. Since most slaves were illiterate, they couldn’t write
notes to each other. Besides the threat of a note being discovered would have been
very dangerous. Not only was it safer for slaves to communicate orally but it was a
more naturel form of communication because the African language was of the oral
tradition. Each song had a different meaning. The slave on one plantation could
hear other slaves from another plantation sending them a message through song.
The master and the overseers just assume that the slaves were just singing a
spiritual hymn while they labored in the field.

Themes & Ideas: Overcoming overwhelming obstacles


A.) illiteracy
B.) The status quo
Slave narratives written or told by slaves who have already escaped (by divine
intervention) and are reflecting back on their experiences.

Vocabulary: Abolitionist
allusion
belletristic
dialectical
eloquent
exploited
hideous
narrative
narrator
rhetorical
sympathetic
18

vernacular

Activities & Assignments:

A lot of my students don’t have any idea what slave narratives are. Students will confirm my

suspicion by not being able to answer questions one and two above. Afterwards, I will inform my

students that I wasn’t surprised since I knew very little about slave narratives when I was a junior

in high school. I will also assure them that they would be able to successfully complete the

assignment before the end of class today. Giving my students a good understanding of slave

narratives will be essential in their foundation for understanding African American literature. I will

tell my students that slave narratives were written by slaves. I will also inform my students that

slave narratives began in the oral tradition because most slaves couldn’t read or write. I will write

on the board elements to look for, compiled by Smith, in order to recognize a slave narrative. I

will also have students stand up and talk to their neighbor to confirm their understanding of what

elements to look for in a slave narrative. I will also have one of the students look up the definition

of the word “allusion.”

Smith’s Elements of Slave Narratives:

a.) a story teller speaking in the first person


b.) Reflecting back on their experiences after reaching the promised land
c.) written to appeal to the conscience of white women
1 immoral breakup if the black family (January first audience day)
2 misconduct of the master and sexual abuse (focusing on the slave woman)
3. severe punishment and treatment of slaves
d.) the escape of the slave
e.) divine intervention of God or higher power
f.) crossing the Ohio River (Jordan River)
g.) Freedom.

Allusion: Indirect or casual references to other works


19

Moses: Narrative
Pharaoh: Slave Master
Egyptians: Whites who are involved in maintaining slavery
Israelite: Slaves
Angels: Abolitionist movement (Anti-Slavery movements, underground railroad) The
Quakers
Daniel: Slaves who made it to the promise land
Every man: Slaves who are in bondage
We: Slaves.

Oral Tradition Quotation from Gates


For slaves the concept of the sacred signified a strong will incorporate ‘within
this world all the elements of the divine.’ The songs were sung not just in ritual
worship but throughout the day meant that they served as powerful shields against
the values of the slave holders and their killing definitions of black humanity. For
one thing, along with a sense of the slaves’ personal self-worth as children of a
mighty God, the spirituals offered them much-needed psychic escape from the
workaday world of slavery’s restrictions and cruelties. Certainly, ‘this world is
not my home’ was a steady theme in the spirituals, one that offered its
singer/hearers visions of a peaceful, loving realm beyond the one in which they
labored. Some of the songs bespoke the dream of flying away, leaving the world
of care behind” (Gates 5).

CD: By playing songs from the CD on the oral tradition, included with The Norton Anthology
African American Literature, students will receive the background knowledge needed to
connect their prior knowledge with the new information. With the aid of the CD booklet, I
was able to give an introduction to each song before I played them.

Quotes From The Norton Anthology African American Literature CDBooklet

Go Down, Moses
“In this freedom song of African American slaves, identification with the Old Testament Jews,
with Moses, and with a wrathful, protective God is direct and powerful. The intensity of his
delivery of these powerful lyrics (LET MY PEOPLE GO!) makes it clear why slave holders
threatened to punish any slave heard singing this song” (Norton CD Booklet).

Been in the Storm So Long

“This Negro spiritual offers religious testimony along with lightly veiled notes of protest. It sees
life as a long storm through which one’s travels yearning for a little time to oneself (always in
short supply to the slaves)-time for peace and prayer and reflection upon deliverance into a just
and quiescent, comforting the realm of God. Such ‘escapist’ songs offered slaves the consoling
20

promise of a better world from which escape was a powerful motive” (Norton CD Booklet).

Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel?

“This song of slavery and freedom again appropriates an Old Testament seer and strong man of
God, Daniel, as a heroic exemplar. Like Jonah and the ‘Hebrew Children’-also often the hero of
the spirituals-Daniel was protected by ‘my Lord’ and delivered from confinement and danger:
‘Why not every man?’” (Norton).

Steal Away to Jesus

“Like ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,’ this song is often singled out by historians of slavery as a
signal song for slaves planning to attempt escape: ‘I ain’t got long to stay here.’ If so, its tune
must have been signal enough, for it is hard to imagine slaves singing out loud about stealing
anything-least of all their freedom. The lyrics here are magnificent in their compressed eloquence:
‘My Lord, He calls me, / He calls me by thunder, / The trumpet sounds within-a my soul, / I ain’t
got long to stay here.’ Even for those not specifically planning to run away, ‘Steal Away’ testified
to the desire for private time with Jesus and to the assurance that the Day of Judgment would
bring retribution to sinners ‘a-trembling’ and, for the righteous, a sanctuary of peace and rest at
‘home’ in Heaven” (Norton CD Booklet).

Take My Hand, Precious Lord

“‘Take My Hand, Precious Lord’ was written out of the anguish of the family tragedy. Her skillful
embellishment . . . and the overall intensity of her performance makes her a storyteller of a very
soulful order. Like the song of slavery, the story told here is of a ‘weak,’ ‘worn’ stormy life and
nighttime cries for God to ‘take my hand,’ to ‘lead me home,’ This tremendously moving funeral
song- and standard church song for all occasions-mixed a tragic sense of life with the triumphal
assurance of spiritual comfort and release” (Norton CD Booklet).
.
Activities & Assignments:

Students will break up into small groups in order to answer questions three
and four for each song they hear on the Norton CD. Then each group will present their
findings to the class. After each presentation, I had each individual complete the original
assignment on the board (answering questions one and two) in order to check their
understanding of slave narratives.

Unit Two: The Slave Narrator


Questions: 1.) What part did slave narratives play in American history?
2.) Why did the authors write? (What was their motivation/purpose?)
21

3.) To whom were the authors writing and why?


4.) Why is it important for someone to want to tell their own personal story
even when they don’t really know who would want to listen to it?

Possible answers: To come to terms with who he or she is. To get a sense of oneself.
The art of telling is the act of self creation.
To be remembered.
In order for the world to know what is actually going on
Some people write for a sense of injustice. Maybe if someone could read
their story maybe change could come.

Questions: What driving force caused thousands of slaves, most of who had to either learn
to read or write or rely on someone else to write down their story for them, to
want to tell their story?

Answers: To write themselves into being to justify themselves to themselves in order to


find self-identityy.

Gates suggests, “African American slaves, remarkably, sought to write


themselves out of slavery by mastering the Anglo-American belletristic tradition”
(Gates xviii).
Smith writes that slave narrators’ writings were intended for social change.

Slave Narrative Quote from Smith


The slave narrative also shares the ‘before’ and ‘after’ structure of the spiritual
autobiography. Each account is focused on experience of a protagonist who
speaks in the first person, and the protagonist’s point of view is that of a freed
person looking back on the experience of chattel slavery. This movement from
slavery to freedom in the contact afforded by hindsight gives each narrative a
curiously ironic tone: the writer searches into the harsh reality of his or her
personal past in order to establish the condition of slavery from which the later
portions of the narrative will illustrate a blessed deliverance (Smith 396).

