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"Own Your History"

A leadership course on the creative edge




Students will learn about the contradictions from the beginning of our history between American ideals of liberty and equality and the American reality of slavery and white supremacy. Slavery shaped the Constitution, the new federal government, the American antebellum economy, American society, and American attitudes –North, South, West, pro-slavery or abolitionist. Students will assess the costs of this contradiction and our denial as a country.

10. The Revolutionary Generation and slavery, 1776-1800—realities, ideals, contradictions, and leadership

The greatest collection of leaders in US history led the American Revolution and established a bold, novel republican form of government under the Constitution. They both espoused a natural rights credo centered on equality and rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” and accepted the perpetuation of the institution of slavery for hundreds of thousands of African slaves, which existed in almost all parts of the new country.


Why did they make the choices they did between 1776 and 1800? How did their choices and decisions help shape future consideration of slavery? Why could they not develop a viable long-term plan for dealing with slavery in keeping with the values of the Declaration of Independence?


(1) Student pairs will re-create debates at the Continental Congress in 1776, at the Constitutional Convention in 1787, and especially in the debate in the first Congress in 1790 on the Quaker anti-slavery petitions.

(2) Student project: small group projects on historical or present examples concerning decisions or positions about who is “American,” what it means to be “American”?

11. The American Slave Economy as the Foundation for the Growth and Prosperity of the U.S. Economy, 1780-1860

ee-300x246After 1800 slavery became an overwhelmingly Southern institution (even while slave ownership continued in parts of the North for many years). Even so, the Southern plantation economies were integral to the entire US economy and its strong growth before 1860. Racism was common and generally acceptable throughout the country. North, South and West were economically intertwined and the wealth and purchasing power of the South benefited countless Northern/Western manufacturers, shippers, businesses, and farmers–and thus the country as a whole. Slavery and the
entire social and intellectual framework supporting it is part of our common American economic, social and attitudinal legacy.




How was the Southern slave economy intertwined with and integral to the rest of the US economy before 1860—including the slave trade, shipping (trans-Atlantic, Mississippi River, etc.), finance, capital formation, exchanges of goods and products, etc.


(1) Examination of particular examples of how the plantation slave economy was intertwined with the general US economy before 1860: slave trade; triangular trade; product-byproduct relationships between Southern producers of cotton, rice, tobacco, and Northern suppliers, financiers, insurers, shippers, etc.; role of Port of New Orleans in shipping products from Miss. Valley farms and factories. (2) Student project on values and choices.

12. The “Trail of Tears” and the destruction of the Cherokee Nation

c16-300x142In the 1820s and 1830s, white settlers increasingly pressed for states to take control of Native American lands in the Southeast and make the land available to white settlement. The discovery of gold in north Georgia exacerbated these pressures. Efforts to negotiate a voluntary removal and sale of lands did not produce a broadly accepted agreement. In the end, in the mid-1830s the US Army undertook forced removal of Cherokees and other Native tribes. The forced march removal of the Cherokees resulted in
the death of perhaps one-fourth of the 16,000 Cherokees, many during the 2,000+ mile march in winter from Tennessee across the Mississippi River—since known as the “Trail of Tears”.


(1) A simulated Truth and Reconciliation Commission to examine the origins and implementation of President Jackson’s removal decision and the human tragedy of the forced removal of the Cherokee Nation to the West.

(2) Student project on cultural diversity.

13. Living in the American Racist Slave System

Slavery substantially defined the mind and character of everyone living where slaves were held, from Texas to New York, and racism affected by slavery was pervasive in all states. The meaning and effects of this system were profound for all Americans in all sections.


How did living in a racist slave economic and social system specifically affect every person in it—master, slave, participant, citizen—whether they promoted, tolerated, or resisted slavery (whether slave or free, white or black). Why did the South become so deeply committed to maintaining the existing slave system? How did the slave system affect views and attitudes outside the South? To what extent did the Southern plantation economy foster poverty for non-plantation rural whites in the South?


(1) Using films such as “Twelve Years A Slave” and “Amistad,” students will create a truth-and-reconciliation process in which a range of participants describe their lives and interact with others to explore the nature of the American slave system/society in human terms.

(2) Student project on living in fear.

14. The Abolition Movement and the End of American Slavery

Abolitionc18-300x300ists advocated fundamental change, an end to slavery, and used a variety of strategies and leadership methods. Many abolitionists struggled to identify feasible means for addressing the needs of freed slaves. Prominent abolitionists included women and ex-slaves—persons who had very limited opportunities to be social leaders and exercise power in society at that time.


Who became an abolitionist, and why? What were the strategies, tactics, and goals/solutions proposed/advocated by various abolitionists? To what extent did the Abolitionists succeed?
What lessons about political and social change can be learned from them?


(1) Brief “lectures” (ala 1850) by ex-slaves and women about becoming an abolitionist leader.

(2) A roundtable debate among the spectrum of abolitionists concerning strategy and tactics, for achieving abolition and feasible programs for meeting the needs of freed slaves.

(3) Student project on coercion/bullying (part 3): resistance to bullying and coercion.