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Lesson 1

Lesson 2
Social Studies

Lesson 3
Visual Arts
Art Making

Lesson 4
Black History

Lesson 5
Black Artists

Lesson 6
Music & Dance

Lesson 7


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Lesson Four: Black History Overview

This lesson plan is designed as an introduction to Black history by identifying the connection between the enslavement of Africans in the United States and the significance of their presence, legacy, and triumph as significant contributors to the social, political, cultural, and economic landscape of this country.

Objectives: Benefits to Students
Students will:

  1. examine and explore an introduction to Black history and its historical and cultural significance to all people living in the United States.
  2. participate in a reading circle, whereby the literature read connects to a heroine in the history of the freedom of the slaves.
  3. discuss the visual images in the literature being read as a means to communicate an event in history.
  4. 'reflect, remember and respond' by creating art works, using prisma colored pencils, which visually convey a hero or heroine of significance in the lives of the participants.

Overview: The teacher/facilitator will ideally be able to present this lesson in a sequential, developmental progression, in which it is intended. The teacher does not need to be a visual arts instructor. To continue to make the lesson of interest, instead of rote memory, the dialogue is in the active voice of a youth. At the end of the youth's story an art making activity will be presented following the reading of Jacob Lawrence's book, Harriet and the Promised Land. Since this lesson is an ongoing process to complement the entire lesson unit, a student assessment is not required.

Kehinde's and Taiwo's return trip to the U.S.:
A New York Adventure

New York City Skyline

The adventures of Taiwo and Kehinde continue. These twins are the children of an African-American mother and a Nigerian, Yoruba father. They were born and raised in an urban area of Arizona. In Lesson Two, the twins took the reader on a journey to Nigeria to learn more about that country. Now they have returned through New York City on their way back to Phoenix, Arizona.

The voice of Taiwo: Before we returned to Arizona, Dad, Kehinde, and I took a side trip to New York City to visit with my Dad's brother, Tayo. When Uncle Tayo picked us up from the airport, he told us all the things he wanted us to do and see in the few days we would spend with him in New York. My Uncle Tayo is an art professor at NYU and has lived in the U.S. since 1963. (Founded in 1831, New York University is one of the largest private universities in the United States. The University, which includes 14 schools and colleges, occupies six major centers in Manhattan. The center of NYU is its Washington Square campus in the heart of Greenwich Village, one of the cities most creative and energetic communities.

We flew into JFK (John F. Kennedy) Airport late Friday night. Kehinde, Dad and I were tired from the long journey from Lagos, Nigeria. But Kehinde and I were anxious to see New York City - The Big Apple.

The Big Apple, Times Square

It was our first visit there and we wanted to make the best of our last few days of our trip. Uncle Tayo was always telling us how much he likes NYC. Once we got our luggage, we all piled into the car to go eat in Greenwich Village - the heart of the NYU Campus. Uncle Tayo took us to a restaurant on the corner of MacDougal Street, one block from Washington Park.

It was great to watch so much activity - bands playing, people dancing and street vendors open for business - at 1 A.M. in the morning, which was way past our bedtime. People were sitting around the restaurants and on the front stoops of their homes just talking and having fun. The sounds of different types of music and smells of different types of foods from cultures from around the world filled the air. As Kehinde and I sat inside the restaurant and looked out the window, we saw people dressed in different types of clothing, and we heard different languages being spoken. Uncle Tayo says that's why he likes coming to Greenwich Village.

When we finally got home to Uncle's condo, Kehinde and I were so tired we could barely keep our eyes open. The next morning, we got to sleep in a little late. It still felt like we were in Nigeria - we were waking up to the sounds of African music and the smell of akara (well-blended,fried black-eye peas), fufu, plantains, and soup--, even though we were miles away and now in a different time zone. When we finally got up, Uncle Tayo and Dad told us to eat a good breakfast because we would have a full day of sightseeing.

Statue of Liberty on Liberty Island in the New York Harbor

First, we went to Battery Park, at the southern most point of Manhattan. We bought tickets for the ferry that would take us over to the Statue of Liberty, which sits on Liberty Island. Then, we would take another ferry to Ellis Island.

