Sing Out Loud:
The Slave Spirituals
Historical and Cultural Implications during Reconstruction
University of Idaho
Time Allotment: Three
70-minute class periods
Subject Matter: Language
Arts, Social Studies and History
In the late 1800's, the slave spirituals introduced
black folk music to the American public. During Reconstruction, the young
Jubilee Singers fought prejudice and poverty in the United States to bring
spirituals to a white public in order to raise money for their teachers'
school. After a successful world tour, the singers triumphantly returned
to the Fisk University; however, they faced racist United States policy
makers and the broken promises of Reconstruction.
Through the activities presented in this lesson,
students will become familiar with slave spirituals, how the Jubilee Singers
from Fisk University brought spirituals to a world audience, and the difficulties
the singers and all former slaves encountered during the Reconstruction.
In addition, students will express their own feelings about the slave
spirituals through poetry.
Students will be able to:
- Identify, summarize and present facts about
the cultural, educational and political inequalities of the Reconstruction
- Explain the hidden codes of the slave spirituals
and their importance in slaves' communication
- Create poetry to further examine personal feelings
and knowledge of the spirituals
- The List of Standards for the English Language
6. Students conduct research on issues
and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems.
They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources
(e.g., print and non-print texts, artifacts, people) to communicate
their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience
8. Students use a variety of technological and information resources
(e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and
synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.
9. Students develop an understanding of and respect for diversity
in language use, patterns, and dialects across cultures, ethnic groups,
geographic regions, and social roles.
12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish
their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the
exchange of information).
- United States History Standards for Grades
Standard 3b The student understands the Reconstruction programs to transform
social relations in the South. Explain the economic and social problems
facing the South and appraise their impact on different social groups.
- The National Standards for Arts Education
Understanding music in relation to history and culture
Listening to, analyzing, and describing music
Understanding relationships between music, the other arts, and disciplines
outside the arts
Media Components :
The: Jubilee Singers: Sacrifice and Glory (American Experience) Videocassette
Dist. PBS Home Video, 2000
- Slave Spirituals -Traditional
This site gives information on how the slave spirituals transformed
American music from blues to jazz to rock and roll. Clicking on the
names of the songs will download them, including "Nobody Knows the Trouble
I've Seen" and "Swing Low Sweet Chariot."
- Negro Spirituals
A comprehensive site highlighted by an 1867 Atlantic Monthly article
by Thomas Wentworth Higginson about the slave spiritual. The site includes
spirituals you can download. Links include an index of spiritual titles
and images and sounds of the slave spirituals.
- Reconstruction -African Americans
and the Pursuit of Education after the Civil War http://www.clas.ufl.edu/users/brundage/website/education.htm
Just a few paragraphs, but this site contains succinct information about
the state of African American education after the Civil War.
- Reconstruction Resources online http://www.wellesley.mec.edu/wms/library/pages/projects/CivilWar/pages/reconstruction.htm
With links to Reconstruction, the Freedman's Bureau and African Americans
during the post civil War era, this is a huge site with a lot of information.
Be sure to check out the links to "Black Codes" and "Freedman's Bureau."
- Timeline - The American
Experience: the Jubilee Singers
The PBS site accompanies the video. The timeline, people and events
links are a rich starting off point for students.
- The Encyclopedia Britannia guide to
Click on the timeline of 1863-1898. Click on the different eras for
further links to people, places and events of the time. This is an easily
navigable site with images. Click the study guide link then #1 In the
left hand column, then scroll down until you see the heading "We Tell
the Terrible Truth" for slave testimonies.
- In a Slave's Own Words- American
An Online Anthology http://xroads.virginia.edu/~hyper/wpa/wpahome.html
An annotated list of former slaves who were interviewed by writers and
journalists. They provide first-hand accounts
of their experiences on plantations, in cities, and on small farms."
- Images- Schomburg Center for
Research in Black Culture http://digital.nypl.org/schomburg/images_aa19/reconst.cfm?uwfr8914
Extensive collection of images of African Americans in the 19th century.
Browse the collection and look at the images of Reconstruction and education.
Per student - Video
Viewing Guide, "Jubilee Singers" ; Poetry
worksheet; Words and Images of Music
Sheet; colored or construction paper; paper and pencil; poster board;
Prep For Teachers
web sites; Have
the plug-ins Real Audio and Windows Media Player installed for access
to audio files;
spirituals online to download and copy; Prepare
student materials; cue video tape.
Setting the Stage:
Building Personal Connections
Introduce Reconstruction, Freedman's Bureau and schools, then go on and
establish cultural and historical connections through discussion and Internet
research. To open the discussion, ask students
"What does it mean to be free?" I would expect answers such as "When I
move out of the house" and "When I'm ___" years old." Now that they are
free, as students "what do you need to live?" List their responses on
Tell students that with the ratification of the
Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in December 1865, slavery
was officially abolished in all areas of the United States. But now the
slaves were free, what did they need to survive? Compare answers on the
board and expand on them. Put the answers into categories.
Ask the students: Who helps you with these
things when you move out? Who helped the slaves? Tell the students that
the Reconstruction era in the South reintroduced the 11 Confederate states
to the Union. However, during that time Northern armies still had to occupy
the South and to enforce the decrees of Congress.
Building Historical Connections
Move into a context of the Reconstruction. Put students into five groups,
(Reconstruction, Slave Spirituals, Timeline, In a Slave's Own Words, Images).
Each group gets one poster board, glue, and markers. Tell students they
will use these materials to present their final findings to the class.
Each group writes their topic on the top
of the poster board.
