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.
  • Slave songs: In this lesson, students learn more about the religious observances of slaves in the United States by presenting hymns from Slave Songs in the US digitized in the Documenting the American South Collection. This is a great lesson to introduce the intersection of religion and slavery in a US history or African American history class.
  • Spirituals and the power of music in slave narratives: In this lesson, students will learn about the importance of music in the lives of slaves by reading slave narratives and listening to recordings.

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Learning outcomes

Students will:

  • learn about the important role of religion in the lives of slaves.
  • understand the difference between white-controlled religion and the “invisible institution” established by slaves in the South.
  • gain an awareness of the multiple perspectives that contribute to our understanding of the historical past, and make their own decisions about interpretation.
  • understand the difference between primary and secondary sources in social studies.

Teacher planning

Time required for lesson

One day


  • Copies of the Comparing Primary Sources handout — one per student
  • Computer lab or individual student computers
  • Access to Documenting the American South resources
  • Pencils/pens


This lesson coincides with student study of slavery and the Antebellum South.


  1. Students all read the brief essay titled Guide to Religious Content in Slave Narratives compiled by Marcella Grendler, Andrew Leiter, and Jill Sexton.
  2. Allow students to scan the list of primary sources links following the essay. Ask them to select a topic and at least two titles to read. Teachers may wish to guide students to select from oppositional categories such as “prayer meetings” or “slaveholder controlled religious practices” and choose sources before 1860 if study relates to the Antebellum South.
  3. As students read the primary sources, they fill out the Comparing Primary Sources handout.
  4. As a group, students discuss their primary sources and any patterns of similarities or differences that they may have discovered.
  5. In smaller groups or as individuals, students write a narrative history of this time period based on the evidence they read and what they heard about in the discussion. Then allow students to compare their histories to that written about slavery in their text book or another secondary source.


Evaluate students based on class participation, completion of Comparing Primary Sources handout, and the historical narrative.

  • North Carolina Essential Standards
    • Social Studies (2010)
      • 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.4 Analyze how conflict and compromise have shaped politics, economics and culture in the United States. USH.H.4.1 Analyze the political issues and conflicts that impacted the United States through Reconstruction and the compromises that resulted (e.g.,...

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.