K-12 Teaching and Learning From the UNC School of Education


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  • Exploring the church in the southern black community: Students explore the Documenting the American South Collection titled, the “Church in the Southern Black Community.” Beginning with a historian's interpretation of the primary sources that make up the collection, students search the collection for evidence to describe the experiences of African Americans living in the south during the Antebellum through the Reconstruction Period centering on their community churches. The activity culminates in student presentations of a digital scrap book.
  • Religion and slavery in the American South: Comparing perspectives: In this lesson plan, students consult a variety of primary sources from the Documenting the American South Collection to uncover the varied impacts of religion in the lives of slaves in the American South. They are encouraged to seek out multiple, and sometimes contradictory, perspectives of this history.
  • Freedom songs of the civil rights movement: Students will listen to freedom songs recorded during the civil rights movement, 1960–1965. Students will write about personal reactions to the music and lyrics. Through reading and pictures, students will briefly explore historical events where these songs were sung. Listening again, students will analyze and describe — musically — particular song(s).

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Learning outcomes

Students will:

  • demonstrate an understanding of the role of religion in the lives of slaves.
  • evaluate major themes surrounding the issue of religion and slavery.

Teacher planning

Time required for lesson

20-30 minutes

Technology resources

  • Computer lab or individual student computers
  • Access to Documenting the American South resources
  • Microsoft Word


Have students read An Introduction to the Church in the Southern Black Community. It is only necessary for students to read the first section entitled “The Church During Slavery”.


  1. Allow students to casually search through William Francis Allen’s Slave Songs of the U.S.
  2. Ask them to choose a favorite or striking hymn and copy this onto a Word document (make sure students include the identifying information such as title, etc.).
  3. Students should write a brief response to the hymn in which they highlight its key themes.
  4. Next, have students copy Allen’s lengthy introduction and paste this under the hymn they selected.
  5. Now, ask students to go through the text and highlight, using the highlighter tool, key themes which Allen identifies regarding slave hymns. For example, some themes include barbarity vs. civilization, minstrelsy, use in work such as on steamboats, the “shout” service, etc.
  6. Once students have highlighted the key themes, ask them to write a few sentences to summarize the major themes and whether or not these are evident in their hymn.


Assess students based on their ability to complete the aspects of the assignment above. Give students feedback on their summarizing paragraphs.

  • Common Core State Standards
    • English Language Arts (2010)
      • History/Social Studies

        • Grades 9-10
          • 9-10.LH.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including vocabulary describing political, social, or economic aspects of history/social science.

  • North Carolina Essential Standards
    • Social Studies (2010)
      • American Humanities

        • 12.C.5 Understand how conflict and consensus influences American culture. 12.C.5.1 Analyze the relationship between conflict and consensus in American literature, philosophy, and the arts. 12.C.5.2 Explain the impact of American slavery on American culture....
      • United States History I

        • USH.H.1 Apply the four interconnected dimensions of historical thinking to the United States History Essential Standards in order to understand the creation and development of the United States over time. USH.H.1.1 Use Chronological thinking to: Identify the...
        • USH.H.5 Understand how tensions between freedom, equality and power have shaped the political, economic and social development of the United States. USH.H.5.1 Summarize how the philosophical, ideological and/or religious views on freedom and equality contributed...

North Carolina curriculum alignment

Social Studies (2003)

Grade 11–12 — African American History

  • Goal 3: The learner will demonstrate an understanding of African American life and cultural contributions through 1860.
    • Objective 3.03: Trace the development of African American institutions such as religion, education, and benevolent organizations.

Grade 11–12 — United States History

  • Goal 2: Expansion and Reform (1801-1850) - The learner will assess the competing forces of expansionism, nationalism, and sectionalism.
    • Objective 2.06: Evaluate the role of religion in the debate over slavery and other social movements and issues.