African Americans in Rhode Island
A standards-linked resource packet
for teaching about African American History and Culture

Brown University’s Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology
welcomes you to our program


African Americans in Rhode Island


About These Materials


Culture CaraVan: Bringing the Museum to You!


Links to Curriculum Standards




Slavery around the World
Ancient Slavery
Slavery in Africa
Lesson Plan: The Extent of the African Slave Trade


Slavery, Freedom, and Civil Rights in Rhode Island
Rhode Island’s Role in Enslaving Africans and Indians
Free Blacks in Rhode Island
Civil War and Emancipation
Great Migration
The Struggle for Civil Rights
Lesson Plan: Stories of Two Slaves
Lesson Plan: Free Blacks in Rhode Island




Cultural Adaptations from Africa
Lesson Plan: Cultural Objects from the Haffenreffer Museum collections
Race, Racism, and Identity
What is Race?
Racial Inequality and Institutional Racism
What is African American identity?
Lesson Plan: Race and the Census
Lesson Plan: Stereotypes


African Americans in Rhode Island Today







About These Materials
The Haffenreffer Museum has developed these materials to provide you and your
students useful information, project and activity suggestions and resource materials that
can complement your studies of African Americans in Rhode Island from slavery to the
current day. This packet expands on the themes that are covered during the Sankofa: African
Americans in Rhode Island outreach program, but can be used independently of the
Museum program.
The first lessons discuss the role of slavery around the world, the experiences of enslaved
Africans in Rhode Island and the roles of Rhode Islanders in ending slavery in the state.
The final lessons explore current race relations which will lead to the awareness of modern
slavery and current social issues in our society that stem from this historic process.
Each lesson contains an informational piece that provides your students background
information. You may choose to have your students use these sections for group, partner,
or independent reading.
Following each information piece will be one or two ready-to-use

Learning Objectives:

lesson plan activities. These materials were written for grades six

1. Students will understand
the complex history of Rhode
Island’s role in slavery and
the slave trade.

through eight; however, you can adapt the information and activities
provided in this packet to the appropriate learning levels of your
students. We also suggest some web sites and books that you and
your students can use in your classroom to learn more about
each topic.
Vocabulary words are in bold and a listing can be found following
each reading.

2. Students will make connections between history and
current issues of race.
3. Students will feel comfortable
expressing their opinions
on current issues and will
learn what they can do,
as citizens, to make changes
in their world.


Culture CaraVan:
Bringing the Museum to You!
The Haffenreffer Museum collects and maintains over 100,000
artifacts of human cultures from around the world. We have offered
experiential educational programs to the public for over forty years.
Through hands-on, object-based activities and inquiry-based
teaching, our programs educate students and teachers about people
and societies from around the globe. Through our Culture CaraVan
outreach program, we deliver the world’s cultures right to your classroom, enhancing the
experience with objects from our world famous collections! Visit our website to learn
more about our Culture CaraVan programs.
The Sankofa: African Americans in Rhode Island outreach program is a two-hour
interactive program in which your students will handle objects from our African education
collection and try musical instruments. Sankofa is a term from the West
African Akan language meaning “going back to the past in order
to move forward.” Envoking that concept, Sankofa focuses on the
people of the many cultures of Africa who were brought to Rhode
Island during the transatlantic slave trade. The program also
explores the role of slavery around the world, the experiences
of enslaved Africans in Rhode Island, the roles of Rhode Islanders
in ending slavery, and the contributions African Americans have
made and continue to make in our society. Current issues
such as racism and identity are discussed. Visit our website
at for more information.


Links to Curriculum Standards
The following pre-visit materials and activities link to standards set by the National Council
for the Social Studies and curriculum standards used by the Rhode Island Department
of Education and the Massachusetts Department of Education in the social sciences,
arts, English language arts, and, when used with the Culture CaraVan outreach program,
music. The standards represented in this packet are listed below.

National Council for the Social Studies (for all grades)

Culture Standards b, c, e

II. Time, Continuity, & Change Standards b, d, e, f
III. People, Places, & Environments Standards a, b
IV. Individual Development & Identity Standards a, b, c, e, f, g, h
V. Individuals, Groups, & Institutions Standards a, b, d
IX. Global Connections Standards a, b, d, f
X. Civic Ideals & Practices Standards b, c, d

Rhode Island
Civics & Government
C&G 5 (5-6)-1.a ; C&G 5 (7-8)-1.a; C&G 5 (5-6)-2.a, b; C&G 5 (7-8)-2.a, b;
C&G 5 (5-6) -3.a; C&G 5 (7-8)-3.a
Historical Perspectives
HP 1 (5-6)-1.a, b, c, d; HP 1 (7-8)-1.a, b, c; HP 1 (5-6)-2.a; HP 1 (7-8)-2.a;
HP2 (5-6)-1.a, b, c; HP 2 (7-8)-1.a, b, c; HP 2 (5-6)-2.a,b; HP 2 (7-8)-2.a,b;
HP 2 (5-6)-3.a; HP 2 (7-8)-3.a; HP 3 (5-6)-1.a, b; HP 3 (7-8)-1.a, b; HP 3 (5-6)-2.a, b, c;
HP 3 (7-8)-2.a, b, c.
Visual Art and Design
VAD 2 (5-6)-1.a, b; VAD 2 (7-8)-1.a, b


M2 (5-6)-1.a; M2 (7-8)-1.a; M2 (5-6)-2.a
(6-8) R-2; R-3; R-7; R-8; R-11; R-13; R-16
(6-8) W-1; W-2; W-3; W-6; W-7; W-8; W-9; W-10
Oral Communication
(6-8) OC-1; OC-2

History and Social Science (5): 5.12, 5.31, 5.35
English Language Arts (6-8): 1, 2

WIDA Consortium Standards for English Language Learners
ELP Standard 1 (6-8)
Reading: Use of Multiple Resources, level 3&4; Speaking: Instructions/assignments, level
3&4; Social Interaction, level 3
ELP Standard 2 (6-8)
Writing: Genres, level 3&4; Editing, level 3&4
ELP Standard 5 (6-8)
Listening: Maps, level 3; Speaking: America’s Story, level 3&4


Sankofa is a symbol from the Asante culture of Ghana that may be
seen stamped onto cloths called adinkra cloths. There are many
adinkra symbols. The sankofa symbol often depicts a bird stretching
its neck back to retrieve something. Another version of the symbol is
a heart shape. The meaning of the symbol has been translated as
“there is nothing wrong with learning from hindsight” or “it is important to remember the past in order to move on to the future.”
Some people do not like to think about Rhode Island’s role in
the slave trade, and others like to point to the Southern areas of the
United States and say “we weren’t as bad as them.” Rather than
forgetting history or accusing others, we need to learn and understand our shared past. The more we try to understand and learn from

Adinkra cloth from the
Haffenreffer Museum’s
collections. The heart symbol
is sankofa.

history, the more we can see how and why the world has changed
over time to bring us to our present-day world. Once we better understand our society
today, we can better prepare for the future. We can apply sankofa to our studies of African
Americans in Rhode Island.
One of the coffins found at what is now known as the African Burial Ground National
Monument in New York City had what may be the Sankofa symbol nailed onto it. Both
free and enslaved Africans were buried there in the past. Some African Americans today
view the finding of the Sankofa symbol on this old coffin a reminder of the importance
of remembering their difficult historical past in order to move on to the future.

Sankofa bird
from a street painting
in Ghana


Slavery Around the World
Ancient Slavery
When we think of slavery today we typically think of the transatlantic slave trade, and
the forced migration of about 12 million Africans to the “New World.” However, slavery
had existed in many forms thousands of years before the first Africans set foot in the
Americas. Most anthropologists and historians believe that the first use of enslaved labor
happened when people became sedentary farmers and began building cities. Ancient
civilizations such as the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and Aztecs had slaves. In general,
slaves were prisoners of war or members of a conquered group of people. Their jobs
would vary from building large monuments, to farming land, to helping in the household, and even serving as entertainment (like the gladiators in ancient Rome).
Usually the enslaved people in a society were seen as outsiders and often, but not always,
had different ethnic backgrounds, religious beliefs, or skin colors from the people
who enslaved them. For example, in medieval Spain, people from Eastern Europe were
enslaved. In fact, it is in this context that we get the modern word “slave” – from the
enslavement of Slavic people. The rights of slaves varied. For some people the status
of “slave” was only temporary; they could eventually earn their freedom and possibly even
become citizens. For others, enslavement was life-long and the status was hereditary,
so their children were enslaved as well.

A Greek urn depicting a slave,
from the National Archaeological
Museum, Athens


Early Map of African Ethnic Groups
Original in the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University

Slavery in Africa
African societies were no different from other societies. Slavery existed across Africa for
hundreds of years. The ancient kingdoms of Ghana (750–1200 A.D.), Mali (1200–1500 A.D.),
and Songhai (1300–1650 A.D.), mainly located in the present day country of Mali, were
powerful because of their access to the Niger River and location between the desert and
rainforest zones. Boats along the river and use of camels across the desert allowed for the
trade of many commodities to the north and south. Salt from the desert flats, gold from
the western mines, products such as ivory from the forest, fish from the coast, and other
agricultural commodities such as grains and livestock flowed through the main trade


center of Timbuktu, which was also an important center for learning. At different times
in history, the kingdoms mentioned above had control over the trade. They gained their
wealth by taxing and regulating trade activities. They would charge traders in exchange
for a safe passage through their lands. This led to a growth in wealth for
the elite and an eventual expansion into regional empires. Just as in other
ancient cultures, kings and wealthy persons in West Africa owned slaves.
Africans became enslaved in several ways. Some were captured by other
African armies as prisoners of war. Some were sold to discharge their own
or their families’ debts. Others were enslaved as punishment for crimes.
Still others were victims of slave raids. In most cases, African governments
or rulers who wanted to gain wealth, prestige, and access to foreign
commodities supported the sale of slaves. The Arab trade in the 7th century
centered on capturing darker skinned Africans from sub-Saharan Africa and selling them
in North Africa and parts of Asia as slaves. The trade changed when Arab and European
explorers began to buy slaves for one reason – to make a profit by selling enslaved people
to fill a need for a labor force on plantations in the New World.
The Portuguese began to enslave Africans to work on plantations on the
Cape Verde Islands in the 16th century. Soon, other European nations
(British, French, Danish, and Dutch) exported slaves to the New World.
In 1518, the first large group of Africans (4,000 of them) was taken to the
Caribbean. Keep in mind that this was not the first time slaves were
traded across the Atlantic. Christopher Columbus enslaved Taino Indians
from the West Indies and sent them to Spain beginning in 1494.
As the relatively young colonies in the Americas grew, so did the need
for sources of labor. Indentured servants from Europe also went to the
Americas, usually with a contract to serve a set number of years in
exchange for passage to the Americas. In the colonies, poorer whites
were often forced into servitude to pay off debts or as punishments
for crimes. Although indentured servants could be treated poorly, their
servitude was sometimes voluntary and would end after a period
of time when they could eventually gain an independent place in society.
African slaves, however, were forcibly removed from their homelands,
often were brutally treated, and had little hope of an end to their

Slave sale
in the Caribbean Islands
Original at the John Carter Brown
Library at Brown University


servitude. The mass exportation of African slaves filled the need
for many kinds of labor in the Americas from farm work on the large
plantations to work in households as domestic servants.
At first, Europeans wanted to buy the personal slaves of wealthy
Africans and held back needed trade goods until they were received.
As demand for slaves increased, some kings and chiefs began to feel
pressure to sell more and more slaves for profit. Some wealthier
kingdoms used this new demand for slaves as an opportunity to
export enemies and gain power and control. Bandits also kidnapped
seen a trade in human chattel on such a large scale. About 11 million

Cape Coast Castle, Ghana,
where African captives were held
before boarding slave ships

Africans were shipped across the Atlantic Ocean and sold as slaves.

Photograph by Sarah Philbrick

and sold people into slavery for profit. Never before had the world

About 500,000 of these captives were sent to the North American
colonies. At least 2 million died on the voyage.
Before the transatlantic trip, African sellers took captured people to markets on the West
African coast. Many captives died on the overland journey. Those who reached the coast
were sold to European and other foreign travelers along with other native goods like
feathers, gold, and ivory tusks. In return, the African traders received items like textiles,
metals (copper, iron, pewter), rum, seashells, knives and, beginning in the 17th century,
guns. These guns helped African traders capture more Africans during slave raids.
On the coast, captives were held in dark, dirty dungeons called barracoons for days
or months while waiting for a slaving ship to arrive.
Within their own communities, people had social standing and
mutual responsibilities. When captured and taken a great distance
from his or her community, an African person was placed in a
dungeon with many strangers from other communities. Everyone,
regardless of previous social standing, was treated the same. They
were crowded, uncomfortable, shackled, and given only enough water
and food to stay alive. Slave traders did not want to spend a lot
of money on space and food, but did not want their “cargo” to perish.
Thus, they balanced how much they could give the captives to keep

Dungeon room inside
Cape Coast Castle

them alive while still maintaining a profit. At this moment it is clear that people had
been turned into commodities in the eyes of slave traders and, as they crossed the


Triangular Trade

Atlantic, by slave ship captains. Many people died before they could board one of the
ships. Even after boarding a ship, captives could wait months before the ship departed the
coast as captains waited until they had enough slaves to make a profit.
The route across the Atlantic between Africa and the Americas became known as the
‘Middle Passage’ because it was the second step in every African slave’s three-part
journey—from where they were captured in West and Central Africa to the African coast,
across the Atlantic, and finally, overland to their destination in the Americas. It is also
one leg of the Triangular Trade route. The journey of African captives across the Atlantic
was a terrible ordeal. Families and groups from
a single village were split up when men were put in different parts
of the ship than women and children. Slaves were given only enough
food on board ship to keep them alive and salable in the New World.
The people were only fed once or twice a day. Men were thought to
be more dangerous than women, so they were chained together and
placed shoulder to shoulder with other men who often spoke different
languages from their own. Below deck, they were kept in spaces
no more than sixteen inches high, less than six feet long, and less than
three feet wide. On deck, they were forced to move about by a crew
member with a whip. Forced exercise and “dancing” was an attempt

Loading sugar onto boats
in the Caribbean (1833)
Original in the John Carter Brown
Library at Brown University


Detail of the slave ship Vigilante (1828)
Original in the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University

to keep slaves healthy and presentable for sale. About 25% of slaves died on board ship
from malnutrition and thirst, diarrhea, and diseases like scurvy, measles and smallpox.
Abuse, starvation, and depression/suicide also contributed to deaths.
After they arrived in the western hemisphere, a number of African slaves were sold
to work on sugar plantations in the Caribbean islands. The sugar they produced, usually
as molasses, was transported to New England where it was used to make rum, and
much of that rum along with other manufactured goods was shipped back to Africa and
traded for slaves. This trade along the routes between Africa, the Caribbean, and New
England is often called the Triangular Trade. Other trade items such as cotton and tobacco
were transported as well within this system. Not all African slaves disembarked in the
Caribbean. Many were sold in the Carolinas to work on rice and indigo plantations,
and some were even brought to the northern colonies.

