ELA Middle School
Charles Johnson’s book Middle Passage is considered a modern classic, in part because so much of the story told in the novel is seen as a reflection on the history of race and what it means to be black in America. In the book, the main character, Rutherford Calhoun, a free black man, unknowingly boards a ship that’s part of the illegal slave trade. His experience on board forces him to clarify his own racial identity. In this audio story, we hear different perspectives, including the author’s, on the story the book tells and its important and relevant themes.
Current Event October 16, 2018
Originally organized by the Jefferson estate and the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture, an exhibit called “Slavery at Jefferson’s Monticello” has been expanded to include recently discovered items associated with Sally Hemings. Hemings was an enslaved woman owned by Thomas Jefferson and also the mother of several of his children. Listen to hear one of their descendants, who now works at Monticello, reflect on the complexity of American history as represented in the exhibit.
Current Event May 9, 2018
The National Memorial for Peace and Justice opened in Montgomery, Alabama. This memorial is devoted to the more than 4,000 African Americans who were lynched between 1877 and 1950. Killing for an alleged offense and without a legal trial was allowed in some parts of the South during this time period. Visitors are reminded of what happened in our past and encouraged to confront America’s continued racial divide. Listen to this story about this memorial that helps us to remember the thousands of Americans who were killed because of racism.
Current Event August 31, 2017
Harvard University has a longstanding history of academic excellence as the first institution of higher education in America. Harvard also has a less proud history of slaveholding within its administration. At least three past Harvard presidents are known to have owned enslaved people, and slaves were also forced to work on Harvard campus. Recently, Harvard has made efforts to uncover its slaveholding past. Listen to this story that describes Harvard’s initiatives to research the details of its past injustices, and commemorate the enslaved people Harvard once owned.
ELA High School
Toni Morrison is an American novelist who is best known for her novels exploring the experiences of African Americans. When she won the Nobel Prize for Literature in in 1993 she said at the ceremony that she is “pleasantly haunted by ghosts.” In this interview with Morrison she explores how ghosts are a part of some of her writing. The novel “Beloved” has a ghost as a central character in a story about two slaves who fell in love. The novel “Jazz” recalls Harlem in the 1920’s and explores the themes of purgatory and Jazz music. Listen to this story to learn what sparks Morrison’s creativity.
Current Event April 9, 2016
The War of 1812 between the United States and Britain is typically framed as a second war for independence. Less commonly known is the story of American slaves who were able to use the war as an opportunity to negotiate their freedom. Slaves in Maryland immediately recognized the British invasion as a chance to escape slavery. Initially, the British offered land in Canada or the West Indies to escaped slaves who were willing to offer intelligence or help as guides. Listen to learn more about how enslaved African Americans were able to negotiate their freedom during the War of 1812, and how this impacted the institution of slavery in the United States.
Current Event August 19, 2015
Historically slaves in the United States are depicted as uneducated farm hands on plantations in the South. But that wasn’t true for all slaves. One famous slave named Yarrow Mamout was an educated Muslim who earned his freedom and even had his portrait painted by a famous American painter. He was a entrepreneur, money-lender and stock-owner, as well as having a reputation for being honest and moral. Archaeologists are trying to find out more about Yarrow Mamout by excavating a plot of land in Georgetown where he owned a home from 1796 until his death in 1823. Listen to this story to learn why this former slave is so well-known and respected.