Kidada E. Williams on Seizing Freedom

On May 9, the Zinn Education Project hosted author Kidada E. Williams in conversation with Jesse Hagopian about the imaginative, defiant ways that Black people sought and enacted freedom throughout U.S. history. This history is highlighted in her podcast Seizing Freedom, which focuses on and brings to life voices that have been muted time and time again.


Video of the full event, except the breakout sessions.

Responses and Highlights

Here are a few reactions from participants:

I LOVE the idea of using the podcasts as a way of using storytelling, rather than having kids read stories. It puts a voice to the words and humanizes the experiences!

These workshops are always fabulous. Always, every time, every single one. I always learn a lot, and what I learn regularly informs and shows up in my teaching.

I’m very excited to get into the podcast and find pieces to share with students as additional voices for our classroom — especially the highlighted role of Black women that is so absent from many sources.

I love the format. The breakout rooms are important to give folks an opportunity to find out who is in the room and to learn what is going on in different states.

Of course, I loved all the wonderful new (to me) information she shared, and the energy with which she told the stories. But I also really appreciated that the voice-over talent used in the podcasts actually spoke with authentic Southern voices. They were not Northern actors who mangled the “accents” (and I can say this as a Black northerner myself who never could get it right, even after all my time working in the South).

Here are some main points of the session from the tweet thread by Ursula Wolfe-Rocca, high school teacher and Zinn Education Project team member.



Here are many of the lessons, books, articles, and more recommended by the presenters and also by participants.

Lessons and Curricula

Frances Harper, William Sylvis, Isaac Myers, and John Roy Lynch pictured. They were leaders of the Reconstruction Era in US history


Teaching With Seizing Freedom by Ursula Wolfe-Rocca

Poetry of Defiance: How the Enslaved Resisted by Adam Sanchez

Reconstructing the South: A Role Play by Bill Bigelow

When the Impossible Suddenly Became Possible: A Reconstruction Mixer by Adam Sanchez and Nqobile Mthethwa

Teaching a People’s History of Abolition and the Civil War edited by Adam Sanchez (Rethinking Schools)



In addition to Kidada E. Williams’s They Left Great Marks on Me: African American Testimonies of Racial Violence from Emancipation to World War I, the following books were referenced:

All Bound Up Together: The Woman Question in African American Public Culture, 1830-1900 by Martha S. Jones (University of North Carolina Press)

The Brownies’ Book (a monthly magazine specifically written for African American children)

Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination by Robin D. G. Kelley (Beacon Press)




Black Students are Caught in the Middle of America’s Culture Wars” by Melinda D. Anderson (Huffington Post)

Wake Up the Sleeper” by David W. Blight (Education Next)

We Are All Bound Up Together” by Francis Ellen Watkins Harper (BlackPast)

This Day in History

Radical members, SC Legistlature | Zinn Education Project

Jan. 14, 1868: South Carolina Constitutional Convention

Feb. 3, 1868: First Freedmen’s Bureau Teacher Appointed in Lafayette Parish

Sept. 3, 1868: Henry McNeal Turner Addressed the Georgia Legislature

Dec. 9, 1872: P. B. S. Pinchback Becomes Governor

May 5, 1905: Chicago Defender Founded

Participant Reflections

What was the most important thing (story, idea) you learned today?

The most important thing I learned today is that this podcast is beyond amazing. I have listened to a few episodes and have used a couple this semester. My students love them. I will definitely continue to use them and spread them to other teachers. The fact that these episodes are so well researched and the voice acting makes history come to life by listening to them.

The quick structure that Dr. Williams shared for discussing the complexity of the different forms that resistance to segregation and Jim Crow took post-Plessy was useful for thinking about how to present this complexity to students. In general, I’m looking forward to listening to season two of Seizing Freedom for a guide to doing the work to make the connections between Reconstruction and today that doesn’t just jump to the 1960s.

How important it is to continue to learn and teach about the myriad contributions of Black people in social movements, as well as pre-and post-Civil War.

That during slavery, many of the enslaved — even once they’d gained their freedom — didn’t consider themselves free until others in their family were also free. It supports the scholarship that notes that most of those escaping enslavement weren’t running to “freedom,” they were running to a nearby (or farther) plantation to see family members they’d been torn from. That sense of community and kinship is so important, particularly in modern times when the Black family is portrayed (even before Moynihan) as not (and never) whole. I also loved the story about the woman who learned how to clean a musket.

What will you do with what you learned?

I’ve been using Seizing Freedom in class (2-5 clips, paired with reflective writing and group projects) and next time around I want to figure out a method for doing some student-led research into the primary sources used in Seizing Freedom. This semester, students are doing a different project, but Dr. Williams’ suggestion to use the podcast as a means to encourage students to explore the wealth of primary sources is an excellent one — it will just take some time to figure out how to best guide 8th graders in that process.

I will use more of the episodes as a warm-up or even as exit tickets for my students. I discovered that they really do enjoy podcasts. They can listen while on the bus and they are learning at the same time.

I will first deepen my own knowledge by listening to the podcast and then I think it would be amazing to have my 5th graders do a reading of first person quotes that are impactful to them.

Next school year, I will start taking over U.S. History in my school for the first time. We have a “brand new” curriculum which starts U.S. history at the “Gilded Age” and does not even mention Reconstruction. However, since I get to be the first to teach and build this class for our school, I have the opportunity to really build something new. I am compiling a wealth of resources over this summer and have Seizing Freedom on my list of things to dig in to. I love using podcasts in class because audio is such a powerful literacy tool for all students. I think these podcasts do such a beautiful job of illustrating for students what great scholarship looks like and the power of primary sources.


Kidada E. Williams is the author of They Left Great Marks on Me: African American Testimonies of Racial Violence from Emancipation to World War I. She teaches courses on African American and U.S. history and historical research methods at Wayne State University. Williams is also one of the co-developers of #CharlestonSyllabus, a crowd-sourced project that helped people understand the historical context surrounding the 2015 racial massacre at Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church.

Jesse Hagopian teaches Ethnic Studies and is the co-adviser to the Black Student Union at Garfield High School in Seattle. He is an editor for Rethinking Schools, the co-editor of Teaching for Black Lives, and editor of More Than a Score: The New Uprising Against High-Stakes Testing.








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