Discussion Questions
Although slavery has existed throughout the world before the transatlantic slave trade,
what made this trade different?
Why did people die on the way to the dungeons, while waiting in dungeons, or during
the sea voyage?
Why were Africans enslaved? What arguments were made to justify the enslavement
of Africans?


Barracoons – large dungeons in which slaves were kept between being brought to coastal
markets and being sold to locals or foreign explorers, businessmen, and sailors
Chattel – personal property such as a slave, a cow, or a desk
Commodities – items that are bought and sold for money in a market
Domestic Servants – servants who work within the household rather than in the fields
Hereditary – handed down from generation to generation
Indentured Servants – servants who voluntarily exchanged a set number of years
of service to a family who paid for their passage to the new American colonies; also poor
children and some adults, often African American or Indian, who were placed in white
households to work until reaching adulthood
Sedentary – settled, no longer moving from place to place
Slave raids – the process of invading and violently taking people from their homes
to be sold as slaves
Transatlantic – involving travel across the Atlantic Ocean
Triangular Trade – the trade of slaves from Africa to the Americas and the Caribbean,
sugar and molasses from the Caribbean to the Northern colonies of North America,
especially New England, and manufactured goods and rum from the Northern colonies
to Africa.


Additional Resources
The Slave Ship by Marcus Rediker (2007).
This book contains excellent detail about the transatlantic slave trade and uses personal
histories to delve into details of slave raids, slave markets, fitting a ship to be a slaver,
the lives of sailors, the lives of captains, and the lives of the enslaved.
The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database. This site has extensive information about
the transatlantic trade including historical archives, maps, and information about slave
ships and voyages. They also offer educational lessons plans.
The Atlantic Slave Trade and Slave Life in the Americas: A Visual Record. This site gives access to historical
maps and drawings pertaining to pre-colonial life in Africa, slave raids in Africa, slave
ships, and life for slaves in the Americas. Images are for use by teachers.


Lesson Plan:
The Extent of the African Slave Trade
Content Objectives
• Students will organize what they have learned to understand the extent of the
transatlantic slave trade
• Students will be able to evaluate nations’ dependence on the slave trade by discussing
a “what if” situation
• Students will create a story based on facts they researched
Language Objectives (for English Language Learners)
• Students will be able to list countries involved in the slave trade.
• Students will be able to locate the triangular trade route on a map.
• Students will use their imaginations to write a story based on the facts they have learned.
One copy of the attached student worksheet for each student.
Rhode Island Department of Education
Civics and Government
C&G 5 (5-6)-1.a, b; C&G 5 (7-8)-1a, b; C&G 5 (5-6)-2.a, b; C&G 5 (7-8)-2.a, b
Historical Perspectives
HP3 (5-6)-1.b; HP3 (7-8)-1.b
Massachusetts Department of Education
History and Social Science (5): 5.12
WIDA Consortium Standards for English Language Learners
ELP Standard 2 (6-8): Writing: Editing, level 3&4
ELP Standard 5 (6-8): Listening: Maps, level 3


Lesson Plan: The Extent of the African Slave Trade

Teacher Instructions
• Depending on the reading levels of the students in your class, you may choose
to use the readings Slavery Around the World and Slavery in Africa as shared, group,
or independent reading exercises.
• Have students complete a two to five minute talk back to each other, summarizing
what they have just learned.
• Have students discuss the reading’s discussion questions in small groups or as a class.
• Hand each student a copy of the student worksheet.
• Have students report their answers to questions three and four in small groups
or as a class.


Lesson Plan: The Extent of the African Slave Trade

Student Worksheet



1. How many nations and colonies were involved with the transatlantic slave trade?
You may have to do some library and internet research to answer this. List them here
and locate them on a world map:

2. Draw a diagram of the three parts of the triangular trade and list the location and items
traded at each point.


Lesson Plan: The Extent of the African Slave Trade

3. What would the world have been like if the slave trade did not exist? Would some countries’
and colonies’ economies have been different? Do you think the new colonies in the Americas
would have been able to establish themselves economically without the slave trade?
Think of the enslaved people as an unpaid labor force to answer these questions. Write a paragraph of at least five sentences.


Lesson Plan: The Extent of the African Slave Trade

4. How do you think buying and selling people as commodities would have affected
the way Europeans thought about and treated enslaved people? Write a paragraph
of at least five sentences.


Lesson Plan: The Extent of the African Slave Trade

5. Now think of the enslaved people as human beings with families, cultures, and feelings. Write
a paragraph of at least five sentences describing what it may have been like to be separated
from family and kept in baracoons near the ocean, not knowing what was to happen. What do
you think the inside of a baracoon looked like? What other people are there? What sounds would
be heard? What smells would exist? How might a captive feel?


Slavery, Freedom, and Civil Rights
in Rhode Island
Rhode Island’s Role in Enslaving Africans and Indians
Rhode Island ships were responsible for about 60% of the American trade in African
slaves and were a major part of the triangular trade. Slaving ships left from the ports
of Bristol, Newport, and Providence. About 934 slave ships were financed by Rhode Island
merchants between 1709 and 1807. After 1808, when the slave trade became illegal,
a few Rhode Island merchants continued to trade slaves illegally. Slaving ships left from
the ports of Bristol, Newport, and Providence. Rhode Island merchants brought a total
of about 106,000 people to the Americas to be slaves. The majority of African slaves
brought to the North American colonies went to work on plantations in the southern
colonies/states because warmer climates there supported larger farms; however,
slaves were also brought to the northern colonies like Rhode Island.
Africans were not the only ones to be enslaved in Rhode Island. Indian captives in the
Pequot War of 1637 became New England’s first slaves. Females and children were sold
in New England, while men were traded in the West Indies for African slaves. After King
Philip’s War (1676), many Native Americans in the area were captured and sold as slaves.
Most were sent to work on the plantations in the Caribbean in order to remove them from
the New England area. Some remained to work as slaves in the New England colonies.
Others were free but became poor and worked as indentured servants. Native people
from southern regions of the United States were sold as slaves in Rhode Island as well.
Native American and African American slaves often lived in the same households. Because
of this, Native Americans and African Americans often formed families together. Some
Rhode Islanders today can trace their ancestry back to both Native and African roots.
Slavery continued to exist in the North for many years, and in the mid-1700s, about 10%
of Rhode Island’s population was enslaved (the largest percentage of any New England
colony). Much of the enslaved population of Rhode Island worked on the Narragansett
plantations in the southern part of the state. The Narragansett plantations resembled
those of the American South in some ways. On a plantation, the owner generally does not
become involved with the work in the fields. The labor is done by the enslaved community,


“The Figure of the Indians' Fort or Palizado in New England
And the manner of the destroying It” by Captayne Vnderhill And Captayne Mason (1638)
(Depicts an event during the Pequot War)
Original at the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University

which allows the owner to pursue other work. For this reason, many of the Narragansett
planters were successful merchants, lawyers, or government officials who also owned
farms. Some records suggest that some of these plantations may have had as many as
forty slaves at a time. One plantation owner boasted that his grandfather had owned 70
slaves, although this is not indicated on county records. Plantation owners and wealthy
merchants tried to copy the lifestyle of the English gentry by living in fine houses and
having imported goods. In contrast, life for the enslaved people on these plantations was
extremely difficult. Planters controlled the lives of slaves through physical and psychological
means. The threat of physical punishment was always looming, as was the threat of sale.
In the 1700s there were at least twenty-five different plantations in Rhode Island.


Slaves throughout Rhode Island performed household labor, which at that time included
working in kitchen gardens, small orchards, and wood lots, and caring for one or two
cows, horses, chickens, and sometimes other barnyard animals. Merchants in Rhode
Island trained slaves to work as rope makers, stonemasons, carpenters, candle makers,
and silversmiths, among other trades. Some slaves were hired out to work on merchant
ships and even enslaving ships.
By 1770, more and more enslaved people were manumitted out of slavery in various ways.
In southern Rhode Island, the plantations had begun to decline as the land was passed
down to new generations and split up into smaller pieces. Many slaves were no longer
needed and were manumitted. Other slaves earned the gratitude of their owners and were
freed, sometimes in wills after their owners had died. Still other slaves ran away from their
masters. A few enslaved people were able to earn their freedom by saving money and
purchasing their liberty from their masters. However, slaves had no way of enforcing such
agreements if a master went back on his word and refused to grant the freedom that had
been promised.

Some donors to the building of University Hall at the College of Rhode Island (now Brown
University) donated the services of their slaves. Free blacks and Native Americans also helped
build the Hall (Built 1770, print 1795)
Original at the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University


Meanwhile, some Rhode Islanders had begun to speak out against slavery. The Quakers
were one of the most outspoken antislavery groups. Moses Brown, a member of a wealthy
family that was involved in the slave trade, became a Quaker when his wife died. He soon
became a supporter of abolition. He freed his own slaves in 1773, and in 1789 he helped
to found the Providence Society for the Abolition of Slavery. He and the Society worked
to assist people who were enslaved illegally.
Another way slaves earned their freedom was by joining the American army to fight
in the Revolutionary War. Rhode Island was in need of more soldiers. Slaves, and some
other African and Native Americans, were recruited to join the Rhode Island First Regiment
with promises of freedom to those who fought. Slave owners would be compensated
for their slaves’ enlistment. Free and enslaved African American and Indian soldiers fought
alongside white soldiers in the Battle of Rhode Island, which was one of the largest land
battles in the American Revolution. These soldiers displayed great courage. Having
armed slaves to fight for freedom made it harder for some people to defend the idea
of slavery.

Revolutionary war uniforms. The figure on the far left represents a soldier
of the First Rhode Island Regiment.
Courtesy of the Brown University Library


After the Revolution, more and more Rhode Islanders were willing to end slavery in the
state. In 1784 Rhode Island put a law into effect that would slowly abolish slavery.
This law stated that every child born to a slave after March 1, 1784, would be free when
that child became an adult. A new state constitution adopted in 1842 officially made
slavery illegal in the state.
Even though the institution of slavery itself was no longer legal in Rhode Island, much
of the state’s economy was still dependent on slave labor and the triangular trade. Factories
in the North made products using raw materials that were obtained from Southern
slave labor, such as cotton and sugar. Some of the sugar was still made into rum. The
raw cotton was made into textiles, including “Negro” cloth. “Negro” cloth was a coarse
material made into cheap clothing for southern slaves and for the sacks they used in
gathering cotton. Rhode Island mills also produced cheap shoes, blankets, and farm
implements made for southern slaves.
Shipping rum and cotton to Europe and slaves from Africa to southern and South American
ports also remained a major part of Rhode Island’s economy, and some merchants
continued to make money from the slave trade. Many of these slaving voyages were illegal,
since Rhode Island had outlawed the slave trade in 1787 and a national law prohibited the
trade after 1807. However, the trading continued for many years because of the large
profits that could be made. The slave trade wasn’t just profitable for the wealthy owners
of the ships; middle-class shopkeepers and merchants also bought “shares” in these
voyages (much like the way people buy shares in companies today). Even though no one
was working as a slave in Rhode Island by the 1830s, the people in the state were still
connected to the institution in many ways.

Discussion Questions
Why would a plantation owner “boast” that his grandfather had owned 70 slaves, which
might be more than the truth?
Even after Rhode Islanders no longer owned slaves, in what ways were people still
connected to the slave trade and slavery in the South?


Free Blacks in Rhode Island
Even during the period of legal slavery in Rhode Island, there was a fairly large free black
community living in the state. But freedom from slavery did not necessarily mean
freedom from racial oppression. Even though no one was enslaved in Rhode Island
by the mid 1800s, racism made life difficult in free black communities.
Free black workers often entered
the workforce with skills that would
make them valuable additions to the
economy. However, many white
employers believed that people who
had once been slaves would be inferior
workers. Other white employers feared
that black workers would take away
jobs from whites. Many free blacks
therefore found it difficult to find work.
The white community saw African
Americans without jobs and were quick
to blame their lack of economic
An 1827 historical broadside from Boston depicting African
Americans negatively to reinforce stereotypes

success on inherent laziness and lack
of ability instead of seeing that systematic prejudice against them created

those inequalities. New stereotypes evolved from this. Racial tensions grew, leading to
violence and other actions against black citizens.
The city of Providence suffered two racially motivated riots. In the “Hard Scrabble” riot,
which took place in the fall of 1824, members of the white community entered the black
neighborhood called Hard Scrabble (currently the University Heights area) and tore down
people’s homes. Many African Americans then moved to an area of Providence called
Snow Town (near where the Providence Marriott is on Charles and Gaspee Streets). This
became the site of the second riot, in 1831. This riot lasted four days and involved a mob
of around one thousand white residents.


White communities also tried to assert control over free blacks
in Rhode Island in other ways. During the colonial period, strict laws
had governed the behavior of slaves and free blacks in an effort
to avoid uprisings. For example, a Rhode Island law passed in 1703
forbade African Americans and Native Americans from walking
at night without passes. In 1708, a law declared that enslaved people
were not allowed to visit the homes of free blacks without their
master’s permission. After emancipation, many whites believed that
free black communities needed to be controlled. Even many
abolitionists believed that free blacks needed to demonstrate that
they could be good citizens by conforming to middle class white
standards of behavior.
At the same time, most whites did not believe that blacks ever could

George Downing led the
movement to desegregate Rhode
Island Schools

or should be citizens. Free blacks were excluded from many middle
class institutions controlled by whites. However, when they created their own schools,
churches, and reading societies to participate in middle class Rhode Island life, they
were ridiculed for acting like white citizens. Despite countless forms of prejudice, control,
and violence, free blacks in Rhode Island achieved many successes. They created
independent small businesses as well as churches and other community groups. Their
schools educated a generation of children until they were able to force the cities to
allow their children to attend public schools.