- Instruct the "Reconstruction"
and "Slave Spirituals" to log on to the Internet and to find the 5 "W's"
and "H" (who, what, when, where, why and how) of their topic. (Use Bookmarks)
They are also to find images.
- Instruct the "Timeline" group to map the important
places, events and people from 1863-1898. (Use
- The "In a Slave's Own Words" and "Images" groups
should find images of the Reconstruction, of Freedman schools, and former
slaves talking about life during the Reconstruction. They are to print
them out and create a poster board as well. (Use
Have students present their findings to the class
in a four-minute presentation. Students in the audience should be encouraged
to ask questions.
Explain to students they will be examining
the struggles of Freedman schools and follow the career of the Jubilee
Singers, who introduced slave spirituals to the world and white Americans
in the era known as Reconstruction in the late 1860's.
Insert American Experience "Jubilee Singers: Sacrifice and Glory"
in your VCR Explain to students you are going to watch a video about
a choir from Fisk University who changed the world by singing slave spirituals.
Handout Video Viewing Guide, asking them
to write down the responses to the questions on the Guide. Tell them you
will pause and stop the tape as necessary. START
the tape at the image of a man's face singing on the left side of the
screen. PAUSE the tape at the image of trees reflected in a lake
and a female narrator saying, "My mother took courage to await God's own
time." Discuss Ella Sheppard's situation and why a mother would be driven
to kill her own child. Discuss the despair and anguish of slaves' lives.
tape until a male narrator says "it was cold and she had no shoes." and
the screen shows a teacher at the black board at the front of the classroom.
PAUSE Discuss the classroom and what you notice in the Freedman
School. Give a few minutes for students to share their answers; possible
answers include no heater, little light, little clothing and few supplies.
PLAY the tape until an image of minstrel actor and a female voice
says "Black singers did not appear on stage during this era except for
the minstrel show." PAUSE
DISCUSS stereotypes. Instruct students to look closely at the image.
Do they notice any exaggerations? Possible answers included large lips,
bulging eyes, and rotten teeth. Ask students what they think this implies
about what these actors do on stage?
FAST FORWARD to image of the sunset and
the male narrator "The slave songs were associated with...." PLAY
the tape. STOP tape at the image
of a white haired, white bearded man who fills the screen. A male narrator
says "...by making Fisk University a Southern showcase." FAST FORWARD
to the image of an 1860's downtown street. The male narrator says "Throughout
Tennessee and the rest of the South..." PLAY the tape.
STOP on the statue of a kneeling woman looking skyward and the
narrator says, "epidemics were running rampant." DISCUSS with students
that former slaves were moving in droves to the Northern cities, creating
slums. What do you think The Jubilee Singers were leaving behind? What
were they coming home to?
to the sunrise image and a woman's voice saying "may father forgive us."
END when white words appear on a white screen "Jubilee singers
from Fisk University continue..."
Step Two: Post Video Reflection
Direct the students to complete the following
prompt: By introducing and sharing slave spirituals to the world, the
Jubilee Singers showed the world that.. Discuss
the class' answers.
Start a discussion about how music affects
moods. Ask: What music do you listen to when you relax, when you have
a task to do, when you feel energetic?
Step One: recording the images and words
of music -
Using the "Words and Images of Music" worksheet
- Read through the directions for using the
"Words and Images of Music" worksheet with students
- Play a selected piece (Swing Low Sweet Chariot)
- Students may do one of three things:
- Listen only
- Draw a picture of what them music makes
them think of.
- Write words that come to mind as they're
listening to the music
- After the selection is over, allow time for
students to discuss and share their thoughts about what the music made
them think of in preparation for the next step
- Play the music two more times until the students
have all completed the three tasks on the worksheet. They will need
at least 10 words.
Step Two: Creating Poetic Phrases - Completing
the Poetry Form
- Have the students select one word from their
list to write about. (Example words: slaves, song, sadness)
- Have them write the word on line (1) of the
Poetry Form Worksheet
- Encourage them to think of descriptive phrases
and write on them on (2)
- Expand the description of the word and give
an action to the word on line (3)
- Have the students complete all lines on the
Poetry Form Worksheet
STEP THREE: Putting it All Together: Peer
Editing and Writing the Poem
- Have students exchange papers with a partner
and write their name on the paper. The peer editor should highlight
the most descriptive lines and put a star next to phrases that could
use more description and why.
- Instruct students to exchange papers with
their partners when they are finished. They should use their favorite
lines and their peer editor's suggestions to work their observations
about the slaves spirituals into poetry. Remind them to title their
- Show examples of poetry.
- Have a poetry reading of students completed
- SOCIAL STUDIES/LANGUAGE ARTS/TECHNOLOGY
Do power point show instead of poster, have each
group research, create and present slide show
- ART Musical - Have students learn to
sing a spiritual. Discuss feelings and the emotions gospel singing produces.
Have students write and perform their own spirituals.
- DRAMA Students can write and perform
skits based on historical events from the Reconstruction. Students can
create a human time line. Individuals or groups dress up and research
how a historical character would speak and act. A group may act out
an event in history.
- SOCIAL STUDIES Analyze the effect of
time, place, and belief system on the interpretation "Steal Away." How
can music be used to convey a mood that may not be an accurate portrayal
of the subject of the song? How can music be "coded"? Are songs popular
with young people today "coded" in any way? Edsitement.net.gov/lessonplans
Invite a member of a diversity group
to discuss his/her experiences and education
Participate in human rights activities
Find out how to prevent and stop the spread of racism in your area
Contact Amnesty International for information and resources about oppressed
people and how international groups are helping them
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