Ellis Island, New York City

Dad said Ellis Island is considered a historic gateway of hope and opportunity because so many immigrants entered the United States there. Kehinde and I asked Dad, "Who are immigrants"? Dad explained that immigrants are people from other countries who willingly leave their country of birth to come to the U.S. Uncle says that many come for better opportunities and a new way of life for their families. But, we knew our great-great-great grandparents, who were taken from their homes in western Africa and brought here were not immigrants. They were not given a choice to enter Ellis Island as free people. Then, we saw a statue of an African in chains and an African diplomat-type character, both located at this point of entry near Ellis Island. Uncle Tayo and Dad, noticing how captivated we were by that statue, nodded their heads and said that we were right, our ancestors were not immigrants.

Statue of people coming to the United States

While Dad and Uncle Tayo were buying the tickets, Kehinde and I noticed a street performer. He was singing blues music. He said he was from New Orleans and had sung in many of the blues and jazz clubs in this very old town and was visiting New York City to make a CD. He was so full of joy and humor as he spoke to us. The song he sang was one he had written.

Street Performer at Battery Park

(Background information: New Orleans was a French city when slaves were brought from Africa. As a Catholic territory the slaves were given the right to do as they wished on Catholic holidays and Sundays. They would all meet in an area called Congo Square, which exists today, as Louis Armstrong Park. It is currently called Louis Armstrong Park. Even though these enslaved people came from different tribes and land areas, they had very similar traditions: honoring of ancestors and the belief in the interconnectedness of all life. They also believed in the concept of objects containing a spirit. During these gatherings the primary means of communication was through these peoples' music, dance and ceremonies. In New Orleans today African-American children perform jazz music on the streets.

Jazz Performers in New Orleans, Louisiana

"Jazz started out with a mixture of many types of music. Its roots date back to the 1880's with African origins. Jazz combines elements of African music with elements of Western music. The birthplace of that combination, which is jazz, is said to be New Orleans." "Their music was based on simple melodies and complex cross-rhythms mixed in verbal slurs, vibratos, syncopated rhythms and blues 'notes'. The songs they sang were mostly spiritual or sung to times of hardship and hard labor. Their music was characterized more by memorization and improvisation, and not formal training."

Jazz Musicians in Central Park, New York City

Voice of Taiwo: Next, we walked up Broadway-right in the middle of a peaceful protest. Uncle says this happens a lot. This particular group of people was marching to convince others to legalize marijuana.

Protest March in New York City

Uncle Tayo told us he remembers so many protests and marches from his first few years in New York. He said he arrived and began school during the Civil Rights Movement, an era in the United States history when African-Americans actively resisted and protested against laws that denied them equality. Uncle said much of the movement's efforts focused on the South because of widespread racial segregation and discrimination to prevent African-Americans from voting, attending school, buying homes, and doing all of the other things other Americans could do. Uncle says he did not fully understand what the movement was all about until some friends convinced him to attend the March on Washington with them on August 28, 1963. Uncle said: "You could feel the power and presence of the want and need for change in the air. There was no violence, no anger... just determination. And when I heard Rev. Martin Luther King's speech that day - particularly the ending - I felt it too: This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with a new meaning, "My country, 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring." And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!

Civil Rights Movement Protest March

Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado! Let freedom ring from the curvaceous peaks of California! But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia! Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee! Let freedom ring from every hill and every molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

As we continued our walk, Uncle Tayo said he would never forget that day as long as he lives.

(Background information: The First Amendment of the Bill of Rights allows "the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances." Police escort protestors to help ensure peace. During the Civil Rights Movement, there were a lot of angry people who did not want changes to occur. Therefore, the National Guard protected people marching for racial equality and other civil rights during that time. "The Civil Rights Movement was at a peak from 1955-1965. Congress passed a Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Rights of Voting Act of 1965, guaranteeing basic civil rights for all Americans, regardless of race, after nearly a decade of nonviolent protests and marches, ranging from the 1955-1956 Montgomery boycott to the student-led sit ins of the 1960's to the huge march on Washington in 1963.")

The voice of Taiwo: Later, we went to the Schomburg Center in Harlem. Uncle says the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, is part of the New York Library System. This Center focuses on the history, contributions, and daily life of African-Americans. We got a chance to see exhibits about black people's impact on the United States Constitution, black people during the Depression, black soldiers in the U.S. Army (they were called Buffalo soldiers), and the Ralph Bunche exhibit.