Elleanor Eldridge lived from 1784 to 1845. She was
a Providence entrepreneur and owned property
Original at the John Hay Library, Brown University


Broadside mocking the Hard Scrabble Riot
Original at the John Hay Library at Brown University


Every man with a certain amount of property, called a freeholder, was eligible to vote in
Rhode Island until 1822, black or white. In that year, in the climate of rising racism, Rhode
Island passed a law limiting the franchise to propertied white men. The relatively small
number of African Americans protested this discrimination, with no response. The much
larger number of white men without property had been demanding the franchise for some
time, and they now formed a Suffrage Party, led by Thomas Dorr. The struggle that
followed in 1841-42 is called the Dorr Rebellion or the Dorr War. The Suffrage Party held
an illegal convention where they passed a People’s Constitution that would allow all white
men, with or without property, to vote – but not black men. White freeholders called
Charterites supported the existing Charter that had governed Rhode Island since colonial
times. When the Suffrage Party gathered an armed force and threatened to march on
Providence, the Charterites, now called the Law and Order Party, appealed for African
American support to help protect the city. Two hundred black men volunteered and
became part of the Providence Home Guard. Dorr and his party were defeated. In return
for African Americans’ support, the Law and Order Party promised to restore the voting
rights of black men at the next constitutional convention. For this reason, African
American men regained their right to vote in Rhode Island in the 1842 State Constitution.

Discussion Questions
Why did white communities show prejudice against free blacks?
Why do you think there was a law prohibiting enslaved Africans from visiting the homes
of free blacks without their masters’ permission?


Civil War and Emancipation
Although Rhode Island had legally ended slavery long before the Civil War, Rhode
Islanders struggled with their decision to join the fight. By this time, many Rhode
Islanders believed slavery to be morally wrong. However, they feared the effect of the
war on the state’s economy. As discussed in the section on “Slavery in Rhode Island,”
the state’s economy still depended heavily on Southern slave labor, which provided
cotton for Rhode Island textile mills. “Negro cloth” – cheap cotton and cotton/wool
blends used to clothe slaves—and farming tools were manufactured in Rhode Island
and sold to Southern plantations. Despite this, when Southern states started to
secede from the United States, Rhode Island Governer William Sprague sent a letter
to President Lincoln offering troops from Rhode Island to defend the Union.
Besides forming their own institutions like churches, businesses and community groups to protest their exclusion
from white institutions, African Americans in this period
demonstrated their civic equality by volunteering to fight in
the Civil War. African American slaves in the South walked
away from the plantations to join the Union army as a way
to participate in the struggle against slavery. African
Americans in Rhode Island served in the Massachusetts
Fifth Calvary, the Massachusetts Fifty-Fourth Infantry, and
the Rhode Island Fourteenth Heavy Artillery units. These
units were all known as “colored” units, or regiments made
Monument Honoring the
up of entirely black soldiers. The reason why some individMassachusetts 54th Regiment.
uals registered in Massachusetts is because these units
were formed before the Rhode Island 14th was authorized by the War Department on
June 17, 1963. About 1800 black soldiers mainly from Rhode Island, Connecticut,
and New York joined the RI 14th Heavy Artillery Unit. Seventy-seven white officers also
joined. The recruits trained on Dexter Field (now Dexter Park near Westminster Street)
in Providence during the summer of 1863. Over 300 men from this regiment alone died
during the war, mainly from disease. The unit was stationed at Camp Parapet in


New Orleans, nearby Fort Jackson, and Baton Rouge.
The high number of deaths from sickness is due to the
climate. Yellow fever and malaria carried by mosquitoes
were common. Flies carried typhoid fever. Lice were a
problem due to close quarters. Dysentery was spread
due to high water tables causing improper drainage
of latrines. Damp and hot seasons caused pneumonia.
The regiment eventually assimilated into the Eleventh
United States Colored Artillery Unit.

Discussion Questions
Why did Rhode Islanders fear the state’s economy
would decline if Southern states were unable to use
enslaved labor?
What might be some of the reasons why an African
American would decide to volunteer to fight in the
Civil War?

Union army recruitment poster


The Reconstruction period in the American South after
the Civil War demonstrated a conflict over race and
a shift in the balance of political power. This conflict
continued to shape the minds of those living in the
South and even in the North. At first, Black Codes were
established by many southern states that limited rights
to former and newly free African Americans, including
basic citizenship rights. And many blacks found
themselves working on the same plantations in similar
conditions as before emancipation, and with low pay,
or found themselves in sharecropping situations. Black
Codes also allowed blacks to be jailed if they wished to

Broadside attacking the Freedman’s Bureau, 1866.

leave an employer or were reported to be without work.
The federal government overturned the Black Codes with
the 14th Amendment to the Constitution in 1868. In
addition, groups like the Freedman’s Bureau and black
churches set up schools, banks, and other organizations
to give blacks at this time access to needed education,
better jobs, and loans for homes and businesses. Some
African Americans were even elected into political positions within southern states and to the U.S. Congress.
Visit of the Ku Klux Klan
by Frank Bellew, 1872

With the overturn of the Black Codes and as African
Americans began to gain slight political and economic
power, white supremacist groups began to form to

“protect whites” and “keep negroes in their place.” They feared that blacks would eventually gain political power to create laws that would hurt whites and take jobs away from
whites. Groups like the Ku Klux Klan, Knights of the White Camellia, and The Pale Faces,
formed to drive blacks from power and deprive them of political equality. They opposed
the Freedman’s Bureau and other government agencies from the North, kept blacks
from voting, burned cars and homes, and threatened blacks, and the whites who helped
them, with violence. These groups worked to overthrow Reconstruction, allowing
southern states to establish Jim Crow Laws similar to the earlier black codes.

Great Migration
Between the Civil War and the end of WWI, America experienced the first wave
of what became known as the Great Migration. Many African Americans in the South
who were recently emancipated began to move to Northern cities looking for work
and better opportunities. New York, Boston, and Chicago experienced a great influx
of African Americans who formed new communities within the cities because of easy
train routes from the South to these cities. The second wave of the Great Migration
occurred between WWII and the 1970s.
African Americans came North for many reasons. After the Civil War, southern states
established Black Codes and later Jim Crow Laws, which limited the ability of black
people to gain access to quality education and well-paying jobs. Restrictions were also
placed on their rights as citizens, including their ability to vote and testify in court.
The Jim Crow laws limited everything from where blacks could live to where they could
sit on buses and trains and at lunch counters. At the same time, several factors reduced
the demand for their agricultural labor, especially in the cotton fields.
In the North, many whites feared that the great number of Southern blacks looking
for work would take their jobs. Whites continued to perpetrate stereotypes of African
Americans as lazy and uneducated to limit their ability to find skilled work. Although
there were no formal legal restrictions in
the North, employers continued to limit job
prospects for blacks to low-paying service
work. Informal agreements among whites
kept blacks from renting or buying houses
in certain neighborhoods.
Rhode Island cities did not see as great an influx
of Southerners as other northern cities did.
However, southern blacks did seek work in the
area, especially with easy transportation from
the South via steamship. After the Civil War and
well into the 1930’s, southern blacks, mainly

James A. Ray, Newport Policeman, Circa 1910,
Courtesy of Newport Historical Society


from Maryland and Virginia, sought service jobs in
Newport, which was then and continues to be a resort
town. Black men found work in service jobs such as
porters, waiters, dishwashers and bellhops, and women
toiled in such jobs as washerwomen, maids, and
seamstresses in hotels and boarding houses. Blacks
also worked on the large steamships, ferries, and
railroads that carried tourists to and from this resort
destination. The military training center in Newport
included a Naval Hospital and Naval War College, which
J.T. Allen and Co.’s Touro Dining Room,
also provided employment for blacks as cooks,
Circa 1910, Courtesy of Newport
housekeepers, seamstresses, and servants for Naval
Historical Society
personnel. Although discrimination against blacks
limited them to low-paying service jobs, a black medical doctor, chiropodist,
lawyer, dentist, and a few music teachers lived in Newport during this period.
In 1885, Mahlon Van Horne became the first African American elected to the House
of Representatives in the Rhode Island General Assembly.

Naval War College in Newport, RI.

Mahlon Van Horne circa 1901.
Photo from New York Public Library
open access digital collections.

Although the Great Migration was not as extensive in Rhode Island, as elsewhere,
the newcomers that did arrive also sometimes clashed with established African Rhode
Islanders because each had different experiences and had formed different cultural
understandings. However, the established Rhode Island black culture slowly absorbed
many characteristics of southern black culture. For example, some aspects of what
is now called Southern “Soul Food” made their way into Rhode Island dining at this
time. Scholars have referred to this mixing of cultures as the “southernization
of northern black communities.” Cultural attributes from Africa, the African-American
South, and African-American North combined to form a rich cultural heritage
in Rhode Island.

Discussion Questions
Why do you think the newly freed blacks who moved to northern cities sometimes had
conflicts with well-established blacks who had already been living in those cities?
Why were jobs limited for African Americans at this time?


The Struggle for Civil Rights
Many African Americans served in the military during
WWII. They served in segregated units. (It was not
until 1948 that President Truman ordered the desegregation of the American armed forces, and the last
segregated unit was not disbanded until 1954.) One
issue during the war was that Nazi officials singled out
Jewish people, gypsies, and others in Germany and
surrounding countries for segregation, forced labor and
even death during the Holocaust when six million
people were murdered. Although the experiences and
histories of blacks in the United States and Jewish
Jim Crow segregation at a bus station
people in Europe are different, the horrific acts against
in Durham, North Carolina, 1940.
these and other groups of people were both rooted in
forms of racism. Because Jim Crow laws made segregation official and very visible in the South, many northern whites, including those
in Rhode Island, did not notice the racial discrimination in their own communities
because they were used to the practices they had inherited. Many thought racism
was a southern problem.
After seeing the deadly effects of systematic racial
segregation and extermination in Europe during World
War II, some people slowly began to recognize the
inequalities in American society. In addition, African
Americans who fought in WWI and WWII recognized
that they were fighting in a war against fascism and
for what they considered to be democracy. Many
of them thought that when they returned home, there
would be a change in racial inequality in the United
States. However, they found that didn’t happen.
Jim Crow drinking fountain
on the courthouse lawn.
Halifax, North Carolina, 1938.

African American men who went to war also pushed
for change against racism when they returned home.


After the War, in the 1940s and 1950s, African Americans
and other minority groups protested against discriminatory government policies and demanded their rights.
Here again, their struggle was more visible in the South
because they were protesting by deliberately breaking
Jim Crow laws, leading to violent resistance by whites,
arrests and extensive television coverage by the 1960s.
Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C. in 1963.
Because of the constant struggle against segregation,
women and churches became important in the fight for civil rights. You may have
learned about Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Student Nonviolent
Coordinating Committee who participated in sit-ins
I Have a Dream
and freedom rides to protest segregation. The
“Five score years ago, a great American, in
United States government finally passed the Civil
whose symbolic shadow we stand today,
Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965,
signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This
momentous decree came as a great beacon
laws that guaranteed civil rights throughout the
light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who
whole country. But even in northern cities like
had been seared in the flames of withering
Boston, new policies such as busing to integrate
injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak
public schools were met with violent resistance
to end the long night of their captivity.
by some whites. The African American civil rights
But one hundred years later, the Negro still
is not free. One hundred years later, the life
movement spurred other minority groups such
of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the
as women, Latin Americans, Asian Americans, and
manacles of segregation and the chains of
Native Americans to demonstrate for their rights.
discrimination. One hundred years later, the
Despite Civil Rights laws, racism and racial inequaliNegro lives on a lonely island of poverty in
the midst of a vast ocean of material prosties still exist in our society today.
perity. One hundred years later, the Negro is
still languished in the corners of American
society and finds himself an exile in his own
Discussion Questions
land. And so we've come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

Why did it take a century for the greater American
I have a dream that my four little children
society to accept the need for civil rights?
will one day live in a nation where they will
not be judged by the color of their skin, but
Why did it take a century for the government to see
by the content of their character.”
a need to establish laws granting civil rights?
from 1963 “I have a Dream” speech delivered
by Martin Luther King, Jr. on the steps
of the Lincoln Memorial during the March
on Washington for Jobs and Freedom

Abolition – putting an end to a practice (in this case, referring to the end of legal slavery)
Black Codes – laws enacted in the southern states after the Civil War to impede citizenship
and advancement of African Americans. These laws restricted job opportunities, voting
rights, and other basic citizenship rights. Many of the codes were rooted in previous Slave
Codes that barred enslaved blacks many basic rights. The Black Codes ended with the
14th Amendment, were short-lived, but served as a precursor for Jim Crow Laws.
Chiropodist – a medical practicioner who deals with hands and feet
Climate – a region’s weather patterns from year to year
Conforming – acting like a group of people, usually in a manner that is considered
socially acceptable at the time
Emancipated – freed from slavery
Enlistment – signing up for military service
Franchise – right to vote
Gentry – the group of people who make up the upper social class
Imported – brought in from another region
Inherent – part of the very nature of something, and therefore permanently characteristic
of it or necessarily in it
Negro Cloth – cheap cotton or cotton and woolen cloth made in Rhode Island mills
for the clothing of Southern plantation slaves
Profit – in business, the money that remains once the costs of production have been paid
off; a return on investment
Quaker – someone who is a member of the Christian denomination the Society of Friends
Raw Materials – materials that have not been processed
Secede – to withdraw membership. In this case, to withdraw membership from the
United States
Sharecropping – an arrangement whereby landowners allow tenants to use the land
in return for a share of the crop. Plantations that formerly relied on slave labor adopted
this practice to maintain a needed labor force. Some landowners would take advantage
of tenants by claiming they owed more than they were able to produce and kept people
working for them under unfair contracts.

Additional Resources
Something Upstairs by Avi (1988). A fiction book for young adults about a boy
in Providence who meets the ghost of a teenage slave who brings him back in time.
The Black Regiment of the American Revolution by Linda Crotta Brennan (2004).
A non-fictional, illustrated book for youth about the Rhode Island 1st black
regiment in the Revolutionary War.
Traces of the Trade: A Story of the Deep North (film) by Katrina Browne (2008). This film
follows descendants of the DeWolf family of Bristol as they discover their family’s history
in the slave trade. They visit the family’s home in Rhode Island (Linden Place), a slave fort
in Ghana, and the family’s ancestral sugar plantation in the Cuba. Educational versions
of the film and other information can be found at
Slavery, Citizenship & Civil Rights: Documenting Rhode Island’s People of Color
by the Rhode Island Historical Society. A collection of primary source documents and
lesson plans for grades five through twelve.
A Forgotten History: The Slave Trade and Slavery in New England by the Choices
Program, Watson Institute for International Studies, Brown University. Readings and
lesson plan materials for high school students.
The Voyage of the Slave Ship Sally 1764-1765 an exhibit at the John Brown House
Museum, Rhode Island Historical Society. The exhibit focuses on the conflict between
John Brown, a slave trafficker, and Moses Brown, an abolitionist, through historical
documents and items from the slave ship Sally.
The Royall House Museum, Medford, Massachusetts. The location of the Isaac Royall
House and slave quarters, the only known standing slave quarters in New England.
Information and primary resource documents are available on their website.
Slavery and Justice Report by the Brown University Steering Committee on Slavery
and Justice. Documents slavery in Rhode Island and the connections Brown University had
to it, including the Brown family. For a documentary reconstruction of the Rhode Island
slave ship Sally and to view the full report, visit


Rhode Island and the Civil War. A series from RI NPR. The website lists a series
on Rhode Island’s part in the Civil War. Articles as well as radio interviews are available.
14th Rhode Island Re-enactor Program. A program for high school students of
Providence that teaches students the daily life of a soldier during the Civil War through
re-enactment. Their website also provides further information about this black regiment.
Lord, Please Don’t Take Me in August by Myra B. Young Armstead documents the lives
of African Americans in the summer vacation spots of Newport and Saratoga Springs
from 1870 to 1930.
African-Americans on Martha’s Vineyard & Nantucket: A History of People, Places,
and Events by Robert C. Hayden and Karen E. Hayden serves as a record of people,
places, and events pertaining to African-Americans and Cape Verdean Americans
on these Massachusetts Islands.


