Before I taught Zinn Education Project lessons about resistance to enslavement, my students were under the impression the only types of agency enslaved people could exercise were running away or violent revolt. Some thought that if you didn’t run away or fight violently, then enslaved people must have accepted their condition of enslavement. The most popular or well known African Americans from this time period are Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass, both of whom ran away. By the time students reach my class, these are often the only stories young students hear about resistance. It was time to set the record straight and expand their understanding of enslavement and resistance.
I chose the lesson Poetry of Defiance: How the Enslaved Resisted from the phenomenal teaching tool, Teaching a People’s History of Abolition and the Civil War. After learning about the variety of ways enslaved people resisted their enslavement, they came away with new understandings about how resistance exists on a continuum and that resistance can take many different forms as well as the fact that how a person chose to resist varied widely due to many different circumstances they faced. This has been one of my favorite lesson to teach from ZEP and I look forward to keeping it in permanent rotation when I teach about the lives of the enslaved. Thank you!
I have included a link to one of my student’s poems here.