Background information on the Narrative of Olaudah, Alex Haley’s Roots

I discovered Olaudah Equiana and Harriet Jacobs in the chapter on slave narratives in

African American Writers. This chapter also gave me a better understanding of Frederick

Douglass’ “Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Written by Himself” in

The Norton Anthology African American Literature. There is also a good introduction to these

three writers in the anthology. As I stated earlier, I was now getting a better general understanding
22

of the purpose behind the writings of the slave narratives as well as common reoccurring themes

suggested by Smith. Slave narrators were writing to share their experience for support of whites

for social change. Olaudah Equiana’s narrative is a perfect example of someone, who had been a

black slave, writing in order to prove to white audiences that blacks were intellectually equal to

white writers by being capable of writing just as well as they do. This supports Gates’ theory that

black slaves had the ability of “mastering the Anglo-American belletristic tradition” (Gates xviii).

Also, the two central themes, the splitting up the black family and cruel physical sexual abuse of

slave women are found in the work of Equiana and Jacobs.

Equiana’s “The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa,

the African, Written by Himself” deals with the biculture identification of slaves. Olaudah Equiano

or Gustavus Vassa’s two names are a perfect “example of what W. E. B. Du Bois would call

‘double-consciousness’- the African American’s fateful sense of ‘twoness’ born of a bicultural

identification with both an African heritage and a European education” (Gates 139). At first

Equiano was beaten for not answering to the new name his white master had given him. I believe

that this was Equiana’s way of hanging onto his own identity which was his rich family heritage.

This is similar to blacks today who hang onto their black dialect because they view standard

English as a threat to their identity. Not only did Equiana’s superiors take his freedom from him

but they also wanted to strip Equiana of his identity. Equiana discovered by mastering the

European literary method he was able to thrust “his white reader into the mind and heart of a

black youth innocent of the monstrous injustice that was about to befall him” (Gates 141). Many

black writers have been taken more seriously when they tell their story in the standard form. The

two names of Equiana are a good indication that Equiana was able to tell his story by mastering

the standard form while maintaining his own identity. This is similar to blacks today who are
23

bidialectical. I will be able to convey to my class the importance of assimilating into one’s society

while being able to maintain one’s culture at the same time. It is very important that students

understand that Equiana’s need to tell his story was so great that he was willing to master the

education of another culture in order to do so. I would ask my students whether Smith’s or Gates’

theory best describes Equiana’s motivation.

Alex Haley’s Roots has some similarities to the work of Equiana. It also became apparent

to me that both authors felt the importance of sharing African mannerisms, customs, and family

structure by writing in detail about these things. Both authors were trying to convey to the reader

the black identity and family structure that whites have stolen from the slaves as well as their

freedom. The theme of splitting up the family is a central theme in both books. Both authors also

give a vivid account of the fear of Africans, who had never seen a white man when they first came

in contact with whites. Both authors were trying to convey to the reader that Africans found

whites and European culture just as strange as whites viewed blacks and African culture. This

supports the theory that literature helps us know more about other cultures. Being able to connect

to the slaves’ experiences helps us to understand the humanity of someone else. The writings were

so descriptive students are able to share in the narrator’s first encounter with white people. Both

authors also gave a very descriptive detail of the horrible boat trip coming from Africa, so terrible

that many captives would have committed suicide if they hadn’t been prevented by the white crew

members. Equiano writes that one African man who had tried to comment suicide was stopped by

the ship’s crew, and they “afterwards flogged him unmercifully for attempting to prefer death to

slavery” (Gates 159). Equiano felt that his meanest African masters treated him far better than the

nicest white master. This was immediately apparent to Equiano when he first arrived in Virginia

County at the age of twelve, and encountered a woman chained to the stove with an iron machine
24

on her head (Iron Muzzle) which prevented her from eating or speaking. Such experience that

slaves wrote about were more powerful than any historian could produce. They were able to give

a first-hand account of what it was like to be black in America. This group of people, who had

their humanity as well as their freedom taken away from them, wrote eloquently to define

themselves against blind stereo types.

Goals: I want students to be able to answer the four questions at the head of the unit in order to
demonstrate their understanding of why slave narrators wrote. Students will be able to
connect the article, entitled “Anonymous” with slave narratives. It is important the
students understand that the success of slave narrators was due to how elegantly these
exslaves were able to give personal testimony to the white world about how it was to be a
black slave in America.

Themes & Ideas: The experiences of ancestors being passed down from generation to
generation preserved in the oral tradition until those narratives could be
written down. Alex Haley’s Roots is a prefect example of this. These
narrators shared what it was like to be black in America victimized by the
status quo of the time.
Vocabulary: bicultural
captives
heritage
illustrate
protagonist
status quo
Activities & Assignment:

Students will be assigned to read an article on their desk entitled “Anonymous,” and to

write a reading response. This article is about an old man who sees a young man who is walking

at dawn along the sea shore, picking up starfishes which have washed up on the shore, and

throwing them back into the sea. When the old man asks the youth why he was doing this, the

young man explains that his is saving their lives before they die. The old man explains to the youth

that there are millions of starfishes washed up on the shore and that he small deeds couldn’t make
25

much of a difference. The young man looks at the starfish in his hand, then flings it into the sea

and answers “‘it makes a difference to this one’” (Anonymous). In short, this article is about every

individual’s contribution can make a difference to someone no matter how small it may seem

differ from the status quo. I would then ask my students to write a response about how this

article ties in with narrators and abolitionists who were outnumbered in their efforts to bring

social change by rebelling against the status quo. Students will use what they have learned about

slave narratives to complete the assignment. Afterwards I would give an introduction on Olaudah

Equiano or Gustavus Vassa and Alex Haley. Assign the class an oral reading of the following

works in their textbook.

Readings: Equiano, Olaudah. “From Africa to America” Literature and Language ML HM


11 Yellow Level. Evanston, Illinois: McDougal Littell/Houghton Mifflin, 1994.
Haley, Alex. “From Roots” Literature and Language ML HM 11 Yellow Level
Evanston, Illinois: McDougal Littell/Houghton Mifflin, 1994. article, entitled
“Anonymous”

I will go over the question discussed at the beginning of this unit, and I
Activities & Assignment:
will have the students write a reading response, on both stories, by
answering the four questions.

Example: Students’ Writing Response


What was Equiano’s purpose in writing about his experience? Explain your answer.

Student Response:

Equiano’s story was written to show the despair in the newly-captured, soon-to-be slaves on their
journey from the homeland to the hate-land. We learn of their shrieks of agony and inhumane
travel conditions as well as the derogating auction. The obviously clear expression, “no where to
run” effected the captives’ mentality and cause many to suicide while the fighting instinct in
Equiano and the others survivors caused them to continue on. This is why he wrote the story.

Equiano’s purpose in writing about his experience was to let people know how the slaves were
treated.

Equiano’s purpose in writing was to inform everyone of the horror and suffering of his journey.
He wanted to show the world how cruelly the slaves were treated.
26

Equiano’s purpose in writing was to show the horrific truth.

Equiano’s purpose in writing was to let us know how it feels to be captured and sold into slavery.

Equiano’s purpose for writing this story about his life in slavery is to let everyone know how
terrifying it was to be a slave.

Equiano’s purpose in writing was to tell of his experience coming over.

So that others would understand how terrible it was.

Equiano’s purpose for writing was to let the world know how terrible the slave situation was. He
wanted to paint a picture in peoples’ head so that they would put a stop to slavery.

So we can understand better the horror that they went through and how wrong it was.

I feel that Equiano’s purpose was to show us how it is to be on a slave ship and how it feels to be
captured at such a young age and how they were treated when they got off the ship.

Unit Three: Contribution of Women to Slave Narrative


Questions: 1.) What part did female slave narratives play in American history?
2.) Why did the authors write? (What was their motivation/purpose?)
3.) To whom were the authors writing and why?

Goals: Students will be able to use the material to answer the three questions on the board. The
students should also be able to demonstrate in their writings whether they support Gates’
or Smith’s theory on why slave narrators were writing.

Themes & Ideas: The experiences of ancestors being passed down from generation to
generation preserved in the oral tradition until those narratives could be
written down. Sojourner Truth is a prefect example of this. These
narrators shared what it was like to be black in America victimized by the
status quo of the time.

