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A Kid's Guide to African American History: More than 70 Activities
A Kid's Guide to African American History: More than 70 Activities
A Kid's Guide to African American History: More than 70 Activities
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A Kid's Guide to African American History: More than 70 Activities

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What do all these people have in common: the first man to die in the American Revolution, a onetime chief of the Crow Nation, the inventors of peanut butter and the portable X-ray machine, and the first person to makea wooden clockin this country? They were all great African Americans. For parents and teachers interested in fostering cultural awareness among children of all races, this book includes more than 70 hands-on activities, songs, and games that teach kids about the people, experiences, and events that shaped African American history. This expanded edition contains new material throughout, including additional information and biographies. Children will have fun designing an African mask, making a medallion like those worn by early abolitionists, playing the rhyming game "Juba," inventing Brer Rabbit riddles, and creating a unity cup for Kwanzaa. Along the way they will learn about inspiring African American artists, inventors, and heroes like Harriet Tubman, Benjamin Banneker, Rosa Parks, Langston Hughes, and Louis Armstrong, to name a few.
Release dateJun 1, 2007
A Kid's Guide to African American History: More than 70 Activities
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Nancy I. Sanders

Nancy I. Sanders has written over 80 books for children, including Jane Austen for Kids. She lives with her family in California.

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    A Kid's Guide to African American History - Nancy I. Sanders



    You probably learned that Columbus explored America in 1492, but did you know that when Columbus landed in America, he heard stories of courageous blacks who had already arrived before him from across the ocean to trade gold with the Native Americans? You’ve learned how the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. But did you know that before the Mayflower ever set sail, there were already African Americans living in Jamestown, Virginia? And when you reach for the light switch, you might remember Thomas Edison, but did you know that Lewis H. Latimer, an African American, invented a way to make a lightbulb last even longer?

    When people used to write history books, they often skipped over important things done by African Americans. But today, researchers show us that African Americans have made amazing discoveries and outstanding accomplishments. Through hard work, intelligence, faith, and determination, African Americans helped build the strong nation of America and are still impacting the world today.

    The history of African Americans is a story that is both triumphant and sad. Through the many sufferings of slavery and discrimination emerged individuals and eventually a group of people who have made a difference in the lives of others.

    Come along and join in the adventures you’ll discover in this book. Participate in the historically based activities. Carve a miniature sandstone column similar to the one found in the ruins of a beautiful Ethiopian temple. Make a medallion just like the famous one that was used to persuade people to stop slavery. Tell a Brer Rabbit story echoing the ones told in the South. Design a brand similar to the ones black cowboys used on cattle in the West. Learn about nonviolent protests, just like students during the Civil Rights Movement. Celebrate Kwanzaa and honor the history and pride of an extraordinary group of people. As you do all these things, and more, the story and the heritage of African Americans will come to life.

    What’s in a Name?

    This book is the history of a group of people stolen away from their home and forced to work as slaves in an unknown land. Having lost everything, these people sought to restore their heritage, even through the identification of a specific name. Today they are proudly known as African Americans.

    Here is a brief history of how the term African American came to be used.

    In 1619, when a group of indentured servants landed in Jamestown, Virginia, John Rolfe wrote in his diary, A Dutch ship sold us 20 Negars.

    Slaves were often referred to as Africans, which identified them with their roots.

    During the 1800s, slave workers in a plantation house began calling themselves colored to show they were different from the workers in the field. Many had both black and white parents or grandparents.

    From the 1830s to the 1860s, many people didn’t want to be called African anymore. Most of their families now lived in America.

    In 1890, Booker T. Washington encouraged the use of the word Negro to bring unity.

    In the 1960s, the term black gained respect through the Civil Rights Movement.

    Today, the term African American identifies this group of people with a homeland as well as the important history and culture they have developed in the United States.

    Any titles or terms used in this book are not used to offend anyone, but as a reflection of the era being discussed.


