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Fighting for Freedom: African Americans in the Civil War

Posted under History Lab for Grades 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12

This unit explores the African American’s experiences during the Civil War. Students will learn how government policy evolved over time regarding African American service in the Union forces and examine issues of propaganda and unequal treatment. The unit utilizes a variety of primary source materials, including illustrations, photographs, and documents. Students will complete a variety of analysis, research, writing, and art activities as they examine the important contributions of African American soldiers to ultimate Union victory.

i22092Lesson 1: Who was Contraband? 
In this lesson, students will learn the definition of “contraband” and explore the unique use of this term during the Civil War, when it was applied to people. Students will analyze primary sources, including photographs and an illustration from the period, to determine the often-harsh realities of life for those considered contraband. Students will also investigate U.S. government policy regarding African American participation in the Union forces during the early years of the war and how those policies shifted and evolved over time. Research and debate questions, include: Who or what freed African Americans? What actions did African Americans take to reach Union lines? What risks were involved in fleeing? How were African Americans received when they arrived at Union lines? Download Who was Contraband?

Lesson 2: African American Soldiers
During this lesson, students will examine photographs, broadsides, and letters to learn more about African American participation during the Civil War. Students will consider the variety of ways African Americans served in Union forces, the shifts in U.S. policies, the reasons African Americans chose to serve, how their experience and treatment differed from that of their white counterparts, and the major contributions they made toward Union victory. Major topics of study include propaganda, Lincoln’s opinions, and changes in government policies. Students will synthesize their responses to the primary source materials in a variety of assignments, including creating a timeline, creative writing, oral presentations, and class discussion. Download African American Soldiers.

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