Essential Knowledge 6

Students should know that enslaved people tried to maintain their cultures while building new traditions that continue to be important.


What Else Should My Students Know?

6.A Music was very important in the lives of enslaved people, and the music they created shapes popular music today.

6.B Enslaved people drew from oral traditions in Indigenous and African cultures to pass on stories, history, culture and teachings.

6.C Cultural practices, including crafts and food, that developed in Indigenous and African cultures continue to this day. 


How Can I Teach This?

  • The Library of Congress has multiple online collections that include the music of enslaved people, including recordings of freed people singing and playing music they learned while enslaved.
  • Introduce students to blues music by listening to Vera Hall sing “Trouble So Hard” and discussing the song’s roots in the experience of enslaved people. 
  • Teachers can similarly introduce spirituals using online collections. Some of the most famous spirituals, including “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” and “Roll, Jordan, Roll” were composed by Wallace and Minerva Willis, enslaved African Americans who lived in the Choctaw Nation.
  • Learn about the lasting influence of Indigenous storytelling with students using books like Chukfi Rabbit’s Big, Bad Bellyache or The Origin of the Milky Way and Other Living Stories of the Cherokee.
  • The “Br’er Rabbit” folktales provide examples of stories that originated among the enslaved African population as a way to teach survival skills to enslaved children. When exploring these stories, be careful to use collections such as Jump! The Adventures of Brer Rabbit, which avoid the racism of earlier compilations by white folklorists.
  • The Minnesota Department of Education’s Department of Indian Education offers excellent resources for teaching about Indigenous oral traditions and practices.


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