Vocabulary: abomination
controversial
elegiac
enigmatic
fugitive
indisputable
Quaker
segregation
unconditional
27

Background information on the Narrative of Wheatley and Truth

Going over students’ responses to Equiano’s work would be a good review of the

previous unit and a good bridge to introduce the works of Phillis Wheatley and Sojourner Truth.

Unlike the men, these women were able to give a first hand account of what it was like to be a

black woman in America. Wheatley was actually “the first African American to publish a book and

the first to achieve an international reputation as a writer” (Gates 164). From the beginning,

Wheatley’s work has been under a lot of controversy. At first, proslavery defenders argued that

she couldn’t have written her poems by herself because blacks were incapable of such eloquent

work. They felt that blacks were inferior people who were only capable of contributing physical

labor to the good of society and definitely unable to produce quality literature. These critics

believed blacks “lacked the imagination, originality, and vision to qualify as fully human, the

equals of whites. Wheatley’s landmark volume of poetry challenged these prejudices (Gates 165).

The general public had to be convinced that Wheatley had actually written her own poems

without the aid of white influence. Wheatley has also been criticized for not using her talents to

aid abolitionists. This criticism would support Gates’ “belletristic literature” theory that slave

narrators wrote only for the sake of artistic value. Smith argues that “Wheatley does address the

issue of slavery, that her work manifests a keen awareness of her African heritage, and that, rather

than composing derivative or imitative verse, she constructs a highly original, even revolutionary

poetics that prefigures British and Continental romanticism” (Smith 473). Proof of this can be

found in Wheatley’s “On Being Brought From Africa.” In this work even though Wheatley give
28

thanks to the white Christians that converted her, but she also criticizes those Christians who

condone slavery. This was a very bold and radical statement for a woman in Wheatley’s time and

situation.

Sojourner Truth is a prefect example of a narrator whose work was preserved in the oral

tradition until it could be written down. Truth never wrote down any of her speeches because she

was illiterate. She was a product of slavery. So other people wrote down Truth’s speeches word

for word persevering her black vernacular which was her black identity. Truth once said “‘I

cannot read a book, but I can read the people’” (Gates 197). Truth was an evangelist who God

had changed her name from Isabella to Sojourner Truth so that she could travel across the country

speaking the truth of the evils of slavery. Even though she was “not an eloquent speaker, she was

dramatic and very effective” (Altman 69). She was asked to join the antislavery activists in

Massachusetts by “earning fame for her ability to deliver folksy as well as fiery speeches that

denounced slavery as a moral abomination tempting the wrath of God on America” (Gates 197).

“I have borne thirteen children and seen them almost


all sold off into slavery, and when I cried out with my
mother’s grief none but Jesus heard.” -Sojourner Truth

Activities & Assignment:


The assignment the students would find on the board, when they first arrive, is to read the article
written by Gayle Dantzler entitled “Truth about slavery Must Come Before an Apology” and
“Tobacco’s Story in Intertwined With Slavery’s” written by Derrick Z. Jackson. Along with this
assignment, they would be assigned to write a reading response answering the above three
questions.

I would divide students into groups. The first group would read Ferris’ Walking the Road to
Freedom and write a reading response answering the three questions written on the board. Then
they would have to present their findings to the class and take turns reading aloud the book to the
class.

I would divide the six biographies, in Altman’s Extraordinary Black Americans, among the other
29

two groups. They would also read the material and write a reading response answering the three
questions. Then they would have to present their findings to the class. For the sake of time, I
would prefer that these two groups just give a summary on the material they read. They are
welcome to read excerpts in order to support their summaries.

The next three groups had to do the same exact assignment as the first group reading Hopkinson’s
Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt. and the other group reading Porter’s Meet Addy and the
third group reading Porter’s Addy Saves the Day.

Before the oral reading, I would give an introduction on Wheatley and Truth with the intent of
covering the information that either of the groups didn’t mention. Afterward, I would assign
Truth, Sojourner. “Ain’t I a Woman?” Literature and Language ML HM 11 Yellow Level.
Evanston, Illinois: McDougal Littell/Houghton Mifflin, 1994.

Readings:
Gayle Dantzler’s “Truth about slavery Must Come Before an Apology” and “Tobacco’s Story in
Intertwined With Slavery’s” written by Derrick Z. Jackson Hopkinson’s Sweet Clara and the
Freedom Quilt Porter’s Meet Addy and the third group reading Porter’s Addy Saves the Day.
Six biographies from in Altman’s Extraordinary Black Americans; Lucy Terry Prince, Phillis
Wheatley, Elizabeth Freeman, Underground Railroad, Harriet Tubman, and Sojourner Truth.
Truth, Sojourner. “Ain’t I a Woman?” Literature and Language ML HM 11 Yellow Level.
Evanston, Illinois: McDougal Littell/Houghton Mifflin, 1994.

Unit Four: Frederick Douglass

Questions: 1.) What part did slave narratives play in American history?
2.) Why did the authors write? (What was their motivation/purpose?)
3.) To whom were the authors writing to and why?

Goals: Frederick Douglass shared what it was like to be black in America victimized by
the status quo of the time. Focusing on question number two will help students
determine what was the driving force behind Douglass’s work. The material
covered in this unit will help students to answer the three questions.

Themes & Ideas: Douglass felt such a need to share his story he had to teach himself to read
and write in order to do so.

Answers: To write themselves into being to justify themselves to themselves in order to


find self-identity.

Gates suggest, “African American slaves, remarkably, sought to write


themselves out of slavery by mastering the Anglo-American belletristic tradition”
(Gates xviii).

Smith writes that slave narrators writings were intended for social change.
30

Vocabulary: chastisement
conceding
constitution
enfranchisement
deprivation
disposition
fugitive
manifested
peculiar

Background information on Frederick Douglass

After escaping from slavery, Douglass was asked to speak at an anti-slavery convention.

The crowd was struck with how elegantly this exslave was able to give a personal testimony of

how it was to be a black slave in America. One listener stated,

I never hated slavery so intensely as at that moment; certainly, my perception of the


enormous outrage which is inflicted by it, on the godlike nature of its victims, was
rendered far more clear than ever . . . I appealed to them, whether they would ever allow
him to be carried back into slavery, -law or no law, constitution or no constitution. The
response was unanimous and in thunder-tones ”NO!” (Gates 303).

Douglass had spoken so eloquently that many had a difficult time believing that he had ever been

a slave. So Douglass was encouraged to write to validate his experiences by writing Narrative of

the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Written by Himself. Other believed that

Douglass’ speaking talent was a good indication that he would be very effective in the abolitionist

movement. Douglass like the other narrators shared with the general white public what it was like

to be a black slave in America. Since Douglass’ father was white, he was also able to share the

double relation slave had to endure because many slaves were both “servants and children to their

master and father” (Smith 403). Even though Douglass was not a black woman, he was still able

to share a child’s point of view of seeing the abuse of a female relative.

The seven-year-old Douglass learns what it means to be a slave by witnessing the

flogging of his aunt . . . The experience of young Douglass; the scene itself and the
31

injustice perpetrated on the powerless victim of this sexual and physical abuse belongs to

the narrative’s intended purpose of revealing to a primarily white audience the evils

inflicted on black slaves by their perverted masters and overseers” (Smith 405-406).

Frederick Douglass had also “dedicated his leadership to the ideal of building a racially integrated

America in which skin color would cease to determine an individual’s social value and economic

options” (Gates 299). Douglass “had come to realize his need for an anchor in the northern black

community if he was ever to achieve a fully liberated sense of self” (Gates 301). Douglass seemed

to be motivated by both Gates’ and Smith’s theory of why slave narrators wrote. Frederick

Douglass as well as other slave narrators literary work, whether or not it was only intended for

artistic value only, help to change the consciousness of the American public which lead to

changing the status quo. Understanding this concept will help students to see that impact that

slave narratives had on American history.

