Teach American History Blog

At What Price Freedom?

The months of January and February have seen two mini-institutes come and go. While there may not seem to be many connections between an institute on the era from 1890-1920 and the early colonial experiences in New England and Virginia, there are some interesting parallels when one considers the labor situations in both of these periods of history. In the colonial era, slavery was just being established, and everyone was trying to work out how it should work and what it would look like. In the early 20th century, as industrialization advanced, workers and factory owners alike struggled to agree on what qualified as acceptable labor requirements and benefits. Two of the books passed out in the institutes may help us in explaining these kinds of debates to our students.

Fort Mose was the first free black town in what would eventually become the United States. While it did not last even 40 years in its position just north of St. Augustine, Florida, it was a signficant player in the conflicts between English and Spanish authorities in North America, in addition to being a symbol of liberty for enslaved Africans throughout the English Southern colonies. The twisted tale of Francisco Menendez - speaker of multiple languages, captured in Africa, enslaved in Charles Town, fighter with the Yamassee during their war against the English, escaped to Spanish Florida, enslaved by the Spanish, eventually freed and made the military commander of Fort Mose, defeater of Georgia Governor Oglethorpe's invasion force, privateer, captured by the British and resold into slavery, escaped back to Fort Mose, moved to Cuba after the end of the Seven Years War - told in Glennette Tilley Turner's Fort Mose is worth reading by students of all ages. Not only does it briefly chronicle the complex interplay between Africans, Indians, and Europeans in the new territory of North America, it also justifies the importance of Fort Mose by linking its presence - and the knowledge of its existence - to significant slave revolts in the early 1700s in the English Colonies. 

Kids on Strike by Susan Campbell Bartoletti does something similar for the struggles of the working class through nine different tales of strikes and protests from Lowell in 1836 to the Lawrence Strike of 1912. Each tale is full of illustrations, showing how childreen and teenagers sought to have more control over the rigors of their daily life; they were not just interested in higher wages, but in better and safer working conditions, the opportunity for schooling, and better living conditions. One of the strengths of this book, it seems to me, is how wide the industrial net is cast: included are newspaper vendors, shoe shiners, mine workers, textile laborers, agricultural hands, and others, clearly showing that child labor stretched across industries, geographic area, and time period. The use of images is also powerful: small newsboys waiting in line for their pay (49), children playing the dirty streets next to a dead horse (70), backbreaking work in a coal mine (85, 93), workers asking to go to school (109), textile workers similar to the Triangle Shirtwaist Company (134), and soldiers pointing guns at workers (166), to name just a few.

And so it comes to this: how will you use this material in your classroom? Have you created a lesson plan that includes this material? If so, please post it on our wiki in the appropriate era linked on this page. Want to add any lesson plan? Go right ahead! Remember, the wiki is supposed to serve as a chance for teachers to collaborate across time and space. Posting plans can earn you PD hours, help another teacher and, if everyone gets involved, provide new materials and ideas that you might not have considered!

Posted by Jason Mead - Tuesday, 02/21/2012, 09:43 AM - Comments -