What we don’t know about American history hurts us all. Teaching Hard History begins with the long and brutal legacy of chattel slavery and reaches through the victories of and violent responses to the civil rights movement to the present day. From Learning for Justice and host Dr. Hasan Kwame Jeffries, Teaching Hard History brings us the lessons we should have learned in school through the voices of leading scholars and educators. It’s good advice for teachers and good information for everybody.
The Jim Crow Era
The Civil Rights Movement
Season 4: The Jim Crow Era
Opportunities created by the New Deal were often denied to African Americans. And that legacy of exclusion to jobs, loans and services can be seen today in federal programs and policies as well as systemic inequities in housing, education, health and the accumulation of wealth. Historian Jill Watts examines the complicated history of the New Deal, beginning with the growing political influence of Black voters in the 1930s, the election of FDR and the creation of the Black Cabinet.
U.S. involvement in world wars and the domestic Black freedom struggle shaped one another. By emphasizing the diverse stories of servicemen and women, historian Adriane Lentz-Smith situates Black soldiers as agents of American empire who were simultaneously building their own institutions at home. While white elected officials worked to systemically embed segregation into government, African Americans attempted to bolster their citizenship and freedom rights through soldiering.
Historian Tera Hunter describes Black institution-building post-slavery and throughout the Jim Crow era, illustrating how Black workers reorganized labor to their advantage, despite virulent white resistance. During the same period, historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) produced future leaders while cultivating resistance to white supremacy—and continue to do so. Educator Jelani Favors explains the evolution of these institutions, noting their legacies of social activism and student advocacy.
Naming the 1921 Tulsa massacre a “race riot” is inaccurate. Historian David Krugler urges listeners to call this and other violent attacks what they were: premeditated attempts at ethnic cleansing. Decades before, African Americans moved North in record numbers during the Great Migration. Krugler delves into connections between diaspora and violence and highlights the strength of Black communities in resistance to white supremacist terrorism.
Black American experiences during Jim Crow were deeply affected by the ever-present threat of lynching and other forms of racist violence. Historian Kidada Williams amplifies perspectives from Black families, telling stories of lynching victims obscured by white newspapers. She and Kellie Carter Jackson urge educators to confront the role of this violence in American history, how major institutions stood idly by and how Black Americans fought for justice.
The Lost Cause narrative would have us believe that Confederate monuments have always been celebrated, but people have protested them since they started going up. Historian Karen Cox unpacks how the United Daughters of the Confederacy used propaganda to dominate generations of teachings about the Civil War through textbooks, legislation, and popular culture—and how, after the war, the South and the North prized white reconciliation over justice for all.
Just months after the Civil War ended, former Confederates had regained political footholds in Washington, D.C. In her overview of Reconstruction, Kate Masur notes how—in the face of evolving, post-slavery white supremacy—Black people claimed their citizenship and began building institutions of their own. Ahmad Ward then takes us to 1860s Mitchelville, South Carolina, where Black policing power, land ownership and more self-governance were the norm.
Historian Ed Baptist provides context on the creation and enforcement of a U.S. racial binary that endures today, as well as Black resistance as a force for political change. And Aisha White urges educators to ask themselves, “What did you learn about race when you were younger?” before they engage with children. She argues that self-reflection and ongoing education are vital tools to combat the fallacy of ignoring students’ racialized experiences.
People from all corners of public life are telling teachers to stop discussions about race and racism in the classroom, but keeping the truth of the world from students simply doesn’t work. English teacher Matthew Kay urges educators to create brave spaces instead. He provides examples of classroom strategies for engaging with students at the intersections of race, literature and lived experience. Hint: it involves vulnerability, accountability and quality affirmations.
This season, we’re examining the century between the Civil War and the modern civil rights movement to understand how systemic racism and slavery persisted and evolved after emancipation—and how Black Americans still developed strong institutions during this time. Co-hosts Hasan Kwame Jeffries and Bethany Jay discuss how students need to grasp this history to understand injustices many of them face today, from voter suppression to mass incarceration.