Readings: Frederick. Douglass “Untie His Hands” Literature and Language ML HM 11

Yellow Level. Evanston, Illinois: McDougal Littell/Houghton Mifflin, 1994.

Altman’s Extraordinary Black Americans on Frederick Douglass. Advertisements

on slave auctions advertising adult male and female as well as children slave and

runaway slaves.

Activities & Assignment: The assignment the students would find on the board the next time they

arrive is to read the bibliographies in Altman’s Extraordinary Black Americans on Frederick

Douglass. I would also pass out advertisements on slave auctions advertising adult male and

female as well as children slaves and runaway slaves. I would have written an appropriate writing

response assignment. Then I would give an introduction to Frederick Douglass, a runaway slave,

who “took his first covertly rebellious steps by teaching himself to read and write” (Gates 300).
32

“For Douglass, the value and importance of literacy in gaining his freedom was never in question”

(Smith 400). After my introduction, I would assign the class to read orally, Frederick. Douglass’

“Untie His Hands” I would have the students focus on the three questions asked throughout our

unit on slave narratives. Either a quiz or an oral class discussion would be appropriate for this

assignment in order to determine whether or not I reached my goal.

Unit Five: Frances E. Harper’s Contribution to Slave Narrative


Reconstruction Post Civil War Period

Questions: 1.) What part did slave narratives play in American history?
2.) Why did the authors write? (What was their motivation/purpose?)
3.) To whom were the authors writing to and why?

4.) Why was narrators’ use of Biblical allusion a very power tool for their
cause?
Goals: Students will be able to understand why narrators’ use of Biblical allusion was very
power tool for their cause. Students will be developing their skills in using comparison
contrast analysis by fining similarities and difference in the works of Stowe’s and
Harper’s version of Eliza’s flight. Students will be able to answer questions one thru
three by reading Harper’s Aunt Chloe poems.

Themes & Ideas: Harper’s Aunt Chloe poems are of women who defied the status quo by
refusing to be dependent and passive creatures. Instead they became
“‘Byronic heroine [s],’ that is, women who reject ‘culture commandments
that failed to meet the needs’ of their souls” (Smith 169). Harper was the
forerunner for authors like Zora Neale Hurston who became the
forerunner for authors like Alice walker and Toni Morrison.

Vocabulary: enslavement
consequently
controversy
defiance
devastating
humanity
integration
33

seminary
sentiment
temperance
violated

I believe that it would be essential to introduce the work of Frances E. Harper as the final

slave narrative. Harper was “one of the first women to become a professional lecturer” (Smith

159). She is also a key figure in this period because her work was greatly influenced by runaway

slaves. “Frances Harper made ‘her home at the station of the Underground Rail Road, where she

frequently saw passengers and heard their melting tales of suffering and wrong, which intensely

increased her sympathy in their behalf’” (Smith 160). Harper became more passionate in her fight

for civil rights when she learned that a Maryland law was a result of a free black man being

“arrested and sold into slavery, escaped, only to be recaptured, beaten, and sent farther south.

Shortly afterward he died as a result of his beating and the harsh conditions of his beating and

harsh conditions of his enslavement. ‘Upon that grave, I pledged myself to the Anti-Slavery cause,

‘” stated Harper. In Harper’s work, she used strong allusions to the Bible. “Just as Phillis

Wheatley had done with her poem ‘David of Goliath’ nearly a hundred years earlier, Harper chose

an Old Testament subject and emphasized details that invited comparisons between biblical

situations and current conditions” (Smith 168). Biblical allusion was a powerful tool for slave

narrators because abolitionists could use the similarities in the Bible to prove that slavery was

wrong, and God would punish these who condone such an evil act. Those who supported slavery

could also use the Bible to condone slavery because great people in the Bible owned slaves too.

Activities & Assignment:

Biblical allusion would be a good topic for class discussion, after reading Harper’s “Moses: A
34

Story of the Nile,” I would divide students into six groups. The first three groups would be those

who would use the Bible to support the industry of slavery, and the last three groups would be

those who use the Bible to denounce its practices. Students would use The Bible for Student of

Literature and Art for a resource. Then I would have groups number one thru three compete in a

debate with the opposing groups number one thru three. After the debate I would then have

students get back into their groups and reverse sides. This would help students develop their

ability to see things from the prospective of others.

I would also have students read an excerpt, of Eliza’s flight, from Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle

Tom’s Cabin. Then I would assign Harper’s “Eliza Harris” and compare the two versions. I would

point out that Stowe gives Eliza animal characteristics where as Harper gives her human

characteristic. I would also point out that Stowe gives the master animal characteristics, and

Harper also gives Eliza metaphorically animal characteristics. Both authors use figurative

language to describe Eliza’s flight. Students will be developing their skills in using comparison

contrast analysis by fining similarities and difference in the works of Stowe’s and Harper’s version

of Eliza’s flight.

“Stowe describes . . . Haley, the slave master, pursues Eliza ‘like a hound after a deer.’ Stowe’s

narrator tells the reader that Eliza leaped with ‘wild cries and desperate energy,’ that she ‘saw

nothing, felt nothing, till dimly, as in a dream, she saw the Ohio side, and a man helping her up the

bank.’ Harper, on the other hand, forcefully manipulates Stowe’s simile of the pursued and

pursuing: ‘Like a fawn from the arrow, startled and wild, / A woman swept by us, bearing a child.’

The metaphor emphasizes the swiftness and desperation of the flight, but Harper’s version makes

it clear that it is a ‘woman’ with a ‘child’ being chased. The next lines emphasize Eliza’s humanity,
35

carefully describing her physical features that convey her purposeful decision” (Smith 162).

According to Smith, Harper’s Aunt Chloe poems are one of her “most important

contribution to American letters.” The Aunt Chloe’s poems are a part a Reconstruction volume,

Sketches of Southern Life. “The heart of this volume is a series of six poems, narrated by Aunt

Chloe, that form at once the autobiography of a former slave woman and an oral history of

slavery and Reconstruction . . . with slavery a thing of the past and Reconstruction still appearing

to promise an improved future, there was more room for play, for humor, and for the exploration

of racial diversity (Smith 169-170). Aunt Chloe, like the other slave narrators, gives a first hand

account on was to be a black slave in white America. This information would be a good

introduction to the Aunt Chloe’s poems because I can point out how Harper’s work made her a

forerunner for authors like Zora Neale Hurston who became the forerunner for authors like Alice

walker and Toni Morrison who also wrote about how it feels to be black and oppressed in white

America.

Activities & Assignment:

Afterwards, I would either assign a five-paragraph essay on slave narratives or give a test

or a quiz in order to determine what the students have learned. The advance honors class or my

debate team might be interested in doing a Reader’s theater using Addy’s Theater Kit by Valerie

Trip. This would be a good project to connect the slave narrative with the literature of the

reconstruction to the new Negro period because the Addy’s series covers the slavery, civil war,

and reconstruction period. This play covers an important period after the civil war when many

freed slaves were seeking desperately to reunite with family members who were separated during

slavery and the war. The Addy series also validates Dantzler disclaiming the myths that “most

owners’, although misguided, were kind. Freed slaves took their former masters’ name to show
36

respect. They were like members if the family, black children playing happily with white children.

In fact, black children labored for the privilege of existence alongside adults. If their labor wasn’t

necessary, they were sold” (Dantzler). Slave children had to grow up quickly. After discovering

the secret actions of her son, Harriet Jacobs later wrote, “such prudence may seem extraordinary

in a boy of twelve years, but slaves, being surrounded by mysteries, deception, and dangers, early

learn to be suspicious and watchful, and prematurely cautious and cunning” (Gates 234). Jacobs

points out that the forced behavior of black slaves shouldn’t be judged by the moral “rules”

applied to free whites. “This is a fair specimen of how the sense is educated by slavery. When a

man has his wages stolen from him, year after year, and the laws sanction and enforce the theft,

how can he be expected to have more regard to honesty than has the man who robs him?” (Gates

239). This is very similar to what I learned about children, after reading Ted Kotlowitz’s novel

There Are No Children Here, in Chicago being rob of their childhood because they had to grow

up fast in order to survive the gangs and drug dealers. Kotlowitz argues that these children like

slaves shouldn’t be judged by the moral “rules” applied to whites who are not oppressed in

America society. This maybe another debate student groups may be interested in participating in.

