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Units February 21, 2022

What is the lasting legacy of slavery in the U.S.?

Lesson Summary: Students examine the legacy of slavery in the U.S. through a multi-week analysis of primary sources and news stories and then apply their analyses to the creation of pitches for podcast episodes responding to the question, "How can I define or redefine the impact of slavery in the U.S.?” Downloads: Unit resources

This unit was created by U.S. History educators in Washington, DC, as part of the 2021 cohort of The 1619 Project Education Network. It is designed for facilitation across approximately 5 to 6 weeks, or 20 to 25 class periods.

Objectives and Outcomes

  • Critique and revise popular misconceptions and lies regarding the history of slavery in America.
  • Analyze the role of slavery in shaping 
  • Analyze the ways that contributions by African Americans have shaped America’s identity, institutions, and policies  
  • Investigate the legacy of slavery in America and its impact on the country and their lives today

Unit Overview

In alignment with The 1619 Project from The New York Times Magazine, the goal of this unit is for students to examine the legacy of slavery in the U.S. in an honest and critical manner. Beyond studying the horrific and brutal enslavement of Africans in America in a historic manner that is detached from today’s world, and their own lives, this unit will guide students in tracing these past events to contemporary injustices against Black Americans and achievements by Black Americans. Students will then work in small groups to apply their research and analyses from the unit to the development of a podcast episode exploring the following question: “How can I define or redefine the impact of slavery in America?”

Given the depth and complexity of this task, it is important for teachers to explain to students that this unit plan should be viewed as an opening to the topic rather than a closing. Successful implementation of the unit’s lesson plans and resources will result in students not only developing a more nuanced understanding of slavery’s legacy, but also a curiosity and desire to expand their knowledge following their completion of the unit and course.

The first compelling question of this unit is, “How did the enslavement and forced importation of Africans into America shape American history?” The corresponding lessons that will equip students to eventually answer this question demonstrate that slavery cannot be isolated or taught separately from American history. Students will learn that the institution of slavery directly influenced longstanding American laws, policies, and customs, as well as the identity of America itself. The lessons will clarify that slavery and U.S. history are intertwined and interconnected. 

These facts naturally lead to the unit’s second and final compelling question, “How does the history of slavery impact us today?” The corresponding lessons demonstrate how slavery touches Americans’ lives today in multiple ways, such as where people live and their ability or inability to fulfill basic needs and necessities. Within this compelling question, students will also have the opportunity to examine current threats to teaching the history of slavery in an honest manner in public schools throughout the country.

Note: The theme of resistance and activism is explicitly taught in more than one lesson in this unit. This is critical for students to develop a complete and nuanced perspective to the essential question, “What is the legacy of slavery in the U.S.?” In addition to these lessons, teachers should reinforce evidence of resistance and agency throughout the unit.

Performance Task

Note: The summative performance task described below should be implemented at the conclusion of the unit, following student examination of both compelling questions and their related formative assessments. However, the teacher should actually introduce the performance task, along with the essential question, at the beginning of the unit. This will help frame for students what they are working towards with the completion of every individual lesson and compelling question. 

The teacher may also periodically build in time and opportunities for students to record their evolving thoughts and evidence on the essential question. This will not only support them in their completion of the performance task at the end of the unit but it will help smooth the transition from the final compelling question and formative assessment.

Goal: The goal of this performance task is for small groups of students to provide an original and well-supported answer to the essential question, “How can I define or redefine the impact of slavery in America?” Student responses should combine their own ideas and opinions with evidence and knowledge that they acquired throughout the unit.

Role: Students will assume the role of adolescents who produce and host an independent podcast that addresses issues facing young people today. The topic for their upcoming episode centers around the legacy of slavery in America and the extent to which the legacy of slavery impacts us today. 

The teacher will assume the role of an executive producer. Each small group will create a separate episode and the teacher will inform the class that, as the producer, they will select one podcast to be financially backed and promoted to a national audience.

Audience: The target audience will be other young people whose ages range from approximately 12 to 18-years-old.

Situation: Current attempts by national politicians and state legislatures to recast American history in a false narrative that disregards facts and minimizes the role of unpleasant truths, such as the legacy of slavery, pose multiple threats to students and to the public at large. On one hand, it absolves existing systems and institutions from the role they continue to play in marginalizing and oppressing large groups of Americans. At the same time, it removes students’ voices and agency by determining for them the facts and stories that they can handle. This performance task intends to correct this potential harm. Students are empowered to factually examine the legacy of slavery using their own voices and opinions.

Product/Performance: Utilizing details from primary source documents and news articles to support their arguments, small groups of students create a podcast or video blog that discusses and provides answers to the question, “How can I define or redefine the impact of slavery in the U.S.?”

At a minimum, all groups must create a script for their podcast or vlog. Teachers may elect for students to additionally submit a digital recording.


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