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.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: We dropped the first episode of Teaching Hard History: American Slavery over a year and a half ago. Since that time we’ve released some 19 episodes covering a wide range of topics, from slavery and the Civil War to using young adult trade books in the classroom. And we’ve featured an amazing group of educators, from leading scholars to innovative museum professionals, who have shared their knowledge and experiences inside and outside of the classroom with us. And we haven’t been speaking into the wind either. The podcast has been downloaded over 150,000 times. But even though we’ve put in some serious work since we started, and even though we’ve reached far more teachers than I ever imagined, we still have a long way to go before we can say with reasonable confidence that we, as a nation, are teaching American slavery accurately and effectively.
News Clip 1: Continuing our coverage tonight on a board game used to teach 4th graders about slavery.
News Clip 2: Activists want to change what they call distorted social studies standards.
News Clip 3: An African-American child was chosen to play the role of an enslaved person for a history lesson.
News Clip 4: The standards currently list slavery, states’ rights and sectionalism as causes for entering the civil war, which critics say downplays slavery’s historical role.
News Clip 5: A New York State Attorney General investigation actually found that black students — and we’re talking about fifth-graders here… they were cast as slaves in a mock slave auction. In two separate fifth-grade social studies classes, a teacher asked all of the African-American students to raise their hands and then instructed them to exit the classroom and stand in the hallway. The teacher then placed imaginary chains or shackles on these students’ necks, wrists and ankles, and had them then walk back into the classroom. That’s when their white classmates were encouraged to bid on them.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: As we just heard, there is more work to be done — a lot more work to be done. Fortunately, we’re coming back on August 14th with a whole new season of Teaching Hard History: American Slavery. Our focus will remain the same: to help educators better teach the history of enslavement and its long legacy. We will be expanding our focus, however, to more specifically support elementary school teachers. In fact, we’ll be spending even more time with teachers who are in the classroom doing this work every day. We’ll also be taking a deep dive into the often-hidden hard history and legacy of the enslavement of Indigenous people. For some of us, this isn’t a history that we know very much about. Few, if any, textbooks talk about what historian Andrés Resendéz has called “the other slavery.” But we need to know this history, and our students do too.
Transatlantic slavery shaped the modern world, impacting the lives of every person living on the four Atlantic-facing continents and nearby islands. So when we talk about American slavery, we must account for the 2.5 to 5 million Native people who were enslaved by European invaders, settlers and their descendants. Their stories require us to rethink not only American history but also the history of the Americas. We have to decenter the British colonies, expand our definition of slavery, reconsider the North vs South binary, and reimagine emancipation, since the enslavement of African and Indigenous people persisted in the Americas well into the 1880s.
But this season is not only about the past. We will continue to draw critical connections between the past and the present because understanding American slavery is vital to understanding racial inequality today. The formal and informal barriers to equal rights, erected after emancipation, were built on a foundation constructed during slavery. Unfortunately, our narrow understanding of the institution prevents us from seeing this long legacy and leads policymakers to try to fix people instead of fixing problems.
The intractable nature of racial inequality is a part of the tragedy that is American slavery. But the saga of slavery is not exclusively a story of despair; hard history is not hopeless history. Finding the promise and possibility within hard history requires considering the lives of the enslaved on their own terms. Enslaved African Americans forged unbreakable bonds with one another. They fought back, too, in the field and in the house, resisting enslavers in ways that ranged from flight to armed rebellion.
In much the same way, we need to consider the lives of those belonging to Native Nations, including those who were held in bondage. Indigenous people experienced a horrific genocide, but they survived this holocaust, buoyed by a fierce determination and a spirit of resistance that reflected longstanding cultural traditions and political practices.
Indeed, Native Nations fought back just like enslaved Africans. From the Pueblo Revolt to the Seminole Wars, they challenged European invaders and settlers in an effort to live free of colonial oppression. Native resistance enabled indigenous people to survive European colonization and American territorial expansion. And despite the myth that Native people have somehow disappeared, they remain — profoundly impacted, to be sure, but with their cultures vibrant and communities strong.
The enslavement of Native people, Indigenous identities, Native resistance and rebellion against European encroachment and preserving Native history — all of these topics are crucial to deepening our understanding of American slavery. And starting on August 14, we will begin exploring them together. Until then, be sure to check out some of our past episodes, so you’re ready for the upcoming school year.
I’m Dr. Hasan Kwame Jeffries, Associate Professor of History at The Ohio State University and your host for season two of Teaching Hard History: American Slavery. And of course, I’ll see you on the other side. Enjoy.