Summary of Slave Narratives

According to Smith, slave narrators wrote to strike a chord in the consciousness of whites

in order compel them (whites) to want social change. The intuition of slavery was part of the

status quo of the time, and these slave narrators along with abolitionists fought to change the

conscience of the social norm. Black slaves gave the general white public a first hand account of

what it was like to be black in America. Blacks wanted to prove to whites that they (blacks), if

given the chance, were just as intellectual as whites and worthy of the same freedom of

democracy privileged to white. Slave narrators also wanted to expose cruel conditions of slavery
37

to the general public. Authors’ targeted audiences were white women because they represented

the largest percentage of the readerships. “By the 1840s, the identification of Afro-Americans and

women on the grounds of their shared feminine traits was a common theme among anti-slavery

clergymen” (Smith 402). Black writers like Sojourner Truth joins “the budding feminist

movement of the 1859s” in order to form alliance with white women for equal rights for blacks as

well as for women (Gates 197). In addition, it was easier to get the sensitivity of white women

because they were able to sympathize with slave mothers having their children torn from their

breast. This is a universal theme because even mothers today can relate to the fear of losing their

children. White female audiences were also sympathetic to sexual abuse against women. The laws

of the day, which catered to white males, made it possible for white women to also fall victim to

spousal sexual abuse. Slave narrators were also targeting other black through the idea of self-

creation through autobiography even though most blacks could not read or write.

Slave Narrative Quiz


I asked them to tell me what they knew about slave narratives by having them list a few universal
themes they assumed we would find in the individual works.

Unit Six: The Reconstruction to the New Negro Renaissance Period: 1865-1919
W. E. B. Du Bois and Paul Dunbar

Questions: 1.) How have slave narratives influenced their work?


2.) Why did the authors write? (What was their motivation/purpose?)
3.) To whom were the authors writing to and why?
4.) What part did their writings play in American history?

Goals: My goal is to help students to see why Du Bois and Dunbar wrote and what tools they
were willing to use in order to he heard. I need to make a connection of the work of these
authors to the works of slave narrators.

Themes & Ideas: Du Bois and Dunbar, like past slave narrators, wrote in the style that
would get white readerships to listen to them.

Vocabulary: arraignment
catastrophe
citizenship
38

colonialism
commentary
Communist
conservative
constitutional
economic
guile
indictment
intellectuals
myriad subtleties
regimes
sociology
suppression
suspicious
turbulent
vile

Background information on W. E. B. Du Bois

Even though slavery was a thing of the past, blacks were still living in a society that oppressed

them in different ways. Instead of writing about the oppression of slavery, blacks were now

writing about what is was like to be an African American living in an oppressed society. Blacks

were not dehumanized as property any more but they were still treated as an inferior species who

was not equal to whites. Writers like W. E. B. Du Bois were now writing for equal rights of

blacks. During the Reconstruction to the New Negro Renaissance: 1865-1919, W. E. B. Du Bois

wrote for not only for civil rights limited to America but for universal civil right targeting the

black as well as the white intellectual. He had limited his hope for the race to the talented ten who

were the black elite who would raise to leadership over the common blacks. Du Bois wanted

intellectual blacks to form alliance with intellectual whites to accomplish this goal.

“Du Bois seems to belong to a tradition of the cultured man that was perhaps best

characterized by Matthew Arnold. Both Arnold and Du Bois, along with men like Walter

Pater and Oscar Wilde, seem to express a similar point of view when they speak of culture
39

and the cultural man. For Du Bois and Arnold, culture consisted of the study of harmonious

perfection and the acquisition and diffusion of ‘the best that has been thought and known in

the world . . . [in order] to make all men live in an atmosphere of sweetness and light [Matthew

Arnold, Culture and Anarchy, ed. J. Dover Wilson (Cambridge, 1963), pp. 48, 70]’”

(Baker 96-97).

W. E. B. Du Bois and Paul Dunbar are part of the period called Literature in The

Reconstruction to the New Negro Renaissance: 1865-1919. Du Bois was one of the founders of

the NAACP. He was the first black to receive a Ph.D. from Harvard University. He was also the

first black publisher of a popular magazine called the Crisis, “the official magazine to the NAACP,

and ran it for twenty-four years” (Altman 124). I had a difficult time trying to read and

comprehend Du Bois’ The Soul of Black Folks until I saw the video entitled W. E. B. Du Bois - A

Biography in Four Voices directed by Louis Massiah. While teaching Du Bois was touched to

discovered the cries of people, who were not too far removed by slavery. This had been foreign to

Du Bois because his breeding had aided him in avoiding the complex that comes with a

suppressed system. Du Bois found himself in a country still twisted by the legacy of slavery. The

violence against blacks was rapid in the 1980s. With the race problems of race relationships in the

south and the growth of industry in the north, society was asking the question of what to do with

black labors. Du Bois believed that white would find another way to exploit black unless there

was a rapid change in society. While at the University of Pennsylvania, Du Bois did a two year

extensive study on the sociology on blacks. He went into the black neighborhoods knocking on

door interviewing individual black families. He felt that before any seriously sociological among

whites could be accomplished, researchers had to first uncover the truth about the black condition

which is the tool to combating racism. Du Bois believed that the race should not go forward
40

without a road map. After the first world war, the boundaries had changed. The war was a war of

world democracy. After seeing the treatment of blacks after the war, Du Bois regretted his

support in encouraging blacks to enlist in the battle.

Also the chapter entitled “VI The Black Man of Culture W. E. B. Du Bois and The Soul of

Black Folk” in Houston A. Baker, Jr.’s Long Black Song: Essays in Black American Literature

and Culture also gave me the insight needed to understand Du Bois’ The Soul of Black Folks. I

then understood that the “Talented Tenth” Du Bois was addressing evolved from what he calls

“Black Men of Culture.” These black men of culture are socially-educated-groomed black men.

They represent the cream of the crop in the black race. Du Bois believed Du Bois’ belief finally

clashed with Booker T. Washington’s “Tuskegee machine” (Tuskegee education plans) which was

the Tuskegee institution for training blacks for white businesses. Du Bois believed that

“Washington emerges as a man who has sold out the rights of his people, who has

forfeited the black man’s demands for political power, civil rights, and higher education.

Moreover, he is presented as a leader whose career was paralleled by a retrogression of

his followers and whose leadership was ‘imposed’ from the outside on an unwilling

people. Finally, Washington’s entire career comes to be viewed as a paradox, and the

man himself as a submissive compromiser, a somewhat naive, proletarian Uncle Tom”

(Baker 103).

Booker T. Washington master of arts required to win the support of the head whites industry

owner focus on black labor with whites on top and blacks below. Du Bois felt that Booker T.

Washington’s plan was stopping black progress in education. Manual training verse liberal art is

still an issue today. Du Bois stated that blacks needed to be active in government as well as

manual labor. Booker T. Washington tried to punish anyone who publicly rebelled against his plan.
41

After hearing this, Du Bois dedicated a chapter in his book The Soul of Black Folk to this issue.

While in Atlanta, Du Bois came face to face with violence against blacks because of deep

seeded racism. On his way to the new paper company to make a complaint, he discovered the

ankles of a black man, who he had heard about being lynch by a mob of whites, in a butcher shop

next to the pig meat. Du Bois went home and cried. When Du Bois’ son became sick, neither the

white doctor nor the black doctor would come to check on him. The white doctor wouldn’t come

because the boy was black, and the black doctor would not come because the boy had blue eyes.