Lesson Plan:
Stories of Two Slaves
Content Objectives
• Students will be able to examine and glean historical information from primary
source documents
• Students will learn the stories of two Rhode Island slaves
Language Objectives (for English Language Learners)
• Students will learn how some Africans were given slave names
• Students will be able to use the internet to learn about the environment of an area based
on historical documents
One copy of document 1 and document 2 for each student. One copy of the document
analysis worksheet for each student.
Rhode Island Department of Education
Historical Perspectives
HP 1 (5-6)-1.a,b,c; HP 1 (7-8)-1.a,b,c; HP 2 (5-6)-1.b; HP 1 (7-8)-1.b; HP 2 (5-6)-2.b;
HP 2 (7-8)-2.b
Massachusetts Department of Education
History and Social Science (5): 5.12
WIDA Consortium Standards for English Language Learners
ELP Standard 2 (6-8): Writing: Editing, level 3&4
ELP Standard 5 (6-8): Listening: Maps, level 3


Lesson Plan: Stories of Two Slaves

Teacher Instructions
• Depending on the reading levels of the students in your class, you may choose to use
the reading Rhode Island’s Role in Enslaving Africans and Indians as shared, group,
or independent reading exercises.
• Have students complete a two to five minute talk back to each other, summarizing
what they have just learned.
• Have students discuss the reading’s discussion questions in small groups or as a class.
• Hand each student a copy of Document 1, Document 2, and the Document Analysis
• Students may work independently, in pairs, or in groups to examine the documents
and answer the questions.


Lesson Plan: Stories of Two Slaves

Document 1

From the account of Venture Smith:
“I was born at Dukandarra, in Guinea, about the year 1729. My father’s name was Saungm
Furro, Prince of the Tribe of Dukandarra.
All of us were then put into the castle and kept for market. On a certain time, I and other
prisoners were put on board a canoe, under our master, and rowed away to a vessel
belonging to Rhode Island, commanded by Captain Collingwood, and the mate, Thomas
Mumford. While we were going to the vessel, our master told us to appear to the best
possible advantage for sale. I was brought on board by one Robertson Mumford,a steward
of said vessel, for four gallons of rum and a piece of calico, and called VENTURE on
account of his having purchased me with his own private venture. Thus I came by my
name. All the slaves that were bought for that vessel’s cargo were two hundred and sixty.
After all the business was ended on the coast of Africa, the ship sailed from thence to
Barbadoes. After an ordinary passage, except great mortality by the small pox, which broke
out on board, we arrived at the island of Barbadoes; but when we reached it, there
were found, out of the two hundred and sixty that sailed from Africa, not more than two
hundred alive. These were all sold, except myself and three more, to the planters there.
The vessel then sailed for Rhode Island, and arrived there after
a comfortable passage. Here my master sent me to live with
one of his sisters until he could carry me to Fisher’s Island,
the place of his residence. I had then completed my eighth year.
After staying with his sister some time, I was taken to my
master’s place to live.”
From Venture Smith, 1729?-1805
A Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Venture, a Native
of Africa: But Resident above Sixty Years in the United States
of America. Related by Himself.
New-London, [CT]: Printed by C. Holt, at The Bee-office, 1798.
© This work is the property of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
It may be used freely by individuals for research, teaching and personal use as long
as this statement of availability is included in the text.


Lesson Plan: Stories of Two Slaves

Document 2

From the Memoirs of Elleanor Eldridge
In her memoirs, Elleanor Eldridge’s friend, Francis McDougall, writes about the
capture and enslavement of Elleanor’s paternal grandfather in Africa. (You will learn
more about Elleanor Eldridge in a future lesson).
“The African stood on the deck, with streaming eyes, stretching his arms out towards
his own beautiful Congo; which lay, even then, distinctly visible with the ruby light of sunset,
stealing, like a presence of joy, thro’ bower and vale, tinging the snowy cups of a thousand
lilies. There too was his beloved Zaire, stealing away from the distant forests of mangrove
and bondo, and flowing on with its lovely borders of tamarind and cedar, until, at last,
it rushed into the arms of the Atlantic, troubling the placid bosom of the ocean with its
tumultuous waters.
Again he caught a gleam of his palm-roofed home, with all its clustering vines, from the rich
forests of Madeira; its beautiful groves of cocoa and matoba, and its wide fields of masanga,
luno, and maize; all waving richly beneath the bowing wind, rife with the promise
of an abundant and joyful harvest. Beyond, in holy solitude, stood the tree of his worship,
the sacred mironne, in its garments of eternal green, an apt emblem of the undying soul.
He could almost see the tulip groves where his children played; could almost see the light
garlands of tube rose and hyacinth, their sportive hands had wreathed; with the rich
clusters of nicosso and tamba, they had gathered for their evening banquet. He could
almost hear the murmurs of the home returning bees, as they lingered in the sweet groves
of orange and pomegranate; for despair had quickened the senses: and a thousand objects,
with all their thronging associations, came rushing to the mind, in that one agonizing
moment, to quicken and aggravate its conceptions of eternal loss.”
From Memoirs of Elleanor Eldridge by Frances H. Green (Frances Harriet), 1805-1878
and Elleanor Eldridge, 1784-1845? Providence, R. I.: B.T. Albro, 1838.


Lesson Plan: Stories of Two Slaves

Document Analysis Worksheet



1. Draw the journey of Venture’s ship on the map:

2. What happened during Venture’s transatlantic journey? Was this a typical journey for an
African slave at this time? Why or why not?


Lesson Plan: Stories of Two Slaves

3. Our narrator’s original name was Broteer Furro. Why was he given the name “Venture?”

4. Why do you think that slavers and masters would often rename enslaved people?

5. Although the Memoirs of Elleanor Eldridge is written in an embellished style, what does
the description imply about the climate of the West African coast? What evidence is
presented? You may need to research some of the plant-life that is mentioned.


Lesson Plan: Stories of Two Slaves

6. Imagine that you are Venture Smith or Elleanor Eldridge’s grandfather. Based on your
answer to the previous question, write about the strange world you encounter in Rhode
Island after you land. How is this place different from your West African home?


Lesson Plan:
Free Blacks in Rhode Island
Content Objectives
• Students will be able to analyze historical documents for evidence of what life was like
for free blacks after abolition
• Students will understand that Rhode Island’s African American population continued
to deal with prejudice after slavery was abolished
• Students will learn about the stories of two Rhode Island free blacks
Language Objectives (for English Language Learners)
Students will be able to discuss their opinions with a partner or the class based on their
reading of historical documents
Copies of Elleanor Eldridge reading, Student Worksheet: Elleanor Eldridge, School Integration
in Rhode Island reading, and Student Worksheet: School Integration in Rhode Island for each
student, pencils, notebooks
Rhode Island Department of Education
Historical Perspectives
HP 1 (5-6) –1.a,b,c; HP 1 (7-8) –1.a,b,c; HP 2 (5-6) -2.a,b; HP 2 (7-8) -2.a,b
WIDA Consortium Standards for English Language Learners
ELP Standard 1 (6-8): Speaking: Social Interaction, level 3
ELP Standard 5 (6-8): Speaking: America’s Story, level 3&4


Lesson Plan: Free Blacks in Rhode Island

Teacher Instructions
• Depending on the reading levels of the students in your class, you may choose to
use the reading Free Blacks in Rhode Island as shared, group, or independent reading
• Have students complete a two to five minute talk back to each other, summarizing
what they have just learned.
• Have students discuss the reading’s discussion questions in small groups or as a class.
Quick Study
• Pass out Student Worksheet: Elleanor Eldridge, School Integration in Rhode Island.
• As individuals, in pairs, or in small groups, have students read about Elleanor Eldridge
and answer the questions on the worksheet.
• Student Worksheet: School Integration in Rhode Island.
• As individuals, in pairs, or in small groups, have students read George Downing’s letter
to the editor under “School Integration in Rhode Island” and answer the questions on
the worksheet. Teacher tip: this reading is advanced. It may help to break the letter into
sections and assign partners or groups to work on paraphrasing their section and
reporting to the class. The teacher may choose to model paraphrase the first paragraph
or section with the class. The class can work on the worksheet questions together.
Further Study
• Assign three to five students to act as judges
• Split the rest of the class into two perspectives. One perspective will argue for school
integration, the other will argue against it
• Ask each group to prepare a statement based on their assigned perspective
• Each group will present their statement to the class
• The judges will choose a side based on the evidence given in the presentation


Lesson Plan: Free Blacks in Rhode Island

Elleanor Eldridge
Elleanor Eldridge was born in Warwick in 1785. Her father and two uncles were
brought to RI on a slave ship and earned their freedom by fighting in the
Revolutionary War. Her mother was part Native American. Elleanor was an entrepreneur who earned money. She was a dairy woman for a time and was well known for
making quality cheeses. She also worked as a laundress, and she began a business
with her siblings of weaving and washing. She earned money to buy land and build
a house. She then also contracted herself out to whitewash, wallpaper, paint, and
launder for families, hotels, and boarding houses. She earned enough money to buy
another property which she rented out. When the gentleman who loaned her money
for the property died, his brother took over the loan. In 1831, she left town to help
take care of a sick family member. While she was gone, her new lender sold her
property to a white man for $1500, claiming her payment was past due, and she owed
$240. When she returned to discover her property sold, she sued, stating that the
property was sold illegally since it was not properly advertised. The Sheriff claimed
the property was advertised, although three men, under oath, stated that it was not.
Before the court case ended, the purchaser of the property offered to allow her
to repurchase the property. She eventually regained her property 1837 by purchasing
it for $2700.

Original at the John Hay Library
at Brown University


Lesson Plan: Free Blacks in Rhode Island

Student Worksheet: Elleanor Eldridge



After reading about Elleanor Eldridge, answer the questions below.
1. Do you think it was common for a person of color or a woman to be able to earn money
and buy property at that time? Why do you think that? What information have you
learned in your studies of the time period that lead you to your conclusion?

2. Why might Elleanor Eldridge’s new lender sell her property while she was out of town?


Lesson Plan: Free Blacks in Rhode Island

3. What does this act indicate about how free black citizens were treated at the time?


Lesson Plan: Free Blacks in Rhode Island

School Integration in Rhode Island
The following is excerpted from a letter to the editor
of the Providence Journal (1857) from George T. Downing.
A copy of the full letter is available at the John Hay
Library, Brown University.
“To the editor of the Providence Journal: --Dear Sir:-I was relieved in reading your article of to-day in opposition to the movement in behalf of the admission of
colored children to the schools of the respective wards in
which they reside: because I would rather face an open opponent than a concealed
one; because, it being an attack, in honor you will give us a hearing.
“You speak of your regard and good feeling for the colored people. I would have had you
manifested a portion of the same by complying with a respectful request made by them,
to have made known through your columns their feelings and views, (as a current
event,) in this matter; a request freely complied with by every other paper of the city.
“The instances which you give to prove the regard and good feeling you would publish
as enjoying, have not much weight in my mind, nor with the minds of any of the
intelligent of us.

“But to the main matter, I affirm that public schools are State institutions; that we
are citizens of the State ; that we are taxed in common ; are in common amenable
to the law; --that we are not known by the State as colored; that if all this be true, the
establishment of exclusive schools for colored children wars against the principles
of the State, and that I have as unquestionable a right to have my children enjoy every
advantage in the matter of public schools, without inconvenience and proscription
that Gov. Anthony’s children can claim ; we are not bound to accept an equivalent.
I take it that this contains all the argument necessary in the matter, viewing it
in the light of right and wrong; but I would meet some outside points suggested
by your article.
“‘We regard the enjoyment of ‘common’ school advantages as part of our ‘just rights’
and ‘privileges,’ and that the Journal is opposed to ‘our just rights and privileges,’ in
opposing us in this matter.


Lesson Plan: Free Blacks in Rhode Island

“We are sorry to see the Journal attempt to raise a false issue. He speaks of social rights in
this connection, when that has not to do in the matter. Does not the Journal know that social
relation is a matter outside of legislative or political connections. The idea is preposterous,
to affirm that because I am claiming of the State for my children equal common school
advantages, that I am by virtue thereof to enjoy social intercourse with all, or any that my
attend those common schools. I should oppose the same from my own feelings in the
matter. Gov. Anthony may be the most respectable and intelligent of the men of Providence;
he can send his children to the common school; --can he by virtue of that fact, or all of them,
force himself over a single threshold in the city of Providence? No—nor more can I.
“All we would have affirmed in this matter is affirmed by the Journal itself. It says that
where there are a few colored children they should be admitted with the whites. Now, it is
a principle in fair and equal government, in the matter of the enjoyment of common rights,
that that which is the right of one of a community, is equally the right of each other one.
I do not see how it is that my colored friend at Barrillville or Pawtucket can send his child
to the school of his district, of right, in the face of any prejudices that may exist, when I am
to be denied of the same right of sending my child to the school of my district, because I live
in Providence.
“They will learn more in colored schools, says the Journal. This wars with experience; it is
not reasonable,--depress and proscribe a person to make him more susceptible of improvement, --it is absurdity on its face. There are not held out to the colored child the same
incentives in a colored school that there would be in a common school; he feels that there is a
wall between him and the white boy; that he is not cared for in community as is the white boy.
Why am I proscribed? he asks; he feels, in the language of Topsy, “I is nothing but a n…..”
Why study? why aim to be anything? Crime and degradation is my portion.
“I give the following testimony to meet your points in reference to the workings
of the change in Boston in this matter of schools, as well as to establish the fact that
colored children do not prosper so well in separate schools as in promiscuous ones—that
they are uniformly treated well where they attend promiscuously. … The common school is,
or should be, the common school.

