This unit was created by African American Studies Teachers in Columbia Public Schools, as part of the 2021 cohort of The 1619 Project Education Network. It is designed for facilitation across approximately 2 weeks, and includes four 90-minute lessons.
Objectives and Outcomes
Students will be able to:
- Examine how intergenerational trauma and systemic and institutional racism affect us today.
- Examine arguments for and against reparations.
- Use the inquiry process to analyze arguments and evaluate historical maps.
- Develop a written argument for or against reparations providing a detailed plan which addresses the social, historic, economic, and political needs of African Americans.
Our unit focuses on understanding American chattel slavery as key to understanding the Black experience in America. The goal is to explore how intergenerational trauma and systemic and institutional racism affect us today. Our essential question for the unit: What are some of the lasting impacts of slavery in American society?
Unit Narrative: From slavery to Jim Crow to mass incarceration, in this unit students learn the institutional oppressions inflicted on the Black community over centuries in America. By grappling with reparations, students stop viewing these racist structures as finite eras composed of racist events and instead must explore the ways in which history informs the present, the generational impacts of oppression on an individual, and the relationship between America’s morality and the Black community’s humanity.
Students will enter this historic and ongoing conversation first through Lee’s 2019 overview of the wealth gap and, secondly from the narrative of Clyde Ross as told in Ta-Nehisi Coates’ 2014 piece in The Atlantic, “The Case for Reparations.” Through Ross’ story, students encounter the structures that justify arguments for reparations including Jim Crow, seizure of Black-owned land, lynchings, unfair creditor practices, and redlining. Beginning with Ross’ story serves the same purpose that it does in Coates’ exhaustive argument, to humanize what often begins as an economic discussion. Students will note the effects of institutional racism within generations of one family, its geographical movement effects from Mississippi to Chicago, and its prevailing detriment in one Chicago neighborhood.
This inquiry process develops student-skills in research, analyzing argument structure, map reading, and rhetorical strategies. Following these lessons, students will continue to read Coates’ case before developing their own argumentative stance on reparations, including how their proposal may be logistically implemented individually, in their community, or nationally. Our aim is that students enter the conversation on reparations rather than view it from afar.
Constructed Response: Construct a written argument that details a plan for or against reparations which addresses the social, historic, economic, and political needs of African Americans. This argument should answer the compelling question by developing claims and using specific evidence from both primary and secondary sources. It should also address and/or acknowledge arguments opposite the stance students took for/against reparations.
Extension: Create a multimedia presentation that assesses and addresses the need(s) for reparations. This presentation should address the needs of the Black community as well as answer the primary strategies and the strengths & weaknesses used in this campaign for redress.
Two-week unit plan for teachers, including pacing, texts and multimedia resources, and performance task for the unit. Download the full unit below and scroll down to browse the unit resources.
|Essays||“The Disappearance of a Distinctively Black Way to Mourn” by Tiffany Stanley, The Atlantic: An essay about the closing of African American funeral homes and the impact on community.
“The Case for Reparations” by Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Atlantic: An essay, written in several sections, detailing the long-term impact of institutional systems that lead to economic injustice against Black communities.
“The Wealth Gap” by Trymaine Lee, The New York Times Magazine 1619 Project: An essay outlining some of the systemic causes behind the vast wealth gap between Black and white Americans today.
|Website||“Mapping Inequality,” American Panorama, ed. Robert K. Nelson and Edward L. Ayers: An interactive website with a digital archive of Home Owners Loan Corporation files, security maps, and area descriptions used to promote redlining and inequality following the New Deal.|
|Reparations Proposals||The multiple petitions of Belinda (Sutton) Royall, which is also detailed in the Coates article, from the late 18th Century, offers students a glimpse at the first documented case for reparations. The Royall House & Slave Quarters Museum in Medford, MA offers a thorough explanation of the case and links to the original documents held by in the Massachusetts Archives Collection at Harvard University.
The “Declaration of the Rights of the Negro Peoples of the World” (1920) by the United Negro Improvement Association addresses the issues surrounding reparations and is the beginning point of activism for life long reparations advocate, Audley (Queen Mother) Moore.
Presented to the United Nations in 1951, the Civil Rights Congress document, “We Charge Genocide,” offers a comprehensive tallying of crimes committed against African Americans who sought redress from the United Nations instead of the US government.
The brief yet poignant, “What We Want, What We Believe,” party platform of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense in 1966 showcases the issue of reparations in the context of the beginnings of the Black Power movement.
Another Black Power advocate, the Republic of New Afrika’s 1969 “Declaration of Independence” outlines their program to create a Black nation in the southern United States.
James Forman’s famous 1969 speech, “The Black Manifesto,” seeks redress from White Christian churches and Jewish synagogues for the ravages of slavery.
“The Abuja Proclamation” of the Organization of African Unity in 1993 provides an international perspective about reparations.
“The Logistics of a Reparations Program in the United States” by Dania Francis gives an overview of past and current reparations movements in the United States and discusses the logistics of various bills and programs laid out for policy makers.
Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts
Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in different media or formats (e.g. visually, quantitatively) as well as in words in order to address a question or solve a problem.
C3 Framework for Social Studies
Explain why advancements in technology and investments in capital goods and human capital increase economic growth and standards of living
Analyze why the distribution of power and inequalities can result in conflict
Propose and evaluate alternative responses to inequality
NCSS Curriculum Standards for Social Studies
Social studies programs should include experiences that provide for the study of how people create and change structures of power, authority, and governance, so that the learner can:
- D. recognize how groups and organizations encourage unity & deal with diversity to maintain order & security;
- H. recognize and give examples of the tensions between the wants and needs of individuals and groups, & concepts such as fairness, equity and justice.