This doctor feared reproach. Needless to say, the child died because of the lack of medical

attention. This really crushed Du Bois. In the video, Du Bois’ granddaughter states that her

grandfather poured his emotions into the chapter entitled “Of the Passing of the First Born” in the

Souls of Black Folk. She also stated that one could get a real sense of what her grandfather felt by

reading this chapter. I was very moved by this part of the film and was encouraged to read this

chapter. The works of Du Bois were the turning point in black literature. In the slave narratives,

blacks were writing to white for social change. Du Bois believed that blacks could solve their own

problems by electing the talented tenth to represent and govern the common black labors. Even

though I respect the work of Du Bois, I am outraged when I think about the role of the talented

ten. It seems like the elite blacks were discriminating against common ordinary black. Throughout

The Souls of Black Folks, one finds invidious distinctions between the man of culture and all

black people who inhabit the realms ‘beneath’ him. One finds the author speaking of the “‘black

lowly,’ ‘Sambo,’ the ‘black peasantry,’ and the ‘black crowd gaudy and dirty’” (Baker 102). I see

this philosophy as dividing the race instead of uniting it. The Bible says that a house divided

against its self will not stand.

Activities & Assignment:


42

In class I would pass out Susan Altman’s biography of Du Bois. I would have the students

read it individually before breaking them up in groups. In their groups they would have to discuss

what they got out of the information. Then they would have to write out a summary of the group

discussion to hand in and orally present to the class. Afterward, I generate class discussion by

sharing with my students what I have learned Du Bois and his “Talented Tenth.” I am sure my

students would be outraged by Du Bois earlier philosophy of the “Talented Tenth.” It would also

be important for me to make a connection from slave narratives to the work of Du Bois. I would

remind students that Du Bois like slave narrators were writing about what it was like to be black

in America. I would tie this in with the introduction to the video on Du Bois. Since the video is so

long, I would only play the video through to where Du Bois’ granddaughter introduces her

grandfather’s chapter entitled “Of the Passing of the First Born” in the Souls of Black Folk. I like

her introduction to this chapter, and I could not do justice to it. Then the class and I would take

turns reading this chapter aloud. Afterward I would lead the class discussion by pointing out the

similarities to how slave mothers and Du Bois felt because of the lost of a child due to the social

system. The students would have a better understand of the work of Du Bois and make

connections to slave narratives by answering the three leading questions.

Activities & Assignment:

I would also ask how Du Bois’ work differs from earlier works covered in class. Then I

played began the video on Du Bois again. This time I would let the video play through to the

dispute of manual training verses liberal art. The video does a good job in covering the conflict

between Du Bois and Booker T. Washington’s ideas. Then the class I would read orally the

chapter entitled “Of Mr. Booker T. Washington and Others” in the Souls of Black Folk. Then I

would lead class discussion on manual training versus liberal arts. I am sure the class and I would
43

have an interesting discussion on how the works of Du Bois differ from the earlier works covered

in class because Du Bois wrote about more current issues in which they would be able to relate

and identify with.

Background information on Paul Laurence Dunbar

Paul Dunbar like Du Bois wrote about what it was like to be a black man in America in the late

1800's and the early 1900's. Dunbar received the title of “Poet Laureate of the Negro Race” from

Booker T. Washington because his readerships consist of both white and black readers. Black

intellectuals like Dunbar had to struggle to obtain notoriety that came easier to white intellectuals.

Even though he was elected class president of a predominantly white high school and was asked

to deliver a poem for his class graduation commencement, he was “refused subsequent

employment in Dayton newspaper and legal offices because of his color” (Gates 885). So he had

to take a job as an elevator operator and wrote between calls. He finally had to take “out a loan to

subsidize the printing of his first book, Oak and Ivy” (Gates 885). This collection of poems gave

Dunbar his first break because many were impressed with his sophisticated style. Even though

Dunbar was able to demonstrate his ability to master the more formal lyric poems, his white

readership seemed too only be interested in his black dialect poetry. Dunbar once “told a friend,

‘I’ve got to write dialect poetry; it’s the only way I can get them [white people] to listen to me”

(McDougal 965). He was criticized for this approach because some of his critics believed that he

was falling right into the hands of the stereotypes exploited by white writers used to make fun of

blacks. Many of Dunbar’s supporters believed that he, like past slave narrators, wrote in the style

that would get white readerships to listen to him. Dunbar’s ‘“We Wear the Mask,’ suggests that

he may well have been aware of the liability of allowing his own poetry to evoke an image of

black folk that played on thoughtless prejudices and degrading stereotypes” (Gates 885). This
44

poem didn’t receive national notoriety until after his death at the age of thirty-three in 1906. Up

until his death, Dunbar didn’t believe his work was a complete success. In James Weldon

Johnson’s autobiography Along This Way, he quotes the last words he had heard Dunbar speaks.

“‘I have never gotten to the things I really wanted to do’” (Gates 885-886).

Activities & Assignment:

I will give my class an introduction on Dunbar focusing on how his uses of black dialect earn him

public notoriety. I will also stress that Du Bois and Dunbar, like past slave narrators, wrote in the

style that would get white readerships to listen to them. I will explain that Dunbar was not a “sell

out” but had to work in the social conditions of his time. I will talk about how white writers,

unlike Dunbar, were exploiting black dialect. I would ask the class if they knew what minstrel

shows were. I will inform the students that one reason these authors were writing, like past black

authors, was to defy the stereotypes whites had about blacks. Then I would steer the conversation

toward black dialect and how the country, both blacks and whites, reacted the Oakland school

board decision on Ebonics. Then I would have students read my article “Understanding Ebonics:

A Teacher’s Viewpoint.” We then would talk about how essential dialect is to works such as slave

narratives, Harper The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Faulkner, Maya Angelou and Nathan

McCall’s Makes Me Wanna Holler. I would also introduce Geneva Smitherman’s Black Talk.

Activities & Assignment: Afterwards, I can have students answer the three questions suggested

before reading Dunbar’s “We Wear the Mask”. I also want to keep the focus on the on going

three questions.

I generally hide my feelings when


Reason:
I might decide to hide my feelings if
45

Reason:
I can remember hiding my feelings when
Reason:

Readings:Dunbar, Paul Laurence. “We Wear the Mask” Literature and Language ML HM 11
Yellow Level. Evanston, Illinois: McDougal Littell/Houghton Mifflin, 1994. Susan Altman’s
biography of Du Bois. chapter entitled “Of the Passing of the First Born” in the Souls of Black
Folk. chapter entitled “Of Mr. Booker T. Washington and Others” in the Souls of Black Folk.

Unit Seven: The Harlem Renaissance Period: 1919-1940

Questions: 1.) What part did their writings play in American history?
2.) Why did the authors write? (What was their motivation/purpose?)
3.) To whom were the authors writing to and why?
4.) What part did his writings play in American history?
Goals: I need to make a connection of the work of these authors to the works of slave
narrators.

Themes & Ideas: Harlem Renaissance writers also used their art to show the world what it
was like living the life of an African American in a society that oppressed
them in different ways. These writers had a twofold mission.

1.) seeing the truth of who I am from an individual point of


view
2.) assimilating into the presentation of the entire group (This
is who were are as a whole.)

Vocabulary: abrupt
aggressive
assimilate
atmosphere
consciousness
contrive
defy
depression
deterioration
disheartened
diverse
diversity
emancipation Proclamation
exploitation
exploitation
ferment
46

generative
grudging
heritage
inaccurate
indulgence
irrevocable
optimistic
phenomenon
political
prohibition
pronouncement
reconstruction
rejuvenation
retaliate
self-assertive

Background information on the Harlem Renaissance Period

The Harlem Renaissance was the biggest push for African American literature into the

main stream of the American society. Unlike other writings, the Harlem Renaissance writers were

exhibiting to the world, “look who we are and look what kind of art we can produce”. They were

showing the world that not only selected intellectuals like Frederick Douuglass and W. E. B. Du

Bois were capable of “mastering the Anglo-American belletristic tradition” (Gates xviii). But they

these writers were displaying to the world that the wealth of the entire culture that had been

unknown to the American public and the world. The other part of America was now getting a

sense of a culture they had seen in art, theater, poetry, and music. These artists were drawing on

African American experiences. The Harlem Renaissance was a turning point in black literature,

and its effects have helped to shape African American literature today. That open the way to the

20th century artist, like Ralph Ellison, who could write about how is to be black in America. The

writers shared a common conscientiousness (goal) as well as a common theme of anger and rage

which motivated them. This was a time of celebration of black expression. Like earlier writers,
47

these authors were writing to make whites aware of black situations (problems blacks faced)

while at the same time they were trying to make blacks aware and proud of their heritage.

