solid color

Units November 3, 2021

Telling the Stories of African Americans Living During the American Revolution



Lesson Summary: Students research the underrepresented stories of African Americans who lived during the American Revolution, examining their relationship to the promise of liberty in the Declaration of Independence.
Downloads: Unit resources Links: The 1619 project broadsheet The 1619 project literary timeline

This unit was created by elementary educators in Michigan schools, part of the 2021 cohort of The 1619 Project Education Network. It is designed for facilitation across approximately five 40 minute class periods.


Students will be able to...

  • Research the lives of African Americans living in colonies during the American Revolutionary period
  • Examine, discuss, and analyze the contributions, motivations, and outcomes of African Americans fighting on both sides of the American Revolution
  • Memorialize underrepresented African American narratives during the American Revolutionary period

Essential Questions

  • Whose stories are told in history resources examining the American Revolution?
  • Whose stories have not been told or are not widely known and should be told from the Revolutionary period?

Unit Overview

 “Our Declaration of Independence, signed on July 4, 1776, proclaims that ‘all men are created equal’ and ‘endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.’ But the white men who drafted those words did not believe them to be true for the hundreds of thousands of Black people in their midst. ‘Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness’ did not apply to fully one-fifth of the country. Yet despite being violently denied the freedom and justice promised to all, Black Americans believed fervently in the American creed.” - “The Idea of America” by Nikole Hannah-Jones

One focus of the 5th grade curriculum is the Revolutionary period of American history. Students are introduced to the Declaration of Independence, the colonists’ reasons for issuing the declaration, and details of the war that led to independence from England. The heroic  biographies of the founding fathers are often prominently featured.  What is often left out of the textbooks are the stories of African Americans, both enslaved and free who lived during this period. 

This unit of study’s purpose is for students to research the lives and tell the stories of those for whom “ ‘Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness’ did not apply...Yet believed fervently in the American creed.” Students will research the lives of African Americans living in colonies during the American Revolutionary period. Students will demonstrate understanding of the contributions, motivations, and results of African Americans fighting on both sides of the American Revolution.

Performance Task

Inspired by the National Liberty Memorial in construction in Washington, D.C. to honor the thousands of enslaved and free Black people who fought in the Revolutionary War, students will craft a class memorial honoring the selection of Black historical figures examined in this unit. 

Throughout the unit, students will practice researching the individual stories of African Americans whose stories are underrepresented in historical accounts of the American revolution. By using the Color, Symbol, Image routine, which assists students in distilling the essence of ideas from a range of sources using colors, symbols, or images to represent ideas, students will contribute a poster about one African American they researched to contribute to the class memorial.As a culminating, extension activity, students can write short biographical paragraphs about the person they researched using the graphic organizer. These can then be read in a reader’s theater format Readers theater - Wikipedia with the Color, Symbol, Image posters as a backdrop.


Please help us understand your needs better by filling out this brief survey!

Will you use this lesson plan in a class you teach?
By sharing your email address, you are opting in to receive updates from the Pulitzer Center Education team.