Use these teaching resources to introduce students to the Underground Railroad, a covert network of former slaves, free black men and women, Northern abolitionists, and church leaders who helped fugitive slaves escape to freedom.
Students will learn how to interpret artwork to enhance their knowledge and understanding while reading a nonfiction text with illustrations. During the process, they will notice details, use descriptive language, and analyze artwork for hidden meanings.
Standard: Uses viewing skills and strategies to understand and interpret visual media
Examine the illustration on the front cover. What do you notice? In a brief journal response, describe what you see in the picture. Be specific and detailed in your writing.
- Share journal responses from the warm-up activity. Note all details from the illustration, such as the broken chains, connected bodies of the two African-American women, and shining star on top of a blue pyramid.
- Discuss: What do you think the illustration means? How would you interpret it? How does it relate to the title of the book? For example, students might respond, "The women are connected by the chains of slavery, but the woman in white is helping to break the chains. The shining star is the light of freedom, which relates to the book's title." Explain to the class that interpreting art is similar to interpreting literature; in both cases, the point is to unlock the hidden meaning or message.
- Read the section on Sojourner Truth. While reading, ask students to write notes in their journal about her appearance, personality, important events in her life, major accomplishments, and legacy in the world of black women freedom fighters.
- Study the two illustrations of Sojourner Truth (one facing page 1 and the other on page 4). Using the journal notes as a point of departure, write the "story" of the artwork. First, describe the illustrations in detail. What do you notice? What is happening in the picture? What is she thinking or feeling? Next, interpret the artwork. What do you think it means? What is the hidden message? Give the portraits creative titles that reflect your research and knowledge of this person.
- Students can repeat this activity for three black women freedom fighters of their choice. The illustrations of Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, and Mary McLeod Bethune provide especially interesting interpretations.
Other Books About Black Women in History
Black Women in Nineteenth Century American Life: Their Words, Their Thoughts, Their Feelings by Ruth Bogin and Bert James Loewenberg, eds.
An anthology celebrating the lives and dreams of 24 black women leaders, in fields such as religion, education, and politics.
I Dream a World: Portraits of Black Women Who Changed America by Brian Lanker
A timeless collection of photographs and first-person accounts recognizing the contributions of black women to the arts, literature, politics, education, and athletics.
Teaching plan written by Lauren Gold.