Season 3: The Civil Rights Movement
In 2015, Coach Steve Bandura loaded the Anderson Monarchs, a Little League baseball team from Philadelphia, onto a 1947 Flxible Clipper Bus for a barnstorming tour back in time. Bandura and the players recount lessons learned while visiting historic civil rights sites, meeting veteran activists and playing baseball along the way. And historian Derrick E. White, co-host of The Black Athlete podcast, explores the intersection of sports and civil rights history.
The civil rights movement offers critical context for understanding the systemic police violence, voter suppression efforts, ‘law and order’ rhetoric and criminalization of activism we see today. It also helps us understand the strategies activists use to fight these injustices. Historians Shannon King and Nishani Frazier explain how they use 21st-century Black activism to teach the movement’s history—and how they use the movement to help students better understand the contemporary Black freedom struggle.
The history of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense can help us understand the transition from civil rights to Black Power and contemporary issues like mass incarceration. From the Ten-Point Platform to survival programs, historian Robyn C. Spencer outlines key aspects of the party’s revolutionary ideology, grassroots activism and community service. And historian Jakobi Williams joins to share valuable classroom insights.
Historian Clarence Lang joins us for a conversation about Malcolm X. We discuss his commitment to Black pride and self-determination and his rejection of the white gaze and the myth of American exceptionalism. Learn how teaching about the life and works of Malcolm X can illuminate the universe of possibilities of the civil rights movement—and the diversity of ideology, strategy and political thought within the Black freedom struggle.
In this episode, we talk with movement veteran Courtland Cox about lessons from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and his own development as a young organizer of the Emmett Till generation. We join Karlyn Forner and John B. Gartrell to tour the resources available through SNCC Digital Gateway. And we hear from student organizer Kaia Woodford about the lessons from the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements that inform her activism today.
Oral histories, historic sites, archives and museums expand students’ understanding of the past. They fill in gaps in our textbooks—complementing what’s included and capturing what’s not. This episode highlights online oral history collections including the Civil Rights History Project. It offers recommendations for students conducting their own oral histories. And it explores resources from the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee.
Teaching civil rights history to young learners creates both opportunities and challenges. The 1964 Mississippi Freedom Summer Project and the subsequent Freedom Schools offer important lessons for helping elementary students to understand the civil rights movement. In this episode, we explore community-based strategies and activities for bringing the Black freedom struggle into your classroom.
If you're finding this podcast useful, please support us by taking our 10 question Listener Survey. And stay tuned! More episodes are on the way. In the meantime, if you're looking for ways to talk with students about the relationship between the hard history of white supremacy and the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, Learning for Justice resources can help you lead student-responsive, historically grounded discussions about the recent violence.
From the hard work of organizing to the reality of everyday life under Jim Crow, films and literature can bring historical context to life for students. In this episode, we recommend several “must use” films, books, poems and plays for teaching the civil rights movement. We also discuss strategies for incorporating these works across the curricula and for turning even problematic texts into grist for meaningful critical discussions.
Everyone thinks they know the story, but the real history of Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott is even better. This episode details the events that set the stage for Ms. Parks’ civil disobedience. You’ll meet the leaders and organizations who transformed a moment of activism into a 13-month campaign. And you’ll learn about the community that held fast in the face of legal and political attacks, economic coercion, intimidation and violence.
To fully understand the United States today, we have to comprehend the central role that slavery played in our nation’s past. That legacy is also the foundation for understanding the civil rights movement and its place within the history of the Black freedom struggle. This episode is a special look back at our first season. It explores and expands on the 10 Key Concepts that ground Learning for Justice’s K-12 frameworks for teaching the hard history of American slavery.
You cannot teach the civil rights movement without talking about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. But it’s critical that students deconstruct the mythology surrounding the movement’s most iconic figure to learn about the man, not just the hero. The real Dr. King held beliefs that evolved over time. A complex man, he was part of a much larger movement—one that shaped him as much as he shaped it.
The civil rights movement was never strictly a Southern phenomenon. To better understand the Jim Crow North, we explore discrimination and Black protest in places like Milwaukee, Omaha, Cleveland and New York. To examine the Black Freedom Movement beyond the South, we examine the Black-led fights to gain access to decent housing, secure quality education and end police brutality in these cities.