(Background information: Ralph Bunche received a Nobel Peace Prize for his achievements during his time with the United Nations as a successful negotiator and diplomat. He was born in Detroit, Michigan, in 1904, 100 years ago. His grandmother, "Nana", who had been a slave lived with the family. His parents moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico, for their health, but both died within two years. Nana took Ralph and his two sisters to Los Angeles, California, where Ralph worked very hard to support the family. His intellectual capacity won him prizes in history and English.

Ralph Bunche receives Nobel Peace Prize

He graduated at the top of his high school class and won an athletic scholarship to the University of Los Angeles (UCLA). There, he graduated as the valedictorian of the class of 1927, majoring in international relations. Persons in his black neighborhood raised funds for him to attend Harvard, where he graduated with a doctoral degree six years later. From those years of education Ralph Bunche went on to be specialist in Political Affairs and the Civil Rights Movement. His strength was always in his ability to bring about PEACEFUL negotiation.

Mosaic of Dove of Peace in United Nations building

Voice of Taiwo: We also got to see exhibits for writers like Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, and other creative people from the Harlem Renaissance generation. Our favorite exhibit was called "Lest we Forget: The Triumph over Slavery." This exhibit was sponsored by the United Nations General Assembly to commemorate the struggle against slavery and efforts to end slavery. (Background Information on the Harlem Renaissance Movement: "From 1920 until about 1930 an unprecedented outburst of creative activity among African-Americans occurred in all fields of art. Beginning as a series of literary discussions I the lover Manhattan (Greenwich Village) and upper Manhattan (Harlem) sections of New York city, this African-American cultural movement became known as "The Negro Movement" and later as the Harlem Renaissance. More than a literary movement and more than a social revolt against racism, the Harlem Renaissance exalted the unique culture of African-Americans and redefined African-American expression. African-Americans were encouraged to celebrate their heritage."

Voice of Taiwo: We spent hours walking around the Center and other famous places in Harlem, like the Apollo Theater. Uncle Tayo said the Harlem Renaissance, which took place during the early 1900's- especially the 1920s-, was a cultural movement for African-Americans. He said every thing from literature, art, music, dance, and social commentary grew strong in Harlem. It was a time when black people were encouraged to embrace, express, and celebrate their heritage.

United Nations building

On Sunday, we visited the United Nations. This building is the headquarters for the United Nations. The building itself is spectacular because it is tall, yet slender and is surrounded by 191 flags representing each member nation. We all went on a brief tour of the headquarters. The tour guide said the building and the land it sits on does not belong to one country, but to all the countries that have joined the United Nations Organization to work for peace and the development of other nations based on the principles of justice, human dignity and the well-being of all people.

A mosaic tribute to a Norman Rockwell painting
located in the United Nations building

Kehinde and I also learned that about 30 countries provide tours in over 20 different languages. While we were there we also learned more about Ralph Bunche, a Nobel Prize winner and UN diplomat. We also saw exhibits about the current head of the United Nations, Secretary General, Koffi A. Annan of Ghana.

Closeup view of the mosaic in United Nations building

As we left the United Nations, I looked at all of the colorful flags that surrounded this building and watched them wave in the wind. Then I wondered what historic moments they would witness in the next few minutes, days, weeks, and years to come.

Vocabulary definitions taken from

  1. African-American - A Black American of African ancestry.
  2. Civil Rights Movement - A movement in the United States beginning in the 1960s and led primarily by African-Americans in an effort to establish the civil rights of individual African-American citizens.
  3. Harlem - A section of New York City in northern Manhattan bordering on the Harlem and East rivers. Peter Stuyvesant established the Dutch settlement of Nieuw Haarlem here in 1658. A rapid influx of African Americans beginning c. 1910 made it one of the largest Black communities in the United States.
  4. Harlem Renaissance - A cultural movement in 1920s America during which African-American art, literature, and music experienced renewal and growth, originating in New York City's Harlem district; also called Black Renaissance, New Negro Movement
  5. immigrant - A person who leaves one country to settle permanently in another.
  6. jazz - A style of music, native to America, characterized by a strong but flexible rhythmic understructure with solo and ensemble improvisations on basic tunes and chord patterns and, more recently, a highly sophisticated harmonic idiom.
  7. protest - A formal declaration of disapproval or objection issued by a concerned person, group, or organization.

Click here to go to the reading and art making activity for this lesson