“The report of the Cambridge school committee says : ‘In the Broadway primary school a
singular fact was noticed, viz., the mixture of four different races among the pupils—the
Anglo-Saxon, Teutonic, Celtic, and the African ; but, by the influence of the teacher and of


Lesson Plan: Free Blacks in Rhode Island

habit, there exists perfect good feeling among them, and there is no apparent consciousness
of a difference of race or condition.’
“John F. Emerson, Esq., teacher of the high school of New Bedford says: ‘My pupils are
from all classes in the community. Many of them from families of the highest respectability.
I have had no instance of any difficulty arising from the admission of colored children.
They have uniformly been treated with courtesy and kindness by the other scholars. * * I have
noticed no difference in the aptitude to learn between them and the whites. …
“Hon. John H. Shaw of Nantucket, says, ‘Early in February last, the present committee took
charge of the schools, and decided to admit the colored children … Not a single complaint
has been made to the committee thus far, from any teacher, respecting any one of them. …
“Hon. Mr. Slack, one of the school committee of the city of Boston, in a letter dated Feb. 9
1857, says—‘So far as I can observe, or learn, the colored children have all the treatment,
respect, or attention, that is bestowed upon the white scholars. One or two indignant father,
who said their children should not go to school with ‘n…..s,’ did, it is true, take them from
the public schools and sent them to private schools, but the presentation of two quarters’
bills for tuition, brought them to considerations of economy, if not of decency and natural
right, and their children were speedily restored—so I have been informed. …
“Rev. Hentry Upham, editor of the Christian Watchman and Reflector, and one of the school
committee of the city of Boston, in a letter dated Feb. 17, 1857, says—‘…the change has
worked well * * * not more than three or four white scholars left our schools, even temporarily,
on account of this matter. If there are any persons who now complain of colored scholars
attending school with white ones, I don’t know who they are, and do not believe there are nay.
The colored scholars are as well behaved, as intelligent and as cleanly as white children.’
“You have read what the Rev. Wm. Howe, one of the school committee of the city
of Boston, said in a letter dated Feb. 10, 1857. He says:--‘…I am not aware that the ‘reform’
has in the least affected the prosperity of our schools. They are as popular and fully attended
as before the change was made.’

“As an illustration of the indifference felt where colored children are separated from others,
I adduce the Meeting street grammar school. The school committee sustained for three years
a principal, who (it was known) was not competent when he was appointed. –He was


Lesson Plan: Free Blacks in Rhode Island

removed, after repeated protestations. They now retain a principal in the Pond street
school, with the fact known that the principal is not competent. The colored school
at Newport might as well be closed. I do not know of the Bristol School. These are the
only caste schools belonging to the state.
“It is clear that this distinction ought not to exist—must be done away with. The
colored people of to-day have different ideas and feelings from those they had twenty
years ago. We wish our children to be educated with higher Ideas, with a nobler
dignity than the education of our fathers begat. We will struggle accordingly, and mark
our friends. This, with us, is a test matter. Politically, those for us will be our friends;
those against us we must know.


Lesson Plan: Free Blacks in Rhode Island

Student Worksheet:
School Integration in Rhode Island



After reading George Downing’s letter, answer the questions below

1. Circle the words you do not recognize in the article. List them here. Fill out the chart
below using a dictionary, encyclopedia or the internet.

Unknown Word



Lesson Plan: Free Blacks in Rhode Island

2. This letter to the editor by George Downing is a response to an earlier newspaper
article. Based on the information in Downing’s letter to the editor, what do you think the
original article stated? What was the topic, and what was the opinion of the author
about the topic?

3. Why did Downing choose to list so many examples from other schools? What was he
trying to prove?


Lesson Plan: Free Blacks in Rhode Island

4. Based on the answers given by Boston area schools for why integration worked, what
reasons do you think opponents gave to contest integration of Rhode Island schools?
Write at least three reasons.

5. What were Downing’s reasons for why his children should be able to attend the regular
public schools?


Lesson Plan: Free Blacks in Rhode Island

6. What did Downing claim was the condition of some of the “colored” schools
in Rhode Island?

7. Fill out the table below based on the information in Downing’s letter and your answers
to the above questions.
Arguments for school integration

Arguments against school integration


Lesson Plan: Free Blacks in Rhode Island

Bonus: Historians may not always find all the documents they need to learn the whole
story. In your examination of Downing’s Letter, you did not have access to the original
article that he refers to. You had to glean what the article may have stated based on your
reading of Downing’s letter. Trying to think like a historian, are there other questions not
answered by this letter? Is there more research you can do to learn more about this
debate? List some of your questions below. For an added bonus, see if you can find the
answers to your questions through library and internet research. (Example questions
could be: were girls allowed to go to school in 1850? Were all children able to go to school,
or did some work? If so, where did they work? Who was Governor Anthony?)


Cultural Adaptations from Africa
When people move to a new place, they usually bring objects and customs with them
from their homeland. Since the transatlantic slave trade was a forced migration, the conditions of cultural transfer were different for Africans in the Americas. Only in extremely
rare instances could captives bring objects from Africa. In the past, many anthropologists
believed that the brutality of slavery destroyed any cultural memory of Africa, forcing
enslaved individuals to start from scratch in creating an African-American culture. In fact,
many masters wanted their enslaved workers to forget about their African roots and take
on an identity that was mainly defined by their status as slaves. In recent years, research
has shown that despite the dehumanizing conditions of slavery, Africans were able
to adapt elements from many different African cultures and bring them together in the
New World to create a vibrant African-American culture. In other words, even without
cultural objects, enslaved people came to the New World with ideas in their heads from
their homeland like music, language, religion, etc. When they came to the New World
and encountered a new culture, they worked through these ideas in a new way, creating
an African-American culture. And African-American culture can differ regionally. In turn,
African-American cultural practices have had an important influence on American culture.
Even though few objects made the journey across the Atlantic with enslaved Africans,
people were extremely creative in refashioning New World objects to serve traditional
purposes. For example, people from the Akan cultural group in Western Africa believed
that stone projectile points (commonly known as “arrowheads”) can have magic powers.
When enslaved people encountered arrowheads in North America, they might have worn
them around their necks as charms. At the Isaac Royall house in Massachusetts, an
archaeologist uncovered a projectile point that was not sharp enough to have worked
as a weapon, but most likely was fashioned as a charm. This demonstrates that enslaved
people were creating objects in the North America that had significance in African
cultural traditions.
Another cultural example can be seen in the naming of Africans in America. A study
of names amongst the enslaved communities at the Narragansett plantations produced


interesting results. There was often a struggle between masters and slaves to provide
either English or African inspired names. The tradition in some West African cultures was
to name children based on the day of week that they were born. For example, if a
male child was born on a Friday, he would be named Cuffee; if the child was
female she would be named Phibbi (which British colonists transformed into
the European name “Phoebe”.) A surprisingly large number of enslaved
people were allowed to keep their African names, especially before 1700
when religious authorities officially ruled that baptizing slaves and giving them
Christian names would not make them free. Sometimes a slave who was given
an English name would use an African name that sounded similar. A
common practice was for the enslaved person to be given a first name based
on the place where she was sold, and she might choose or be given a last
name based on who owned her. For example, Newport Gardner, an enslaved
African who became famous as a church singer and writer of music, was so
named because he was sold in Newport and owned by Caleb Gardner.
Masters also tried to use other African cultural practices to control their
slaves. Beginning in the mid-1700s, when more slaves began to arrive
in New England directly from Africa instead of from the West Indies, slaves
began holding annual festivals based on traditional West African crowning
ceremonies. In New England, these festivals were called “Negro
Elections.” All of the slaves in a given area would come together to elect
a “Governor.” Slave owners saw these Governors as figures of authority

Hair comb from Ghana
Haffenreffer Museum Collection

in the slave community who might help masters to control their slaves.
Slave owners began to compete with each other to help their own slave get elected
Governor by loaning fine clothing and even horses to their “candidate” on election day
and promising to host an elaborate banquet if their slave won the election. Slave
Governors did exercise authority over their own communities, punishing actions that
were harmful to the interests of the slaves. However, slave owners were never very
successful in getting Governors to inform on or punish slaves who broke the rules
of white society.
Many of the practices that we see as part of our American culture have roots in African
traditions. African antecedents can be seen in areas as diverse as our art, farming
techniques, cuisine, folklore, medicine, language, and music. For example, many foods


Ghanaian family pounding yams
Photograph by Sarah Philbrick

we use in the United States today came from Africa, including rice, okra, blackeyed peas,
kidney beans, lima beans, millet, watermelon, yams, sesame seeds, and coffee. Peanuts
were brought to Africa from South America early on, and the many uses of peanuts in
stews, sauces, and oils, were brought back to the Americas by enslaved Africans. In addition,
stories that are part of our popular culture have their roots in African folklore, including
tales of br’er rabbit and the trickster hare. Many elements of our modern medicine come
from African methods of healing. In colonial America, white settlers often considered
African medicine to be superior. The idea of inoculation originated in Africa, and this proved
to be especially helpful in the fight against the deadly disease smallpox. Perhaps one
of the most “American” traditions is that of the cowboy. Recent research suggests that
the method of cattle herding used by cowboys in the American west much more closely
resembles African practices than European ones, and that as many as one out of five
cowboys was black.
Although most enslaved individuals were unable to carry musical instruments with them in the transatlantic slave trade, the knowledge of African
musical traditions persisted in early colonial America. African musical
sensibilities mixed with European and Native American instruments and
music styles to create new compositions. Many African musical styles
were incorporated into Christian churches, marking the beginning
African “talking drum”
Haffenreffer Museum collections

of genres such as gospel. In the 1950’s, 60’s, and 70’s, political
movements (such as the Civil Rights Movement) were reflected in music
like Soul that contained messages of hope and perseverance to
African-American communities.
Some of the distinctive elements of African-American music include
rhythmic complexity (such as the use of syncopation) and staggered
entrances of instruments/singers, to create “layers” of sound. Many
songs across musical genres, like gospel and rap, also incorporate
“call and response,” a style that can be traced to African music; this
style gets the audience involved by having them respond to the
performer’s work. Other musical styles that have roots in African
music are Hip Hop, Rhythm and Blues, Jazz, Funk, and Disco.

Ella Fitzgerald in 1968. Ella
Fitzgerald was a well known
American jazz vocalist.

Today, African cultural survivals are celebrated through the African
American holiday Kwanzaa. Kwanzaa was first celebrated in 1966 as a way to express
African cultural heritage. The tradition combines elements from cultures all over Africa
and synthesizes them to create something new. It incorporates many traditional practices,
such as lighting candles, pouring libations, remembering ancestors, and having a feast.
The holiday is celebrated every year between December 26th and January 1st and serves
as a reminder of African heritage.

Discussion Questions:
Why do you think slave masters would lend fine clothing for their slaves to wear
at the “Negro Election”?
What aspects of our modern-day American culture have roots in West African culture?
Can you think of others not mentioned in this reading?


Antecedent – something which came before
Inoculation – the practice of introducing a small dose of a disease into the body
to produce immunization (ex: getting a flu shot)
Libation – a liquid which is poured as a sacrifice (to spirits, ancestors, etc.)
Migration – movement from one area to another
Projectile point – a sharp tip (usually made from stone, bone, or wood) which is attached
to a weapon such as an arrow or spear
Syncopation – in music, placing stress on a beat that is normally weak
Synthesize – bringing together different elements to create something new


Additional resources
The Children’s Book of Kwanzaa: A Guide to Celebrating the Holiday by Dolores
Johnson. An extensive guide to celebrating Kwanzaa. Includes history, meaning, crafts,
and recipes.
The Making of African America: The Four Great Migrations by Ira Berlin. A reference
book with wonderful information about the transatlantic migration, the migration
to the inland South, the Great Migration to the North, and the on-going migrations
of Africans to the Americas. The author describes how all these migrations contribute
to African American culture today.
Africanisms in American Culture Edited by Joseph E. Holloway (2005, 2nd edition).
A collection of scholarly articles tracing cultural expressions in African American
and greater American culture to African traditions. Examples through naming, music,
food, dress, and religion.
Kwanzaa: A Celebration of Family, Community and Culture by Maulana Karenga (1998)
In-depth explanation of the seven principles of Kwanzaa and symbology.
Wrapped in Pride: Ghanaian Kente and African American Identity. A Curriculum
Resource Unit by Lyn Avins, Betsy D. Quick, and Delia Cosentino (1998). UCLA Fowler
Museum of Cultural History. A Curriculum resource unit for teachers with extensive
information about making and wearing kente cloth and the history of kente cloth. Unit IV
explores the Pan-African movement and the role of kente in African American identity.


Lesson Plan: Cultural Objects
from the Haffenreffer Museum collections
Content Objectives
• Students will be able to study museum objects and use them as a starting point
for research
• Students will understand that objects can tell a cultural and historical story
• Students will connect cultural items from West Africa to cultural items present
in the United States, including Rhode Island
Language Objectives (for English Language Learners)
Students will use visual objects to formulate their thoughts and ideas about those objects
One copy of the attached object photos and object descriptions, a copy of the attached
research guide worksheet for each team, library and/or internet access, printer, poster
or exhibit boards, scissors, glue sticks.
Rhode Island Department of Education
Civics & Government
C&G 5 (5-6)-1.a ; C&G 5 (7-8)-1.a
Historical Perspectives
HP 1 (5-6)-1.a, b, c; HP 1 (7-8)-1.a, b, c; HP2 (5-6)-1.a; HP 2 (7-8)-1.a
WIDA Consortium Standards for English Language Learners
ELP Standard 1 (6-8): Reading: Use of Multiple Resources, level 3&4;
Speaking:Instructions/assignments, level 3&4; Social Interaction, level 3


Lesson Plan: Cultural Objects from the Haffenreffer Museum collections

Teacher Instructions
• Depending on the reading levels of the students in your class, you may choose to use
the reading Cultural Adaptations from Africa as a shared, group, or independent
reading exercise.
• Have students complete a two to five minute talk back to each other, summarizing
what they have just learned.
• Have students discuss the reading’s discussion questions in small groups or as a class.
The eleven objects below are from the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology’s West African
education collection. Each object has one or more photographs and a short description.
• Group the students in your class in two’s or three’s and assign them an object to study.
• Hand each team their respective photographs and object description.
Quick Study
• Give the teams five to ten minutes to study the photographs and object descriptions.
• Have each team present their object to the class.
• Have the class discuss which objects are similar to each other and why. Have the class
group objects together and discuss why they chose to group them. Not all objects need
to be in a group.
Further Study
• If you choose, you can have the teams conduct a more in-depth study of their objects
through research that can occur over a number of days. Give each team the Research
Guide worksheet.
• Each team will research their object further, find similar objects in today’s American
culture, and create an exhibit board display of their research. The class can then arrange
their exhibit boards to create a class display or museum exhibit.
• You may wish to invite parents or other classes to visit the class exhibit, giving
students a chance to present and explain their exhibit board research to others.