Armed resistance and nonviolent direct action co-existed throughout the civil rights era. In this episode, three historians confront some comfortable assumptions about nonviolence and self-defense. Wesley Hogan examines the evolution, value and limitations of nonviolence in the movement. Christopher Strain offers a three-part strategy for rethinking this false dichotomy in the classroom. And Akinyele Umoja offers insights about armed resistance from his research in Mississippi.
Alice Qannik Glenn is the host of Coffee and Quaq and assistant producer of The Forgotten Slavery of our Ancestors. This short, classroom-ready film offers an introduction to the history of Indigenous enslavement on land that is currently the United States. This new resource from Learning for Justice features an extensive group of experts, many of whom will be familiar to listeners from Season 2.
Jim Crow was more than signs and separation. It was a system of terror and violence created to control the labor and regulate the behavior of Black people. In this episode, historian Stephen Berrey unpacks the mechanics of racial oppression, the actions white people took—in and beyond the South—to maintain white supremacy, and the everyday ways Black people fought back. And the directors of the film An Outrage join ELA-teacher Ahmariah Jackson to discuss teaching the racial terror of lynching.
Music chronicles the history of the civil rights struggle: The events, tactics and emotions of the movement are documented in songs of the era. From The Freedom Singers to Sam Cooke, historian Charles L. Hughes explains how your students can use music for both historical insight and evidence in the classroom.
Students don’t enter our classrooms as blank slates. When it comes to the civil rights movement, we often have to help our students unlearn what they think they know while we’re teaching them what actually happened. The people were more complex, the strategies more complicated and the stakes more dangerous than we like to remember. In this episode, historian Nishani Frazier and social studies teacher Adam Sanchez demonstrate the value of teaching the movement from the grassroots up.
Teaching the civil rights movement accurately and effectively requires deconstructing the myths and misconceptions around it. Most people are familiar with a very specific version of the movement that exaggerates government support and denies the existence and persistence of racism outside the South. Julian Bond called this the “Master Narrative.” It celebrates sanitized icons and downplays grassroots organizing. And it overhypes nonviolence while disparaging self-defense and Black Power. In this episode, we talk with historian Nishani Frazier and social studies teacher Adam Sanchez about how to separate fact from fiction in your civil rights teaching.
Season 2: American Slavery
The systems that enabled and perpetuated African and Indigenous enslavement in what is now the U.S. have much in common, and their histories tell us a great deal about the present. Professors Bethany Jay and Steven Oliver join us to talk about connections between the first two seasons and how to teach them, and we preview what’s to come in season three.
In this special call-in episode, listeners share their stories and questions from throughout season 2—including teaching remotely, working with families and stakeholders, and incorporating social justice into subjects like math and science. As educators, we’re strongest when we support each other. And you’ll hear great suggestions from fellow teachers, like these resources we discuss from Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia.
It’s time for our first call-in show! We know things are chaotic for you and every other educator right now. We feel it too, so this seems like the perfect time to talk. Pick up the phone and dial 888-59-STORY (888-597-8679). Our lines are open until Sunday night, April 19. Teaching hard history is even harder right now, so let’s talk about resources you can use if you’re teaching virtually. Ask us your questions; tell us your stories. And let us know how you’re doing.
Indian Removal was a brutal and complicated effort that textbooks often simplify. It is also inseparably related to slavery. Enslavers seeking profit drove demand for Indigenous lands, displacing hundreds of thousands of Indigenous people. Some of these Indigenous people participated in chattel slavery. Focusing on the Chickasaw and Choctaw nations, this episode pulls the lens back to show how Removal and enslavement must be taught together. This story must be told if we're going to understand the full hard history of American enslavement.
The Americas were built on the lands, labor and lives of Indigenous peoples. Despite being erased from history textbooks after the so-called first Thanksgiving, Indigenous peoples did not disappear. Colonial settlers relied on the cooperation, exploitation and forced labor of their Native neighbors to survive and thrive in what became North America. Focusing on New England, historian Margaret Newell introduces us to the Charter Generation of systematically enslaved people across this continent.