Langston Hughes stated, “‘It is the duty of younger Negro Artist . . . to change through the force

of his art that old whispering ‘I want to be white; hidden in the aspirations of his people, to ‘Why

should I want to be white? I am a Negro-and beautiful!’” (The Harlem Renaissance and Beyond).

Now blacks were not writing exclusively to white audiences or black intellectuals, but to the

common black. Authors like Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston was glorifying the

common black. “In creating Simple, Hughes was discarding the stereotypes of the past which

glorified the so-called ‘talented tenth’ and pitied the uneducated Negro” (The Harlem Renaissance

and Beyond). In the video “Zora is My Name,” Zora Neale Hurston, who collected black

folklore, was quoted as saying, “I collected stories and songs to help make a culture of society on

the map”. Her masterpiece (work) in those blacks who lived in the rural areas of the south were

worthy of a salute to the common people who were owed respect.

Activities & Assignment:

After an introduction of the Harlem Renaissance, I will show the class the video “The

Harlem Renaissance and Beyond”. I also will play songs from the Harlem Renaissance period

from The Norton Anthology African American Literature CD. Students were instructed to take

notes on the video in order to help with their group research project. In a pervious class, students

would have been divided in small research groups. Students would also be taken to the school

library for a seminar, given by the school librarian, on how to do research in the school library.

The first group would have to find information of events leading up to the Harlem Renaissance

period and how these events changed the consciousness of the American black. The second group

had to find out why Harlem was the best place for this national phenomenon, and this group was
48

also responsible for finding out what was the success of the Harlem Renaissance. The third group

was responsible for finding out why Harlem was not an isolated event, what were the common

themes, and why was the Harlem Renaissance an important movement. The last group was

responsible for finding out what caused the deterioration of the Harlem Renaissance. Afterwards,

the students were required to turn in a single written assignment on their findings as well as to

give an oral report to the class.

Unit Eight: Langston Hughes

Questions: 1.) How have slave narratives influence this work?


2.) Why was Hughes writing? (What was his motivation/purpose?)
3.) To whom was he writing to and why?
4.) What part did his writings play in American history?

Goals: I need to make a connection of the work of Hughes to the works of slave
narrators.

Themes & Ideas: Harlem Renaissance writers also used their art to show the world what it
was like living the life of an African American in a society that oppressed
them in different ways. These writers had a twofold mission.

1.) seeing the truth of who I am from an individual point of


view
2.) assimilating into the presentation of the entire group (This
is who were are as a whole.)

Vocabulary: autobiography
biographies
chauvinistic conditioning
correspondent
critics
determination
flourishing
frequent
observations
portray
shrewd
slanders
49

valise

Activities & Assignment:

I would have students do a Reader’s Theater on my two favorite poems from “The

Harlem Renaissance and Beyond” video were Langston Hughes’ “Mother to Son” and “I, Too”

and a poem by Countee Cullen of which I could not find the title.

She went to buy a brand new hat


And she was ugly, black and fat
‘This red becomes you well,’ they said
And perched it high upon her head
And then they laughed behind her back
To see it glow against the black
She paid for it with real mien
And walked out proud as any Queen.

Activities & Assignment:

The students and I will have a contest to see who could do the best job reading either of the two

poems. The winners will be determined by the loud applause. I would tell my students about a

student named Jason from a previous class who won reading “Mother to Son”. He used another

student as a prop (standing in as the mother’s son). Afterwards, the students wrote a reading

response to both poems. The class would also read orally one of Hughes’ later works entitled

“Thank You M’am” Before reading the story I would lead the class into a discussion on the work

of Langston Hughes whose grandmother Mary Langston would tell him “stories about the lives of

Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, and other freedom fighters (Altman 141). “In all of his

writing, Langston Hughes celebrated ordinary black working people. He liked them, felt at ease

with them, and respected them (Altman 143). I passed out the copies of Altman’s biography on

Langston Hughes, and I divided the class into small groups so that they could read, discuss, and

give a presentation on their findings. Afterwards I played an audio tape of a reading on Hughes’
50

“Let America Be America Again”. Then we divided the different voices up into parts and read it

aloud like a play. After class discussion, I gave the students a quiz using the three leading

questions since the beginning of class.

Readings:
“I, Too” Literature and Language ML HM 11 Yellow Level. Evanston, Illinois:
McDougal Littell/Houghton Mifflin, 1994 audio tape of a reading on Hughes’ “Let America
Be America Again” and copies of “Let America Be America Again” Hughes’ “Thank You M’am”

Then I assigned the class to read Langston Hughes. “I, Too” Literature and Language ML HM 11

Yellow Level. Evanston, Illinois: McDougal Littell/Houghton Mifflin, 1994. I would remind

students that the poem was in the video and part of the contest. I also wanted the class to read

Hughes’ “Thank You M’am” because I think my students can identify with the young boy as well

as appreciate the talent of the author. Besides, this is one of my favorite short stories.

Unit Nine: Claude Mckay and Countee Cullen


Questions: 1.) How have slave narratives influenced this work?
2.) Why was McKay and Claude McKay writing? (What was their
motivation/purpose?)
3.) To whom were they writing to and why?
4.) What part did their writings play in American history?
Goals: I need to make a connection of the work of these authors to the works of slave
narrators.

Themes & Ideas: Harlem Renaissance writers also used their art to show the world what it
was like living the life of an African American in a society that oppressed
them in different ways. These writers had a twofold mission.

1.) seeing the truth of who I am from an individual point of


view
2.) assimilating into the presentation of the entire group (This
is who were are as a whole.)

Vocabulary: accursed
belligerent
constrained
dignity
inglorious
sarcastic
51
Activities & Assignment:
The next class, I assigned the class an oral reading of Claude McKay’s “If We Must Die”

Readings:
“If We Must Die” Literature and Language ML HM 11 Yellow
Level. Evanston, Illinois: McDougal Littell/Houghton Mifflin, 1994. I gave an introduction on
Claude McKay before I aloud one student to read the peon. Afterwards, I use the three questions
to generate class discussion.

I believed that the students will have a better understanding of the work if they realize what were

the common themes that the artist shared with many other writers of the Harlem Renaissance

period. The students will have a better comprehension of the artist’s work. “Most of the art work

of the Harlem Renaissance” was expression “of experienced anger and rage. Channeling of energy

from political and social criticism into poetry; fiction . . . safer ground than politics in an

atmosphere of political repression art provided the shock of recognition” (The Harlem Renaissance

and Beyond).

Activities & Assignment: After an oral introduction of Countee Cullen and a review of Claude

McKay, I broke students into groups of three. Each group was given a handout of selected poems

written by McKay and Cullen. They also received specific questions, on index cards, for each

particular peon on their group handout. I would model the procedure I wanted the students to

follow in order to complete the assignment. One member in the group had to read the question

while another member had to read the poem. The third member of the group had to write down

their findings. Afterwards, each group had to orally present their finding to the rest of the class

since each group had different poems and questions. The students demonstrated to me their ability

to use the common themes of expressed anger and rage and the specific questions for their

particular poems in order to interpret them. I also had the students follow along as they listen to an
52

audio cassette of Countee Cullen’s “For a Lady I Know”.