    The Glories of Africa

    History is often silent about many things that happened long, long ago. Nobody is living today who can give us firsthand accounts of events many years before we were born. But we have clues that help us discover important things about the past. Special scientists called archaeologists (say it: ark-ee-ALL-uh-gists) use these clues to help us understand what Africa was like hundreds of years ago.

    There are pictures on the tombs of Egyptian pharaohs (say it: FAIR-ohs) showing dark-skinned rulers as well as light-skinned ones. Queen Nefertari (say it: nef-fer-TAR-ee), one of the most famous figures known today from Egypt, has been identified as black. There are ancient documents listing important victories and accomplishments by kings from African countries. Stories have been passed down from generation to generation describing the glories and wonders that used to exist. All these clues, and more, paint a picture to help us understand what ancient Africa was really like.

    Prior to 800 B.C., the dark-skinned people from Ethiopia (say it: EE-thee-OH-pee-ah) in Africa had important contact with ancient Egypt. They traded goods and materials back and forth. They fought wars with each other. They married each other and had children.

    The fact that the color of their skin was different did not seem to matter very much to them.

    For many years, Ethiopia had to pay taxes to Egypt and was under Egypt’s rule. However, in the eighth century B.C., the Ethiopians went to war against the Egyptians and won. For more than a hundred years, the land was ruled by Ethiopian pharaohs.

    Around 400 B.C., people in Africa made important progress and accomplished great achievements. In the years known as the African metal age, Africans worked with metals such as iron, copper, tin, silver, and bronze. They built large cities where crafters developed skills in leather, glass, gold, and weaving. They planted many crops. A huge system of trading developed. It was an age of progress and excitement.


    (lived around 3100 B.C.)

    Tradition says that the African king Menes (say it: mens) united Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt into one strong kingdom. With this union began the long line of pharaohs who ruled Egypt for 3,000 years. During the time of Menes, hieroglyphic writing developed. Technical skills, arts, and governmental institutions were improved during his rule.

    A Sandstone Column

    Some of the Ethiopian rulers were known for building beautiful temples and monuments. A sandstone column still stands, carved with many detailed designs, in the ruins of an Ethiopian temple. With this activity, you can make a replica.


    Dump the sand, cornstarch, and cream of tartar into the old pot. Use the wooden spoon to stir the mixture well. Add the hot water and cook over medium heat. Stir well until the mixture of sand is too thick to stir any more. Cool slightly and then spoon the mixture into a cup, tightly packing down the sand. Turn the cup upside down over a paper plate and let the sand mixture dump out to form a column on the plate. (You may need to squeeze the end of the paper cup to get it started.) Smooth the sides of the column with your hands. Use a toothpick to carve designs in your sandstone column like the one pictured here.

    Design a Mask

    African sculpture is known for its variety of styles, different designs, and great strength portrayed in the characters. Researchers have found African sculpture in many forms, including masks.


    Illustrations of mask

    Typing paper



    1 9 by 11-inch (48 by 28 cm) sheet of black poster board

    1 9 by 11-inch (48 by 28 cm) sheet of white poster board


    White cotton household string

    Use the illustration of the mask as a guide to trace the nose, eyes, and mouth onto typing paper. Cut these out and use them as a pattern to cut the pieces from black poster board. Cut the outline of the face out of white poster board. Glue the nose, eyes, and mouth to the face. Spread glue on the area of the white poster board that isn’t covered by the nose, eyes, or mouth. Carefully glue short pieces of string in rows over the white poster board to resemble the original, carved design of the mask.

    The finished mask has the eyes, nose, and mouth made out of black poster board glued onto the white poster board head.


    (lived around 690 B.C.)

    Taharka (say it: tah-HAR-kah) is known as the most important of the Ethiopian pharaohs. An outstanding leader, some people called him the Emperor of the World. He ruled for about 25 years. During his reign, he brought many cultural improvements to his empire. He built many temples. He encouraged trade between Egypt and Ethiopia. He also led a group of explorers as far as the Strait of Gibraltar.

