Got this idea from a session at The National Council for Social Studies Convention in 2009 from Andy Robinson and Joan Brodsky Schur titled "Staging An Abolitionist Convention." I have modified their idea a little bit to better suit my teaching style and my students I teach. I usually conduct this simulation after our unit learning about slavery but before we get too far into the Events Leading Up To The United States Civil War.
The Problem Debated At Our Meeting:
How should we respond to the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law? By this time we have studied as a class the institution of slavery and have introduced to growing North and South tension over the expansion of Slavery. We have talked about the Missouri Compromise and the Compromise of 1850 to help set up this issue. This has included the controversy surrounding the Fugitive Slave Law and the impact of the book Uncle Tom's Cabin.
The Research Phase:
Students are assigned an abolitionists to research and use this form to collect information about their abolitionist.
|Meet the Abolitionist Notes|
I have pulled together short biographies for students to download and read about each of these abolitionists. I try and create a good mix of Men, Women, White, and African-American Abolitionists. I also try to include a good mix of Abolitionists that have different views on their activism towards ending slavery. I have found American Experience: The Abolitionists a great resources for both text and video about some of the major leaders in the Abolitionist movement. Some of the Abolitionist I have students represent are: William Lloyd Garrison, William Wells Brown, Wendell Phillips, Theodore Parker, Sojourner Truth, Sarah Grimke, Salmon Portland Chase, Robert Purvis, Mary Weston, Maria Steward, Lydia Maria Francis, Lucy Stone, Lucretia Coffin Mott, Lewis Tappan, Lewis Hayden, James Mott, James Birney, Henry David Thoreau, Henry Brewster Stanton, Henry Highland Garnet, Harriet Tubman, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Gerrit Smith, George Luther Stearns, Frederick Douglas, Frances Harper, Elizabeth Cady Staton, and Angelina Grimke.
|Abolitionist Meeting Preparation|
After students have researched their Abolitionist, they think about how their Abolitionist would respond to the passage of a new Fugitive Slave Law. I really try and emphasize to the students to try and put themselves into the shoes of their abolitionists which can be difficult. For some of my students I do allow them to respond from their own perspective. Students are given four options:
- Protest Peacefully, but don't directly break the law.
- Actively work in the Underground Railroad to help slaves escape to Canada.
- Resort to using violence to bring about the end of slavery by joining John Brown in the Kansas Territory.
- Give Up on the Slavery Issue
Tickets to the Meeting:
I have used this Ticket Generator Website as well as being dressed up as an abolitionist to bring a little excitement to our meeting.
Time To Mingle:
I usually give students time to mingle with each other using an Ally Grid to find relatives, spouses, and potential allies in the debate to come. This gets students moving around a little bit, but also helps them discover connections with other students. Several of these abolitionists are related or married to each other and many more have worked with each other before. This also gives students a chance to pre-debate their thoughts on the course of action they are leaning towards and finding others who support their position.
A Fun Twist: You could also have your class vote on if women should be allowed to attend. This was a very serious problem in the abolitionist societies. Not all abolitionist were willing to let women fully participate. If the class votes not to allow them, I have had the girls form a secondary meeting in the hallway and I use a program like CoveritLive to incorporate their discussions with the rest of the class and encourage them to "barge into" our meeting to interrupt if they have a point to make or question.
If you do this you have to really know your students and trust your students in two different places during the simulation.
We have a class debate and discussion listing pros and cons to some of the different options. I really try and involve as many students in the discussions. A lot of our discussions center on being prepared to deal with potential consequences of actively breaking the law (fines, jail time, etc..) and what is the best course of action to deal with what is viewed as an un-fair law.
To wrap up this activity I have students write a blog post on my Blackboard course where they have to state their case on what they feel should be done in response to The Fugitive Slave Act by listing advantages and disadvantages they have learned throughout this activity.
Do you have any great simulations that you use or resources to look at Abolitionists? I would love to hear about them in the comments section below.