Lesson Plan: Cultural Objects from the Haffenreffer Museum collections

Student Worksheet – Research Guide

Team members’ names

Object name


Circle the words you do not recognize in the object description. List them here.
Using a dictionary, encyclopedia or the internet, fill out the chart below.

Unknown Word



Lesson Plan: Cultural Objects from the Haffenreffer Museum collections

Using library or internet research, complete the following steps. Use this worksheet
to take notes. Note: If you use Wikipedia, use other sources as well.
1. Find information about the country or culture group the object is from, if known.

2. Print a copy of a map of West Africa. Locate where the country or culture group
is on the map and circle it.

3. Find more information about the object, including other examples of the object.
Find out how the object was used. Who uses the object? Why do they use it?
Is it typically men, women, boys, or girls who use the object?


Lesson Plan: Cultural Objects from the Haffenreffer Museum collections

4. Print two or three photographs of similar objects found in your research.

5. Write a short two to three sentence description about the object.

6. When people move from place to place, they often bring cultural items or beliefs
with them to the new place. African slaves and later African immigrants to the United
States were no exception. Research the ways your object from West Africa has been
incorporated in today’s American culture.

7. Print two or three photographs of objects from the United States that are similar
to the West African object.


Lesson Plan: Cultural Objects from the Haffenreffer Museum collections

8. Write a short two to three sentence paragraph describing the similarities and
differences of the objects’ looks or uses in the United States versus West Africa.

9. Have you or a friend seen or used an object similar to this? Where did you see it?
How did you use it? If you have an answer to this question, be sure to include it
in your exhibit board display (see step 10).

10. Create an exhibit board featuring your object, the map, your printed photographs
from West Africa and the United States, and your descriptions.

11. Create a class display of all the objects. You may confer with teams who have similar
objects as you may wish to display your exhibit boards near each other.


Lesson Plan: Cultural Objects from the Haffenreffer Museum collections

Orator’s staff

View A

View B


Lesson Plan: Cultural Objects from the Haffenreffer Museum collections

Orator’s staff
This is an Akan (ah-kahn) Orator’s staff that would have sat on top of a long stick carried
by the king’s orator, or okyeame (oh-key-ya-meh). They could be painted or covered
in gold leaf. The king’s orator is the king’s confidant, diplomat, and counselor. An okyeame
also acts as an intermediary between the chief and the people. The staff is carried during
public functions as a symbol of authority. The figure(s) on the top of the staff may
represent a parable or story that will teach the people a lesson of morality. The parable
associated with this figure is unknown, but you can tell the figure is a person of authority
as he is sitting on a stool and wearing a kente (ken-tee) cloth draped over one shoulder.
It is said that the first okyeame was an old woman who needed two walking sticks. When
a person did something wrong, he or she would ask the old woman to speak to the chief
on their behalf. She spoke so well, the chief would forgive the offense. When she died,
her son took over her role and carried her walking sticks. Although it is men who now act
as orators, the story may explain the use of the staff.


Lesson Plan: Cultural Objects from the Haffenreffer Museum collections

Ewe kente Cloth

View A

View B


Lesson Plan: Cultural Objects from the Haffenreffer Museum collections

Ewe kente Cloth
Kente (ken-tee) cloth is made by the Asante and Ewe culture groups of Ghana and is
traditionally woven in strips on a narrow loom. The strips are then sewn together to make
robes for men and skirts or dresses for women. The cloth is woven out of locally grown
cotton and dyed using natural dyes. Silk and rayon are also used as yarn in modern times.
The colors and designs chosen may have symbolic meaning for the wearer, and the cloth
is often used as a status symbol. Traditionally, kente cloth was worn by kings and people
of high status and slung over one shoulder. The colors and designs are symbolic and were
chosen for the wearer. A person could be put to death for copying a cloth design of a king.


Lesson Plan: Cultural Objects from the Haffenreffer Museum collections

Senufo weaving heddle pulleys


Lesson Plan: Cultural Objects from the Haffenreffer Museum collections

Senufo weaving heddle pulleys
These weaving tools were used by the Senufo (sen-new-foe) people of Mali to weave long
strips of cloth about four to five inches wide. The long strips are then sewn together
to make a textile like a shawl or blanket. It is said that the carved figures of the heddles
guard the work being done. It is the men who do the weaving. The piece missing in
between the “legs” of these two heddles is attached to the warp of the loom. The heddle
pulleys are attached by a string to a pulley that hangs above the loom. This pulley is
in turn attached by a string to foot pedals. The weaver uses his feet to move the heddle
pulleys up and down, which moves alternating strands of the warp to allow the shuttle
bearing the weft to pass during the weaving process.


Lesson Plan: Cultural Objects from the Haffenreffer Museum collections

Adire cloth shirt


Lesson Plan: Cultural Objects from the Haffenreffer Museum collections

Adire cloth shirt
Adire (a-dee-ray) cloth was made throughout West Africa and is a Yoruba word meaning
“tie and dye.” In the tie-dye technique, an article of clothing, such as a shirt or pants,
typically made of cotton is used. Designs are tied or stitched onto the cloth before it is
dipped in dye. The tied or stitched designs create patterns in the cloth because it prevents
the dye from reaching these areas of the cloth. Traditionally, indigo was used, but now
many colored dyes can be used. The shirt in the photograph was made using two colored
dyes. Both folding and crumpling techniques were used to create the designs.


Lesson Plan: Cultural Objects from the Haffenreffer Museum collections

Hair comb


Lesson Plan: Cultural Objects from the Haffenreffer Museum collections

Hair comb
This wooden hair comb from Ghana would be used to sculpt, curl, and style a woman’s
hair. The combs were traditionally only owned and used only by women. Elaborate hair
styles in Ghana often required a friend to create the style who might use one or two combs
to do so. The combs were made by men. A man would carve an intricately designed
comb out of wood. He might present it to his wife or girlfriend as a sign of love
or to commemorate a special event. Also, a father might make a comb for his daughter,
or a son might make one for his mother. The delicate designs may reflect the kind
of relationship that existed between the two people.


Lesson Plan: Cultural Objects from the Haffenreffer Museum collections

Akuaba figure


Lesson Plan: Cultural Objects from the Haffenreffer Museum collections

Akuaba figure
The akuaba (ack-wa-ba) figure from Ghana gets its name from the legend of a woman
name Akua who was upset because she could not have children. A priest told her to have
a small wooden child made by a carver. She was to take care of the wooden child as if it
were real. She was laughed at, but soon became pregnant and had a daughter. Other
women wanting to have children had their own akuabas made. Some women adorn their
akuaba with beads as earrings, around the waist, or in the area of the hair. Most akuabas
were made to represent females and are rarely made as males. Just like Akua, a woman
takes care of her akuaba as if it were a real child. After becoming pregnant, a woman may
return her akuaba to a shrine as an offering to the gods. Sometimes a priest will give
a pregnant woman an akuaba and bless it to protect the child. Sometimes a figure will
be given to a girl so she can practice child care.


Lesson Plan: Cultural Objects from the Haffenreffer Museum collections



Lesson Plan: Cultural Objects from the Haffenreffer Museum collections

This is a wooden game board along with playing pieces of seeds. Mancala is played with
two people. There are many versions of the game with many different names, different
rules, and different types of playing pieces. Playing pieces are typically set up in each pit
with one row of pits belonging to one player. The players then take the pieces from their
pit and place the pieces in a counter-clockwise pattern around the board. Some scholars
say the action of moving the pieces around the board mimics the sowing of seeds.
The object of the game is to have captured the most pieces before one side of the board
is cleared.


Lesson Plan: Cultural Objects from the Haffenreffer Museum collections

Fu fu grinder


Lesson Plan: Cultural Objects from the Haffenreffer Museum collections

Fu fu grinder
Fu fu is a staple food from West Africa, and you can see women in this modern photo
of Ghana using a fu fu grinder. Fu fu is a thick paste or porridge made by boiling starchy
root vegetables in water and pounding them. Wealthier families use a food processor.
In West Africa, fu fu is usually made from cassava or yams and sometimes mixed with
plantains or maize. Fu fu can be served with soups like peanut, okra, fish, or tomato soup.
When eaten, a ball of fu fu is broken off, a small indentation is made with the thumb,
and the indentation is filled with soup. In Ghana and Nigeria, it is improper to chew
the ball, but instead it should be swallowed whole.


Lesson Plan: Cultural Objects from the Haffenreffer Museum collections

Talking drum


Lesson Plan: Cultural Objects from the Haffenreffer Museum collections

Talking drum
Talking drums are called so because the pitch of the drum can be changed when the player
squeezes the strings. The change in pitch can sound like a person talking. Their use can
be traced back to the ancient Ghana Empire and still used in popular Nigerian music
today. In the southern part of the United States during the time of slavery, many masters
banned the use of talking drums because they thought slaves were using the drums
to “talk” to each other in a secret language, perhaps conspiring to plan an uprising against
the master.


Lesson Plan: Cultural Objects from the Haffenreffer Museum collections

Adinkra cloth


Lesson Plan: Cultural Objects from the Haffenreffer Museum collections

Adinkra cloth
Adinkra cloth is made by the Ashanti (Asante) people of Ghana. The design is made using
carved wooden or calabash stamps. The stamped designs are repeated in square
or rectangular block sections of the cloth. Adinkra cloth is made for mourning as funerary
shrouds. Some scholars suggest the word adinkra means “to part” or to “say goodbye.”
Colorful Adinkra cloths such as this one are referred to as kwasiada (“Sunday”) adinkra.
They are not funerary cloths, but are worn on festive occasions or even as everyday wear.
There are many adinkra symbols, each with its own meaning. Sankofa, the heart-shaped
symbol, is an adinkra symbol meaning “to go back and retrieve.” Some translations
explain it as “there is nothing wrong with learning from hindsight,” “it is important
to remember the past in order to move on to the future,” and “learn from your mistakes.”


Lesson Plan: Cultural Objects from the Haffenreffer Museum collections

Adinkra cloth stamps


Lesson Plan: Cultural Objects from the Haffenreffer Museum collections

Adinkra cloth stamps
These stamps are made from a calabash, a type of gourd. Each stamp represents a symbol.
The stamp on the right means “readiness, steadfastness.” There are many adinkra
symbols, each with its own meaning. The stamps are dipped into a black dye called
adinkera aduru made from tree bark boiled with a ferrous stone, or iron, to create a black
ink. The symbols are then stamped onto cloth to make patterned sections of symbols,
giving the cloth meaning for its wearer. A master carver makes the stamps and sells them
to the man who will stamp the cloth, the decorator.


Race, Racism, and Identity
What is Race?
In modern day America, many people claim to be colorblind.
Even though people may think that we no longer judge others based
on skin color, hair texture, and other physical differences, many unfair
practices in housing, jobs, and schools make it obvious that race still
matters. Ever since Barack Obama ran for president, racial differences
have reemerged as popular topics in the news, in magazines, and
in everyday conversations.
People often assume that “races” are objective, naturally occurring
divisions of humanity, but they are not. There are many real physical
and cultural differences among the peoples of the world, but “race” is
something different. Physical differences – in skin color, facial features,
hair texture, average height and weight, and so forth – are generally
traditions, foodways, and social practices, etc. – are learned behaviors

Inman Page
First African American graduate
from Brown University (1887)

that tend to be shared by families in all members of particular societies.

Courtesy of Brown University Archives

transmitted by descent in families. Cultural differences – in religious

“Race,” on the other hand, is the arbitrary meaning that groups assign
to these physical and cultural differences to distinguish themselves from other groups
under specific historical conditions. The proof of this fact is that racial categories can
change even when the physical and cultural characteristics of the group being categorized
have not changed. For example, at one time many people considered Anglo Saxons,
Teutonics (generally, English and Germans) and Celts (generally, Scottish and Irish people)
to be different races, although now they are all considered part of a “white” race
that generally includes all Europeans. And a group may be considered part of one racial
category by some people and part of another racial category by others. South Asians
(people from India and Pakistan) are considered “Asian” by people in the United States,
but in the 1970s, many British people placed Asians in a “black” category with Africans.


Race, then, is a social construction that according to various characteristics including
place of origin, hair texture, language, religion and, most important today, skin color. Racial
categories are products of history. During the era of slavery in the United States, skin
color determined status, so black people were often seen only as slaves and inferior.
In order to justify their enslavement of Africans, white American and
European societies used the concept of “race” to claim that black
people were inferior to white people and were unable to live without
their masters’ guidance. Many scientists at this time tried to prove
racial differences through intelligence tests and skull/brain measurements in an attempt to show black inferiority as an unavoidable
part of biology. The belief in racial differences soon became common
in American society.
The definition of what makes a person “black” has changed over
time. Initially a person with any degree of African descent was labeled
“black,” called the "one drop rule," ignoring the person’s mixed
heritage. Black Indians or Afro-Indians were the descendants
of Africans and Indians who lived together in bondage as slaves and
indentured servants. Some famous Afro-Indians who have simply

Ruth Simmons
First African American President
of Brown University

been called “black” historically include Crispus Attucks (the first American colonist
killed in combat in the Revolutionary War), Frederick Douglass (who had black, Native
American, and white ancestors), and Langston Hughes (the famous poet of the Civil
Rights era). In an effort to categorize people based on race, early census records at times
labeled people of mixed heritage as “black.” Some Afro-Indians may have been labeled
as “Indian” at one point in their lives, and “black” at another; or a person labeled
“black” could have a sister labeled “Indian.” This frequently occurred in Rhode Island’s
African American, Narragansett Indian, and Wampanoag Indian communities. Sound
confusing? This demonstrates how arbitrary racial definitions can be. Like many people
in America today, people of mixed heritage in the past did not fit into a single
racial category.