From 1936 to 1938, the Federal Writers’ Project collected stories from people who had been enslaved. The WPA Slave Narrative Collection at the Library of Congress is a valuable resource; these oral histories are also problematic. Interpreting these narratives within literary and historical context, students can develop primary source literacy. Historian Cynthia Lynn Lyerly outlines unique insights these texts can add to your curriculum.
To better understand the United States’ past and present, we need to better understand Indigenous identities—and classrooms play a huge role. This starts with examining what’s missing from our social studies, history, civics and government curricula. Throughout this episode, we reference the K-5 Framework for Teaching Hard History as we shed light on key topics like sovereignty, land and erasure.
Educators can no longer ignore our country’s history of Indigenous enslavement. Our students need a fuller understanding of the pivotal history of slavery to comprehend the present and develop a vision for our nation’s future. In this mid-season recap, we highlight key lessons about this consequential part of American history—along with teaching strategies and resources—through the voices of leading scholars and educators featured so far.
Throughout the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, the forced labor and bondage of Indigenous peoples was integral to the economic and political history of what became the Southwestern United States. Historian and author Andrés Reséndez outlines the significance of silver mining, Indigenous enslavement and resistance in the history of New Mexico and Latin America. We examine how, as white settlers moved west, so-called “free soil” states like California continued to institutionalize coerced labor.
A hundred years before the first ship carrying enslaved Africans arrived in Virginia, Europeans introduced the commercial practice of enslavement in “The New World.” And for the next 400 years, millions of Indigenous people throughout the Americas were enslaved through several forms of forced labor and bondage. Historian and author Andrés Reséndez calls this “The Other Slavery,” and his work is changing our understanding of the transatlantic slave trade.
Andrés Reséndez is the author of The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America. His work has changed conventional wisdom about the institution of slavery in the Atlantic world. Over the next two episodes, host Hasan Kwame Jeffries and Reséndez will discuss key turning points in this history—exploring how it expands our understanding of the transatlantic slave trade and the lasting legacy of colonialism, which continues to reverberate in our communities. Be sure to join us.
Each autumn, Thanksgiving brings a disturbing amount of inaccurate information and troubling myths into classrooms across the United States. Most students don’t learn much about the history of Native nations—and even less about Indigenous peoples today. Dr. Debbie Reese explains what to look for and what to avoid (or teach with a critical lens) when selecting children’s books by and about Indigenous people. She also recommends specific books to counter common misconceptions in your classroom.
Children’s books are often the primary way young students are exposed to the history of American slavery. But many books about slavery sugarcoat oppression. Professor Ebony Elizabeth Thomas examines what we should consider when it comes to how children’s books portray African Americans and Indigenous people, their cultures and the effects of enslavement. She also explains why it’s crucial to create “a balance of narratives” when selecting books about marginalized and underrepresented communities.
For elementary teachers approaching the topic of slavery, it can be tempting to focus only on heroes and avoid explaining oppression. But teachers’ omissions speak as loudly as what they choose to include. And what children learn in the early grades has broad consequences for the rest of their education. Dr. Kate Shuster guides us through the new Teaching Hard History K–5 framework from Learning for Justice. We also learn how four elementary teachers are beginning to use it in their classrooms.
Understanding Indigenous enslavement expands our conception of slavery in what is now the United States. It spread across the entire continent and affected millions of people of different backgrounds. If we define slavery too narrowly, we can fail to see its persistence over time and even its modern-day permutations. Historian Christina Snyder examines the Civil War, Lincoln and emancipation with Indigenous people in mind.
Millions of Indigenous people lived in North America before European colonial powers invaded. Along with an insatiable desire for free labor, Europeans brought a system of slavery that significantly differed from the historical practices of enslavement among Native nations. Historian Christina Snyder tells the story of what happened when these worlds collided. European concepts of bondage transformed the way Native nations interacted with each other, resulted in the enslavement and death of millions of Indigenous people, and sparked widespread resistance by Native nations.