Unit Ten: Zora Neale Hurston

Questions: 1.) How have slave narratives influenced the works of the Harlem
Renaissance writers?
2.) Why were they writing? (What was his motivation/purpose?)
3.) To whom were they writing to and why?
4.) What part did their writings play in American history?
Goals:
I need to make a connection of the work of Hurston to the works of slave
narrators.

Themes & Ideas: Harlem Renaissance writers also used their art to show the world what it
was like living the life of an African American in a society that oppressed
them in different ways. These writers had a twofold mission.

1.) seeing the truth of who I am from an individual point of


view
2.) assimilating into the presentation of the entire group (This
is who were are as a whole.)
Readings:
Video “Zora is My Name” I would also play The Norton Anthology African American Literature
CD of Zora singing “You May Go But This Will Bring You Back”. Excerpts from Zora’s Their
Eyes Were Watching God and a similar excerpt from Alice Walker’s The Color Purple Audio
cassette on Zora’s “Sweat” Copies of “Sweat” Zora’s “Color Struck”.

Vocabulary: ambivalence
anecdote
community
Controversial
critique
depiction
distinctive
folklore
excoriated
interior
minstrel shows
pathetic
privileged
portrayal
protagonist
radical
relevance
53

rural south
self-discovery
self-identity
self-realization
self-reliant
subordinate
Stellar tradition
undercuts

Background information on Zora Neale Hurston

Last but not least, I will introduce Zora Neale Hurston. Hurston like the other black writers

was able to share her experiences of what it was like to be black in oppressed America. She was

able to tell it from a woman’s point of view. She also wrote to defy the general public’s stereotypes

of blacks. Hurston was not fully appreciated in her own time because she was writing ahead of her

own time. Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God has been adopted by our English department.

“Alain Locke, dean of black scholars and critics during the Harlem Renaissance, wrote . . . that

Hurston’s Their Eyes was simply out of step with more serious trends of the times”. Arthur

Richard Wright “excoriated Their Eyes as a novel that did for literature what the minstrel shows

did for the theater, that is, make white folks laugh. By the end of the forties, a decade dominated

by Wright and by the stormy fiction of social realism, the quieter voice of a woman searching for

self-realization could not, or would not, be heard” (Hurston viii). Many black professionals today

have disagreed with Locke and Wright. Mary Helen Washington stated that “most black women

readers discovering their Eyes for the first time, what was most compelling was the figure of Janie

Crawford-powerful, articulate, self-reliant, and radically different from any woman character they

had ever before encountered in literature”. Andrea Rushing, instructor in the Afro-American

Studies Department at Harvard said, “I love it because it was about a woman who wasn’t pathetic,

wasn’t a tragic mulatto, who defied everything that was expected of her, who went off with a man

without bothering to divorce the one she left and wasn’t broken, crushed, and run down”.
54

“Rushing’s comment on the female as hero”. Sherley Anne Williams says, “‘they saw themselves in

these characters and they saw their lives portrayed with joy’”. Alice Walker believed that Hurston

work showed “that women did not have to speak when men thought they should, that they would

choose when and where they wish to speak because while many women had found their own

voices, they also knew when it was better not to use it. When Janie says at the end of her story that

‘talkin’ don’t amount to much’ if it’s divorced from experience, she is testifying to the limitations of

voice and critiquing the culture that celebrates orality to exclusion of inner growth. Her final

speech to Pheoby at the end of Their Eyes actually casts doubt on the relevance of oral speech and

supports Alice Walker’s claim that women’s silence can be intentional and useful” Washington

writes, Janie telling her story to a listening woman friend, Pheoby, suggest to me all those women

readers who discovered their own tale in Janie’s story and passed it on from one to another; and

certainly, as the novel represents a woman redefining and revising a male-dominated canon, these

readers have, like Janie, made their voices heard in the world of letters, revising the canon while

asserting their proper place in it” (Hurston ix, x, xi, xii, xiii, xiv). Zora’s work is an excellent

demonstration of the art of mastering the oral tradition.

I would start this class by giving an oral introduction of Zora Neale Hurston. I learned a lot

about Zora from watching the video “Zora is My Name”. Informing my students that Zora’s

mother married John Hurston, a Baptist preacher, who was from the wrong of the creek (the other

side of the tracks). Zora’s grandmother believed that her daughter had married beneath herself and

never forgave Zora’s mother for this. John Hurston became the mayor their town and made laws

that are still enforced today. Zora grew up listening to adults exchange black folklore on their front

porch. Zora wrote these stories down so that the translation transferred orally would not be

forgotten. This information is valuable to students because it would help them to understand why
55

Zora was so sensitive toward the artistic contribution of rural common black people. She

understood that just like intellectuals, like Frederick Douglass and W. E. B. Du Bois, these people

also needed to tell their stories of how it was like to be an African American in oppressed America.

Her work also defied the stereotype of America. Zora’s work is an excellent demonstration of the

art of “signifyin”. Signifyin is “the verbal art of a ritualized insult, in which the speaker puts down,

needles, talks about (signifies on) someone, to make a point or something just for fun. It exploits

the unexpected, using quick verbal surprises and humor, and it is generally characterized by

nonmalicious and principled criticism” (Smiterman 206). Doing the dozens (talking about one

another’s mother) is only a part of signifyin.

Activities & Assignment: My introduction would lead right into the video “Zora is My Name”. I

would tell my students about a former student, who was so much more advanced than any of the

other students in my class, enjoyed the video so much, she asked to borrow my copy of Their Eyes

Were Watching God and read it in one night. She also gave her Harlem Renaissance oral

presentation on this book. After the video we would have class discussion focusing on the leading

three questions throughout the course to talk about Zora’s work. Then I would have students read

along as they listen to an audio cassette on Zora’s “Sweat”. Afterward, I would give the students a

quiz over the reading. I would also let the students see a video of my former students doing a

Reader’s Theater on Zora’s “Color Struck”. Then I would assign parts and my students also did a

Reader’s Theater on “Color Struck” I am sure that both works will cause an in-depth class

discussion because the students, especially my female students, would be able to identify with the

characters. I would ask for current day examples.

Activities & Assignment:

I would also play The Norton Anthology African American Literature CD of Zora singing “You
56

May Go But This Will Bring You Back”. Then I would have students read an excerpt from Zora’s

Their Eyes Were Watching God and a similar excerpt from Alice Walker’s The Color Purple to see

whether or not students could see how Hurston influence Walker’s work. The students will have to

be able to point out similarities in both works. Afterwards I would give the students a quiz on the

Harlem Renaissance period.

Activities & Assignment:


Then students will start preparing for the oral presentations on the Harlem Renaissance period.
Students will need to make a connection of the works of Harlem Renaissance writers with the
works of slave narrators. I would remind students of the main themes and ideas of this unit.

Themes & Ideas: Harlem Renaissance writers also used their art to show the world what it
was like living the life of an African American in a society that oppressed
them in different ways. These writers had a twofold mission.

1.) seeing the truth of who I am from an individual point of


view
2.) assimilating into the presentation of the entire group (This
is who were are as a whole.)
57

Appendix
58

TABLE OF CONTENT

Course Syllabus

1.

Introduction

1.

Acknowledgments

4.

Bibliography

5.

General Classroom Methodology

16.

Unit One: The Oral Tradition


59

19.

Unit Two: The Slave Narrator

27.

Unit Three: Contribution of Women to Slave Narrative

33.

Unit Four: Frederick Douglass

36.

Unit Five: Frances E. Harper’s Contribution to Slave Narrative


39.
Reconstruction Post Civil War Period

Unit Six: The Reconstruction to the New Negro Renaissance Period: 1865-1919
W. E. B. Du Bois and Paul Dunbar

45.

Unit Seven: The Harlem Renaissance Period: 1919-1940


53.

Unit Eight: Langston Hughes

56.

Unit Nine: Claude Mckay and Countee Cullen

58.

Unit Ten: Zora Neale Hurston


60

60.

Appendix

66.

Curriculum: Introduction to African American Literature


61