    The Middle Ages

    Africa was rich in gold. Traders arrived from the north with large groups, or caravans, of more than 12,000 camels at a time. The camels carried heavy loads of salt, sugar, wheat, fruit, and fabric across the dry Sahara Desert until they reached the kingdoms in West Africa of Ghana (say it: GAH-nah), Mali (say it: ???-lee), and Songhay. Why did the traders travel so far and on such dangerous journeys across the hot desert? What did the traders want? They wanted the gold of Africa.

    The kingdoms of Ghana, Mali, and Songhay grew powerful and wealthy by trading their gold and other products to the caravans from the north. By the Middle Ages, they had developed banking systems, school systems, and entire systems of law.

    The kings of these kingdoms were unbelievably rich. One ruler of Ghana lived in a splendid castle filled with sculpture and decorated with beautiful windows. This ruler kept an army of 200,000 fighting men. Soldiers in the armies of these rulers often wore chain mail, a type of armor, and rode horses. Troops carried impressive shields and armed themselves with swords and lances.

    The City of Timbuktu

    By the 15th century, the kingdom of Songhay dominated the area with power. The city of Timbuktu (say it: tim-buck-TOO) in Songhay became an intellectual center where people traveled from far away to experience its dazzling excitement and study with its scholars.

    During this time, Timbuktu was home to more than 100,000 people. The towers of two important mosques (say it: mosks) stood high above the other buildings. Flat-roofed buildings spread out across the city.

    Moslem youths came to study law, math, and medicine at the University of Sankore in Timbuktu. Scholars came to Timbuktu to study its large collections of manuscripts, which included famous selections from Greek and Arabic literature. Scholars came to write their own books, too. The trading of books brought in more money than almost any other kind of business. The kings paid judges, doctors, and writers a large amount of money to do their jobs. People enjoyed dancing, fencing, gymnastics, and chess. Great respect was paid to learned people in this intellectual center of West Africa.

    Potato Stamp Painting

    Some artists painted Timbuktu during the Middle Ages to show a city made of square and round buildings. In the center of the pictures, they showed a tall mosque towering over the city. You can make a stamp from a potato to paint a picture of Timbuktu as it might have appeared during the Middle Ages.


    Adult supervision required

    1 potato, uncooked

    Table knife, not sharp

    Tempera paint

    Shallow tray or bowl

    Construction paper

    Cotton swab

    Use the table knife to cut a potato in half. One half of the potato will be used to stamp pictures of square houses. Cut away the flat side of the potato to form a raised square. Carve a small doorway in the square. The other half will be used to stamp pictures of round houses. Carve a small doorway on the flat part of this potato.

    Spread a shallow amount of paint in the tray. Dip the potato halves in the paint, and paint a picture of Timbuktu by stamping round and square buildings in rows across the construction paper. In the center of the picture, paint a large building that represents one of the great mosques in the city. Use the cotton swab to paint the tall, thin tower at the top of the mosque. This is how some artists have painted Timbuktu during the Middle Ages.

    A King’s Scepter

    In great cities such as Timbuktu, many people were well educated and enjoyed a wealthy lifestyle. Kings and rulers were among the wealthiest of all. They dressed in splendid clothes, wore beautiful jewelry, held fancy swords, and sometimes carried scepters made of gold.


    Adult supervision required Scissors

    2 paper bowls (plastic or Styrofoam do not work as well)

    2- or 3-foot (61 or 92-cm) long cardboard tube from gift wrapping paper


    Styrofoam ball about 2 inches (5 cm) in diameter

    Gold acrylic craft paint


    Use the scissors to carefully cut a hole in the bottom center of each bowl. The holes should measure the same size as the diameter of the cardboard tube. Slide the two bowls, rims facing each other, onto one end of the cardboard tube, about ¼-inch down from the edge. Use a small amount of glue to hold them in place. Glue the rims of the bowls together. Allow to dry.