1850, 1990 and 2010
census forms


The United States census is a great place to see how ideas about race change over time.
In 1850, there were only three races listed on the census- white, black, and mulatto.
By 1890, five more choices had been added – Chinese, Indian, ‘quadroon’ (a person with
one black grandparent), ‘octoroon’ (a person with one black great-grandparent), and
Japanese. The 2010 census had fifteen choices, and people were allowed to select more
than one. These races include White; Black, African American, or Negro; American
Indian or Alaskan Native; Asian Indian; Chinese; Filipino; Japanese; Korean; Vietnamese;
Other Asian; Native Hawaiian; Guamanian or Chamorro; Samoan; Other Pacific Islander;
and “Some other race.” There are also blank spaces for people to use if they wish to go
into further detail about how they define their race. This new approach shows how current
social trends and personal interpretations determine what race means and how people
identify themselves.

Discussion Questions
What evidence does this reading give to support the fact that race is a social construction
rather than genetically determined?
Why would a person be labeled as “Indian” on one government form and “black”
on another? What does that say about race?
In what ways can American perceptions of race in our society today be traced back
to the era slavery in our country?


Racial Inequality and Institutional Racism
Although race does not have any objective, scientific reality, the social
effects of dividing people into racial categories are very real. The
unequal and unfair treatment that people experience because of their
racial identification is called racism. As we have learned, claiming
that Africans were inferior to whites was an easy way for Europeans
to justify African enslavement. After slavery ended, white Americans
continued to claim that black Americans were inferior to whites. In the
South, Jim Crow laws were passed to keep blacks separate from
whites. In the North, blacks did not experience this kind of de jure
segregation; instead, they were discouraged, often through

An example of explicit de jure
segregation in 1943 Georgia.
De facto segregation is not
as obvious

intimidation,from living in all-white neighborhoods and attending all-white schools
by informal rules. This kind of de facto segregation was also damaging to black Americans.
In some ways, African Americans at the time felt that they at least knew “their place”
in the South, but would never know how they would be treated when dealing with a white
person in the North.
Some stereotypes created during the time of slavery still exist today. African Americans
are often portrayed as lazy, disobedient, and greedy. The media unfairly portray them
in a limited number of ways as athletes, criminals, rebels, or comics. Although some white
people continue to exhibit outright racism today,
the most common form of racism that is less
visible but equally damaging is institutional racism.
Many of today’s examples of institutional racism
can be traced back to the time of slavery.

“Away Goes Cuffee”
A stereotypical image
used on the cover
of a 1863 song book


A 1963 map of Philadelphia depicting redlined housing districts

One example of institutional racism can be seen in the workforce. During slavery and even
after abolition, it was difficult for free African Americans to find jobs. White merchants
did not want to hire blacks because they believed that black people were inferior. African
Americans who were able to find work were mostly hired in low-paying jobs and were
often paid less than their white co-workers. This practice continued through the twentieth century and persists today. Black men and women are more likely to be employed
in low-status jobs in industry and services (as factory laborers and domestic workers,
for example) than in leadership positions (as administrators, supervisors, or managers.)
Black families are less likely to earn high salaries and therefore comprise a larger
percentage of the people below the poverty line than their percentage of the population
as a whole. Affirmative Action laws were created to try to counter inequalities in the work
force formed by racial and gender bias. Many African Americans today feel like they often
have to work twice as hard in order to gain the same recognition and salary as a white person.
This is because they have to prove that they do not conform to the negative stereotypes
that still persist.


Another noticeable example of institutional racism is in housing discrimination. During
slavery and after abolition, free blacks often were not welcome to live in the same communities as white people. Because of this, new communities were formed. Even in the
twentieth century, banks practiced what is known as ‘redlining’, or marking off neighborhoods on a map where they would not make mortgages or business loans available.
Often, these were areas in which minority populations, including blacks, lived. This practice
lowered the values of homes in these neighborhoods and made it more difficult to obtain
necessary services through institutions such as schools, libraries, and health centers. In
addition, real estate agents would not show black families homes in white neighborhoods,
and landlords in white neighborhoods would refuse to rent to black families, leading to
increasingly segregated neighborhoods. Although these practices are now against the law,
they still occur.
A third example of institutional racism is evident in education. During the era of slavery in
the South, whites were often forbidden to teach enslaved Africans to read or write because
these tools would allow slaves to communicate, learn, and possibly rebel against their
masters. Even after abolition, southern schools created laws forbidding free blacks to attend the same schools as white children. Some
schools for black children were set up by the Freedman's Bureau,
a federal program established to help freed blacks enter mainstream
American society after emancipation. Freed people attended these
schools in great numbers because they were very eager to learn to
read and write. But often these schools also tried to encourage black
people to remain obedient to white people as the best way to assimilate into southern society. This enabled white southerners to remain
comfortable with the great change from black slavery to black
freedom. Schools in the South remained segregated by Jim Crow laws

Jim Crow laws made school
segregation more noticeable
in the South.

long after the Freedman’s Bureau ceased to exist. Schools throughout the North were
also segregated, not by law but because neighborhoods were segregated and children went
to their neighborhood schools. Since many black people were denied decently paid jobs,
and black neighborhoods were redlined and not given financial support, schools in those
neighborhoods were poorly funded since taxes pay for schools. This resulted in low levels
of literacy and educational achievement for many black children, limiting them to poorly
paid and less secure jobs, and the cycle continues to this day. As a sign of how our society


is improving, the illiteracy rate is currently about the same for blacks and whites, making
the future of education look much brighter than its past. However, some African American
children in integrated schools still face racism. Unfair treatment can lead to low confidence and poor performance in school, which encourages students to drop out.
Institutional racism has shaped how black people have seen their society and how they
have acted to overcome their obstacles. One way they have fought racism is by creating
their own institutions, beginning with the black church. Since the 1790s, African American
churches have been the central gathering places for black communities, offering moral
guidance, spiritual comfort, educational services, and financial support. They have served
as centers for black political organization. Perhaps most importantly, they have served
as social centers in which African Americans have been able to share their history and keep
their cultural practices alive. Today, there are many other important black institutions,
such as banks and loan offices, insurance companies, and funeral homes; these all have
historical roots in services provided by early African American churches.
Blacks have worked to empower themselves in the face of institutional racism in other
ways as well. In the Civil Rights struggle of the 1950s and the Black Power movement
of the 1960s, African American communities fought to end legal segregation and gain
equal rights. Perhaps the most important of these hard-won rights is the right to vote.
Voting gives black citizens the power, like everyone else, to shape the laws that affect
their lives.
Although African Americans have gained many rights since the 1960s, institutional
racism still exists today. Racism is embedded in dominant ideologies that shape the
ways in which we think, act, and organize our society. The topic of race emerges in many
current debates and must be discussed openly. While people’s ideas about race are
dependent on their own life experiences, those ideas can change through education, new
experiences, and frank discussion.


Discussion Questions
What effects does segregation have in society?
Can you think of a time when you encountered or witnessed institutional racism?
Why do you think people do not talk about racial difference and inequality more often?
Have you been in a situation where you were treated differently because of a stereotype?
How did that make you feel?
Have you ever treated someone else differently because of a belief in a stereotype?


What is African American identity?
Many people ask questions like “who am I?” and “where do I fit in?” When people think
about their identity, they look at themselves both as individuals and as members of
groups. African-American identity, for example, is based on descent from African ancestors,
a shared past of injustice and struggle, and a history of overcoming those obstacles.
The history of race and black identity in the United States shapes society to this day.
As we have learned, the character of a person cannot be judged
by physical differences such as the color of their skin. Wrongful
assumptions about the inferiority of African American people still
affects how people behave and what they think about people they
see as different from themselves.
History plays a large role in how many African Americans see themselves and choose the goals they want to achieve. The history and
effects of slavery, Jim Crow laws, and other types of racial discrimination continue to influence how African Americans form their
identities. To both understand and move beyond this history, many
African Americans try not only to remember, but also to celebrate and
embody the unity and endurance of their people. This sense of togetherness is important and of long standing within African American
communities, as can be seen in various musical, culinary, and familial
traditions that characterize African American culture today. Many
traditions, including jazz and gospel music, “playing the dozens,”
“soul food,” and others can be traced back through African American
histories of slavery, survival, and achievement.
Not all black Americans are descendants of Africans brought to North
America during the slave trade. Many immigrants of African decent
have chosen to come to the United States and build lives here. They
come from many different places, including islands in the Caribbean and
all of the countries in Africa and South America, in what has been
called the African diaspora. Most African Americans do not consider
these first-generation immigrants to be “African American” themselves,
but most do consider the American-born children of African

A graduate of Brown University
and intern for this project,
Marlaina Martain shares how she
identifies herself and why.
“I identify as an AfricanAmerican woman because I grew
up listening to the remembrances
of my parents – children of the
1960s and participants in the
March on Washington. The reflection that I see in the mirror and
the experiences that I have every
day remind me that, while I am
not a citizen of the African
continent and cannot claim
immediate ties to it in any way, I
have a history intimately intertwined with the people of said
continent. Therefore, I choose
to use an identifying term that
acknowledges both that history
and that difference.”


immigrants to be “African American.” We cannot assume that all
people with the same skin color share the same history and must
acknowledge how all of these different cultures, histories, and
experiences contribute to the diversity of American culture. It is popular
to group all people with a dark skin color under the term “black,”
and this may lead many people to expect the same behaviors and ideas
from all of these people. People create their own identities, however,
not based on physical appearance but according to their own beliefs,
values, home lives, actions, and histories.
Although skin color, hair texture, and eye color are visible and are easy
ways to group people sometimes, one of the most important things
to remember is that not all people with similar physical characteristics

Ravi Coltrane, Terell Stafford,
and Charnett Moffett
performing at the Newport Jazz
Festival in Newport, RI in 2005
Photo by Lee Paxton at en.wikipedia

are the same. Just because two people are of African or African American descent does
not mean that we can assume they think or act in the same ways. When a society decides
that all people in a subgroup are identical in this way, stereotypes can affect how the
people in that subgroup form their own identities. It is damaging for people to use these
expectations to judge how black students will do in school or how black adults will
approach life and work.
People are different and must be able to create their own identities instead of being
assigned or accepting stereotypes, especially by the media. Movies and television
advertisements give a stereotypical picture of black people as happy with their place
in society as athletes but not intellectuals, or loud but not talented speakers. The range
of abilities, interests, and backgrounds of black people is much wider and more
diverse than these images suggest. The important lesson is that there is not one single
black or African-American identity.

President Obama is multiracial (his mother was white
and his father African). However, he states, “I self-identify
as African American - that's how I’m treated and that’s
how I’m viewed. I’m proud of it.”*


Discussion Questions
Think about your own identity. If someone you haven’t met asks you to describe yourself,
how would you do so? What words would you choose?
Do you think your friends in your class would describe you differently?
Does your identity change when you are in different situations? Do you act differently
or portray yourself differently when you are in school, at home, playing on a sports team,
hanging out with your friends, or portraying yourself on Facebook?


Affirmative Action – policies created to increase the presence of minority populations
in areas such as employment and education where they were previously underrepresented
African Diaspora – the movement of Africans to countries all around the world
Assimilation – adopting the existing culture and working to make oneself fit into it
without disrupting it in any way
Colorblind – to claim to judge other people without considering their apparent racial
identity. This leads people to dismiss the existence of racially-based inequalities in society
Descent – the history of one's family origins
De facto segregation – separation of racial groups by custom, without the force of law
De jure segregation – separation of racial groups by law
Diversity – the state of having many different people in one place, community, or culture
Ideologies – frameworks of thought accepted by members of a cultural group as true
Identity – how a person defines who they are and their relationships to society as a whole
Inferiority – the state of being less than capable or not as important in society
Immigrants – people who move to one country from another country
Institutional racism – Use of race by institutions to rank certain people as less deserving
in the social structure (jobs, housing, education, voting, etc)
Jim Crow Laws – laws in the southern states passed after emancipation that ensured
blacks would be segregated from whites. Laws often limited rights for black citizens
Marginalized – to be considered to the side of and outside of the mainstream in political
and social matters of society
Mulatto – child of a white and a black parent, or a descendant of such children


Octoroon – in the early U.S. census, a label given to a person who has one black greatgrandparent. Since a person has eight great-grandparents, when a person had one black
great-grandparent, they were considered to be 1/8 black
One drop rule – in the United States, referring to any person with 'one drop' of African
blood to be considered black despite mixed heritage
Quadroon – in the early U.S. census, a label given to a person who has one black grandparent. Since a person has four grandparents, when a person had one black grandparent,
they were considered to be ¼ black.
Race – the mass categorization of a group of people based on shared characteristics
especially appearance (e.g. skin color) and decent
Racism – the unfair treatment of people based on racial categorization
Redlining – the practice of defining an area as too risky for investors (people looking
to put money into projects)
Social construction – an idea, belief, or principle that is encouraged so much by society
that it becomes a normal part of society that no one questions
Stereotype – a simplified characteristic credited to a group of people that is usually false
and ignores that individuals within that group of people differ from each other
United States census – a survey that the government conducts every ten years
to document the current state of American citizens


Additional Resources
Let’s Talk about Race by Julius Lester. An illustrated book for children ages 6-10
introducing racial tolerance. Although this is a young book for middle school, it can
be used in a lesson. Read the book to the class, and have students write their own
version of a book to teach younger children about race.
RACE: Are We So Different? A Project of the American Anthropological Association.
This traveling exhibition has an excellent website that looks at the history of race, genetics,
and people’s personal experiences. The website also has a virtual exhibit tour, a section
for kids 10-13, and resources for teachers.
Black Indians: An American Story. Narrated by James Earl Jones. Dallas: Rich-Heape
Films (2000). A film about the history and identities of black Indians in America. Features
members of the Narragansett and Wampanoag tribes of Rhode Island and
Culture Connect: Discover the Cultures of the World by the Haffenreffer Museum
of Anthropology. Lesson plan 3: Further Explorations of this free teacher packet guides
student exploration of stereotypes versus culture.


Lesson Plan:
Race and the Census
Content Objectives
• Students will learn how to glean information from historical and current censuses
documents for Rhode Island
• Students will recognize how racial categories have changed through time
• Students will reflect on how historical processes affect them today
Language Objectives (for English Language Learners)
• Students will learn to read information from primary source documents
• Students will reflect on the documents and write a personal response
One copy of Primary Source Documents 1 and 2 and one copy of the Census and Racial
Identity student worksheet for each student.
Rhode Island Department of Education
Civics & Government
C&G 5 (5-6) -2.b; C&G 5 (7-8) -2.b;
Historical Perspectives
HP 1 (5-6)-1.a,b,c; HP 1 (7-8) -1.a,b,c; HP 3 (5-6) -1.a; HP 3 (5-6) -2.a,b,c; HP 3 (7-8) -2.a,b,c
WIDA Consortium Standards for English Language Learners
ELP Standard 1 (6-8): Reading: Use of Multiple Resources, level 3&4
ELP Standard 2 (6-8): Writing: Genres, level 3&4


Lesson Plan: Race and the Census

Teacher Instructions
• Depending on the reading levels of the students in your class, you may choose to use
the reading What is Race?, Racial Inequality and Institutional Racism, and What is
African American Identity as shared, group, or independent reading exercises.
• Have students complete a two to five minute talk back to each other, summarizing what
they have just learned.
• Have students discuss the readings’ discussion questions in small groups or as a class.
• Have students individually, in pairs, or in small groups study the census documents
(Primary Source Documents 1 and 2) and answer the questions on the Census and Racial
Identity student worksheet.