The Smithsonian’s Eduardo Díaz and Renée Gokey discuss the importance of learning about Indigenous enslavement. And former Teaching Tolerance Director Maureen Costello explains all of the program’s classroom resources available for teaching this history, including a first-of-its-kind K-5 framework.
We’re turning our attention to the enslavement of Indigenous people, spending more time with teachers in the classroom and adding support for K–5 educators. Tune in next week for more advice about teaching the history and long legacy of American slavery.
Season 1: American Slavery
Historian Bethany Jay returns – answering questions from educators across the country. Host Hasan Kwame Jeffries and the co-editor of Understanding and Teaching American Slavery confront teacher anxieties and counter misconceptions in our season finale.
From elementary to high school, YA literature can introduce fundamental themes and information about slavery, especially when paired with primary sources. John H. Bickford shows how to capitalize on the strengths and weaknesses of trade books about slavery.
Using the present to explore the past. Tamara Spears and Jordan Lanfair suggest a Social Studies unit about Resistance & Kanye West, and a set of English Language Arts lessons examining holidays to understand the legacy of American slavery.
How it’s done. Tamara Spears teaches middle school Social Studies in New York and Jordan Lanfair is a high school English Language Arts teacher in Chicago. Each has been developing additional lessons about slavery for years. They share their experiences.
Over the next few episodes, we're bringing Season One to a close. Tune in for stories from the classroom, guidance for elementary teachers and language arts classes. And answers to questions from listeners like you.
Enslavement didn’t end with Emancipation. Historian James Brewer Stewart discusses modern-day slavery happening across the world—and right here in the U.S.—showing educators how to connect the past with the present.
A listener’s question leads to a meaningful moment. And now we want more! Take a listen, then email us to tell us your story about teaching hard history for an upcoming, special episode.
At James Madison’s Montpelier, the legacy of enslaved people isn’t silenced—and their descendants have a voice. Christian Cotz, Price Thomas and Dr. Patrice Preston Grimes explain how that happened, and why it’s important.
In the United States, justice was never blind. Historian Paul Finkelman goes beyond legal jargon to illustrate how slavery was entangled with the opinions of the Court—and encoded into the Constitution itself.
Constitutional historian Paul Finkelman explains the deeply racist bargains the founding fathers struck in order to unify the country under one document and discusses what students need to know about how slavery defined America after the Revolution.
Film historian Ron Briley returns with more documentary, feature film and miniseries suggestions for history and English instructors. From Ken Burns to Black Panther, this episode offers background and strategies for incorporating pop culture into classroom lessons.
Film has long shaped our nation's historical memory, for good and bad. Film historian Ron Briley offers ways to responsibly use films in the classroom to reframe the typical narrative of American slavery and Reconstruction.
Most students leave school thinking enslaved people lived like characters in Gone With the Wind. Dr. Deirdre Cooper Owens reveals the remarkable diversity of lived experiences within slavery and explains the gap between what scholars and students know.
To see a more complete picture of the experience of enslaved people, you have to redefine resistance. Dr. Kenneth S. Greenberg offers teachers a lens to help students see the ways in which enslaved people fought back against the brutality of slavery.
Students learning about slavery often ask, “Why didn’t enslaved people just run away or revolt?” Lindsay Anne Randall offers a lesson in “Process Drama”—a method teachers can use to answer this question, build empathy and offer perspective.
In many ways, the U.S. has fallen short of its ideals. How can we explain this to students—particularly in the context of discussing slavery? Professor Steven Thurston Oliver has this advice for teachers: Face your fears.
Follow the money. Dr. Christy Clark-Pujara explains why American slavery couldn't have existed without a national commercial infrastructure that supported and benefited from the labor of enslaved people.
Dr. Bethany Jay is back to talk about teaching the end of the Civil War, and how enslaved people’s participation in the war helped subvert the institution of slavery.
What really caused the Civil War? In this episode, Salem State University Professor Bethany Jay offers tips for teaching lesser-known history that clarifies this question and cuts through our cloudy national understanding of the Confederacy.