    Glue the Styrofoam ball onto the cardboard tube, just above the bowls. Paint the entire scepter gold.

    Life in Africa

    The Continent

    Africa is a vast land with a variety of climates—jungles, deserts, rain forests, mountains, and lakes. The Nile River flows in the northeast. The Congo River crosses the equator twice. Grasslands are found in the west. Animals such as elephants, lions, and giraffes live there.

    There were many wild and untamed areas in ancient Africa, but research has shown us that there were also many places of progress and culture. In the Nile Valley, archaeological discoveries tell us that Stone Age Africans made pottery and greatly influenced the success of ancient Egypt. Classical writers, such as Homer and Herodotus from Greece, tell of the glorious empires found in northern and central Africa. People traveled from far away to come to Africa’s kingdoms, where elaborate networks of trade were built because of the abundance of gold, silver, and salt.

    Family Life

    The family was very important. Often, family lines of heritage were traced down through the mother, known as a matrilineal (say it: mat-rih-LIN-ih-al) line of descent. In many societies, a husband would leave his own home and join the family of his wife when they married. This was because in a matrilineal society, all the wealth, property, and possessions were passed on through the mother.

    Family members who died were held in great honor because death was considered the beginning of a new life. Gifts were placed on graves to show respect and love for the ancestors.

    Faith meant a lot to each individual. Religion was an important part of everyday life. Nature was treated with great respect. People took special care of natural resources such as water and trees.

    Call-and-Response Game

    Music was everywhere. Complicated and beautiful dances were developed. Two basic types of music could be found. One used a variety of drums and percussion instruments. The second type used a call-and-response pattern where the song leader called out and then a chorus of people responded, sounding like a chant.

    Here is a children’s game you can play with your friends. It’s based on the call-and-response pattern, and it is still played in Africa today.

    The song leader begins by asking, What is big? The other children respond in a chanting chorus saying, Elephant is big. As the song continues, the song leader chooses other animals to ask about, listing large animals such as a giraffe or rhinoceros. (The song leader can repeat the names of animals during the song.) The children chant back their answer each time. However, if the song leader calls out the name of a small animal such as a bird or a mouse, children should not respond! Those who accidentally respond are out of the game. The song continues until there is only one player left in the game. This player becomes the new song leader.

    What Is Big?

    Continue playing the game in this manner. Be sure not to say anything if the suggested animal isn’t actually big, or you’ll be out of the game.

    Here are examples of other verses you can create.

    Reprinted with permission of Simon & Schuster from Juba This and Juba That: 100 African-American Games for Children by Dr. Darlene Powell Hopson and Dr. Derek S. Hopson with Thomas Clavin.

    Copyright ©1996 by Darlene Powell Hopson, Derek Hopson, and Thomas Clavin.

    Communities and Nations

    Many communities in Africa were agrarian. Different farming skills and techniques developed depending on which part of Africa a group lived in, or the climate and land formations present. Some communities in areas along the midwestern coastline knew how to cultivate rice, and others specialized in growing corn, cotton, or other crops. An important trade system developed between these communities and other areas of the world.

    Some nations grew very advanced in their weaving skills. Other nations developed better ways of working with metal. Most nations, however, had a system of money that was based on the use of cowrie shells, a small seashell. (Say it: COW-ree.) Before the Europeans arrived and built up the slave trade that changed the way of life for thousands of people, life in Africa was based on family heritage, cultural developments, and national pride.


    Colonial America

    In 1492, Christopher Columbus set sail across the Atlantic Ocean and discovered what became known as the New World. Today, we understand that many different native peoples were already living on the continents of North and South America, but to the citizens living in countries such as Spain, France, and Portugal, this New World was a place to be explored and conquered in the name of their kings or queens. The race to colonize the Americas began.

    For about 100 years, Spain dominated the attempts to colonize, or settle, North and South America. Gold was discovered, silver mines were dug, and cities were conquered. Black and white conquistadors

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