Lesson Plan: Race and the Census

Primary Source #1: The Colony of Rhode Island’s Census, 1774


Lesson Plan: Race and the Census

Primary Source #2:
Rhode Island Data from the 2010 National Census
Total population



One race



Two or more races



One race






Black or African American
American Indian and Alaska Native
Cherokee tribal grouping
Chippewa tribal grouping
Navajo tribal grouping
Sioux tribal grouping



Asian Indian
Other Asian



Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander
Native Hawaiian
Guamanian or Chamorro
Other Pacific Islander



Some other race




Lesson Plan: Race and the Census

Two or more races



White and Black or African American



White and American Indian and Alaska Native



White and Asian



Black or African American and American Indian
and Alaska Native



Race alone or in combination with one or more other races
Total population





Total population



Hispanic or Latino (of any race)
Puerto Rican
Other Hispanic or Latino



Not Hispanic or Latino
White alone
Black or African American alone
American Indian and Alaska Native alone
Asian alone
Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander alone
Some other race alone
Two or more races
Two races including Some other race
Two races excluding Some other race,
and Three or more races



Black or African American
American Indian and Alaska Native
Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander
Some other race
Hispanic or Latino and Race


Lesson Plan: Race and the Census

The Census and Racial Identification



1. In the 1774 Rhode Island Census, what three choices did you have for your
racial identification?

2. Why do you think this could be problematic for some people?

3. How many different racial categories were there on the 2010 United States Census?


Lesson Plan: Race and the Census

4. What has changed in American society to bring about these changes on the census?

The creators of the 2010 census gave these reasons for continuing to ask respondents
about their racial background:
“Race is key to implementing many federal laws and is needed to monitor compliance with
the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act. State governments use the data to determine
congressional, state and local voting districts. Race data are also used to assess fairness
of employment practices, to monitor racial disparities in characteristics such as health and
education and to plan and obtain funds for public service.”
5. Do you agree that race is still a helpful category on the census? Why or why not?
What do you image the 2050 census will look like?


Lesson Plan: Race and the Census

6. Think about what these racial categories mean for you personally. What would
you mark as your race on the census? You may keep your answer to this question
to yourself if you are not comfortable discussing it.


Lesson Plan: Stereotypes
Content Objectives
• Students will look at historical perspective of black stereotypes
• Students will connect and understand how modern day stereotypes stem from historical
• Students will reflect on how stereotypes affect them today
Language Objectives (for English Language Learners)
• Students will be able to look at historical caricatures and discuss their meanings
as a class
• Students will be able to research information using the internet and discuss how
stereotypes may hurt someone
One copy of the attached document for each student. One copy of the attached
worksheets for each student.
Rhode Island Department of Education
Civics & Government
C&G5 (5-6)-1a; C&G5 (7-8)-1a; C&G5 (5-6)-2b; C&G5 (7-8)-2b
Historical Perspectives
HP1 (5-6)-2a; HP1 (7-8)-2a,b; HP2 (5-6)-1a,b,c; HP2 (7-8)-1a,b,c; HP3 (5-6)-1a;
HP3 (7-8)-1a; HP3 (5-6)-2a,b,c; HP3 (7-8)-2a,b,c
WIDA Consortium Standards for English Language Learners
ELP Standard 1 (6-8): Reading: Use of Multiple Resources, level 3&4;
Speaking: Instructions/assignments, level 3&4; Social Interaction, level 3
ELP Standard 2 (6-8): Writing: Genres, level 3&4


Lesson Plan: Stereotypes

Teacher Instructions
• Depending on the reading levels of the students in your class, you may choose
to use the reading What is Race? Racial Inequality and Institutional Racism, and What
is African American Identity as shared, group, or independent reading exercises.
• Have students complete a two to five minute talk back to each other, summarizing
what they have just learned.
• Have students discuss the readings’ discussion questions in small groups or as a class.
Quick Study
• Have students work as individuals, in partners, or in teams.
• Pass out Document #1 and Student Worksheet: Stereotypes to each group.
• Have students search on the internet for the associated press article “Mr. Potato Head
Statue Said Racist” by Gillian Flynn.
Further Study
• As individuals or with a partner, have students explore the website of the Jim Crow
Museum of Racist Memorabilia.
• On the home page, scroll to the table of links. Suggested links to explore are Picaninny
Caricature, Tom Caricature, Coon Caricature, and Mammy Caricature. Other caricatures
are available. Please be aware that the “n-word” is used on this website. Depending on
the maturity of your class, you may wish to discuss why the word is used and prepare
them for the site. If you are concerned, you may wish to visit the site and print select
pages for your class to explore.
• Have students discuss in teams, or in a full class discussion, the stereotypes they have
encountered. Have they seen stereotypes similar to these old ones in today’s media
(movies, cartoons, videogames, and advertisements)? How do these stereotypes make
them feel? How do they think these stereotypes may make those who are the subject
of them feel?


Lesson Plan: Stereotypes

Document #1 Historical Broadside

Broadside making fun
of free African Americans,
in caricature (Boston 1827)
Original at the John Hay Library
at Brown University


Lesson Plan: Stereotypes

Student Worksheet: Understanding Stereotypes



Take a look at Document #1. Study the picture for a minute or two and answer
the questions below.
1. What objects do you see in the picture?

2. How are the people characterized in the picture? What is each individual doing?
How are they dressed?


Lesson Plan: Stereotypes

Now look back at the document. Read the title and sub-title of the document out loud
and study the spelling.
3. Why did the author misspell so many words? The person didn’t do it because they couldn’t
spell well, he or she had a reason for it. What do you think the reason was?

4. Who is the supposed author of the letter described in the subtitle? Do you think he really wrote
this letter? Why or why not?

5. Based on your answers to the questions above, what do you think the purpose
of this broadside was? What kind of person do you think wrote it?


Lesson Plan: Stereotypes

Lesson Plan: Implications for Rhode Island
Content Objectives
• Students will be able to read and comprehend facts and opinions on relevant topics
in current newspaper articles
• Students will be able to link the affects of history to issues today
• Students will be able to formulate an opinion on current controversies that affect
their society
Language Objectives (for English Language Learners)
• Students will be able to read and comprehend current newspaper articles
• Students will be able to express their own opinions on a topic
One copy of the attached document for each student. One copy of the attached
worksheets for each student.
Rhode Island Department of Education
Civics & Government
C&G5 (5-6)-2b; C&G5 (7-8)-2b; C&G5 (7-8)-3b
Historical Perspectives
HP1 (7-8)-1b,c; HP1 (5-6)-2a; HP1 (7-8)-2a,b; HP2 (5-6)-1a,b; HP2 (7-8)-1a,b; HP2 (5-6)-3a;
HP1 (7-8)-3a; HP3 (5-6)-1a; HP3 (7-8)-1a; HP3 (5-6)-2a,b,c; HP3 (7-8)-2a,b,c
WIDA Consortium Standards for English Language Learners
ELP Standard 1 (6-8): Reading: Use of Multiple Resources, level 3&4; Speaking:
Instructions/assignments, level 3&4; Social Interaction, level 3
ELP Standard 2 (6-8): Writing: Genres, level 3&4
ELP Standard 5 (6-8): Speaking: America’s Story, level 3&4


Lesson Plan: Stereotypes

Teacher Instructions
• Depending on the reading levels of the students in your class, you may choose to use
the reading What is Race?, Racial Inequality and Institutional Racism, and What is African
American Identity as shared, group, or independent reading exercises.
• Have students complete a two to five minute talk back to each other, summarizing what
they have just learned.
• Have students discuss the readings’ discussion questions in small groups or as a class.
Quick Study
• Find and print the Associated Press article RI to vote on dropping ‘Plantations’ from its
name by Eric Tucker from October 26, 2010 on the Internet. Print a copy for each student
or group.
• Individually, in pairs, or in groups, have students read the article and answer the
questions on the attached Student Worksheet: What’s in a Name?
Further Study
• Assign three to five students to act as judges
• Split the rest of the class into two groups with opposing perspectives. One group will
argue to drop “and Providence Plantations” from the state name, the other will argue
to keep it.
• Ask each group to prepare a statement based on their assigned perspective
• Each group will present their statement to the class
• The judges will choose a side based on the evidence given in the presentation


Lesson Plan: Stereotypes

Student Worksheet: What’s in a Name?



The official state name for Rhode Island is “The State of Rhode Island and Providence
Plantations.” On November 2, 2010, Rhode Islanders voted on a ballot measure that
would have changed the official state name to “The State of Rhode Island,” dropping “and
Providence Plantations.” Read the article “RI to vote on dropping ‘Plantations’ from its
name” to understand the debate and answer the questions below.
Understanding the argument
1. What reasons does the article give to keep “and Providence Plantations” in the Rhode
Island’s official name?

2. What reasons does the article give to remove “and Providence Plantations” in the
state’s official name?


Lesson Plan: Stereotypes

3. What did “Plantation” mean at the time the colony of Rhode Island received its name?

4. What does the article say “Plantation” means in the minds of people today?

5. Why has the meaning of “Plantation” changed over time?


Lesson Plan: Stereotypes

6. Why did the author feel it important to point out that, as an opponent to the name
change, Keith Stokes is “multiracial and can trace his family’s arrival to Newport back

7. Why does Harold Metts believe that changing the name of the state is a part of healing?
What needs to be healed?

8. On a sheet of lined paper, or in your notebook, write an essay stating and arguing
for your opinion. How would you have voted? Why would you have voted that way?
Be sure to include in your answer facts from this article and from other researched
sources on the topic.


African Americans in Rhode Island Today
According to the 2010 United States Census, the number of people who self-identified
as African American or black in Rhode Island is 51,560 people, or 4.9% of the population
of Rhode Island. In contrast, 76.4% of the people in Rhode Island self-identify as white.
Those who identify as African American or black can have various national and ethnic
backgrounds. Some people can trace their ancestry to the enslaved people brought directly
to this area on slave ships, while others trace their ancestry to enslaved Africans in
Cape Verde, the Caribbean, or the Southern United States. Yet more trace their ancestry
to immigrants who came here from Africa more recently, and some just immigrated to
Rhode Island from other countries. The migration of Cape Verdeans in the later 20th
century and the recent migration of Dominicans, Liberians, and those from other African
countries adds to the character of the Rhode Island African American culture. Many
people have mixed heritage and can trace their ancestry through different histories and
countries of origin. Although African Americans are of diverse backgrounds, they are
often treated or looked at by the greater American society as one group. According to the
2010 Census, greater percentages of African Americans live in poverty (23.0%) and are
unemployed (7.2%) than of whites (8.2% and 4.4% respectively). There is also a disparity
in the prison population. According to the 2011 Population Report from the Rhode
Island Department of Corrections, 23.4% of prisoners were black. Remember the overall
population of blacks in Rhode Island is 4.9% which means the percentage of African
Americans in Rhode Island prisons is greater that what it should be based on the
overall population. In contrast, whites in Rhode Island made up 56.4% of the 2011 prison
population and 76.4% of the overall state Population. This disparity can be attributed to
several factors including racial bias by some law enforcement individuals, lawyers, judges,
and prison personnel, and poverty can also be a factor. In addition, 99% of the African
Americans in Rhode Island live in urban areas.
Racism still exists in the greater American Society today, and black Americans are often
treated as one homogenous cultural group. Because of this, educational and community
organizations strive to teach people about the diversity of the African diaspora and the
rich ethnic and geographic histories of those who now live in Rhode Island. The Rhode
Island Black Heritage Society, the Rhode Island Historical Society, and local universities


have created educational and informational programs that teach and celebrate Rhode
Island’s black population and its histories. Celebrating the diversity of Rhode Island’s
black citizens and recognizing the persistent presence of racism today will help us all take
personal and political action to create a better future. That is what Sankofa means, to look
to the past and to learn from it, in order to move forward.


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Project Director – Geralyn Ducady, Curator of Programs and Education, Haffenreffer Museum
of Anthropology
These materials were written by Geralyn Ducady; Marlaina Martin ’11, Education Intern and
undergraduate student at Brown University; and Jessica Unger, Education Intern and Masters Degree
Candidate in Public Humanities, Brown University
Edited by Barrymore A. Bogues, Professor of Africana Studies, Brown University; C. Morgan Grefe,
Executive Director, Rhode Island Historical Society; Joanne Pope Melish, Professor of History,
University of Kentucky, and Kevin P. Smith, Deputy Director and Chief Curator, Haffenreffer Museum
of Anthropology
Graphic Design and layout by Alyssa Zelman
Special thanks to the following staff of the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology for project support –
Carol Dutton, Office Manager; Thierry Gentis, Collections Manager; Rip Gerry, Photo Archivist;
Steven Lubar, Director; Kathleen Silvia, Outreach Coordinator; and Kevin P. Smith, Deputy Director
and Chief Curator
We thank the following Rhode Island teachers for their evaluation of these materials during the 2011
spring semester – Colleen Bauerle and Sandra Makielski of Davisville Middle School, Karen Lico
and Doreen Schiff of St. Luke’s School, Erica Pappas Cross and Michelle-Anne Vasconcellos
of St. Mary Academy-Bayview, Jane Brell and Vernon Brown, Jr. of Times2 Academy, Edward Inman
and Jay Zolli of Western Hills Middle School, and Cheryl Comley and Gabrielle Sullivan of Wilbur
& McMahon Schools.
We welcome additional questions and comments. Teacher feedback on the use of these materials
in the class room is appreciated. Please email us at
Project Funding
Sankofa: African Americans in Rhode Island is made possible through major funding support
from the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities, an independent state affiliate of the
National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this project do not necessarily represent those of the National
Endowment for the Humanities.


Creative Commons Attribution
This publication may be copied or reproduced without prior permission when used
for educational purposes. Please attribute the work to the Haffenreffer Museum
of Anthropology.
This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported
License. To view a copy of this license, visit or send
a letter to Creative Commons, 171 Second Street, Suite 300, San Francisco, California, 94105, USA.
The Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology
300 Tower Street
Bristol, RI 02809


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