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The purpose of this unit is to explore the issues that James Forten and his family were passionate about and what they did to advance those causes. Students will be able to consider why the Forten family fought specifically for these causes as a free family of African descent living in Philadelphia in the 1800s. Using the Forten family as an example, students will contemplate ways they can make a difference in the world today.

Aims & Objectives

The modular activities and extensions in this unit provide opportunities for students to:

  • Consider the issues that were important to the Forten family in the early to mid 18oos.
  • Examine the ways in which James Forten and his family pushed for changes in society.
  • Reflect on ways they can help the nation become a better place for all.

Materials

  • Big Idea 5: The Forten Family: Abolitionists and Reformers
  • Worksheet: Revolutionary Ideals and Actions
  • Worksheet: Colonization: Two Sides of an Argument
  • Worksheet: ABCDs of Action
  • Object: The Anti-Slavery Alphabet (Courtesy, American Antiquarian Society)
  • Image: The Liberator Volume 1, No. 1 (Collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society)
  • Image: Colored Scholars Excluded From Schools (Library Company of Philadelphia)

Procedures

Engagement, Option 1 (5-10 minutes)

Newspaper Names
Teacher preparation: Prepare to display the image The Liberator.

Show students the image of The Liberator. Engage students in a conversation around the following questions:

  • What was the goal of this newspaper called The Liberator?
  • Why is a name important for a newspaper?
  • If you were creating an abolitionist newspaper, what would be the name? Justify your reasoning.

Engagement, Option 2 (10-15 minutes)

A Perfect World
Teacher preparation: Gather packs of Post-It notes.

Hand out two or three Post-it notes to each student. Ask them to write down two or three ideas for improving the world and write it on the Post-it note(s). Have them place their Post-its on a board at the front of the room. Then have students come upfront to read all the notes.

Engage students in a conversation around the following:

  • What ideas were shared by many of your classmates?
  • Did any ideas surprise you and if so, why?
  • What actions can you take to make some of these ideas come true?

Engagement, Option 3 (15-20 minutes)

Excluded from Education
Teacher preparation: Prepare to display or project the image Colored Scholars Excluded From Schools.

Start by engaging students in conversation around the following questions:

  • What does the word exclude mean?
  • Have you ever been excluded from something? If so, how did it make you feel?

Then, display the image Colored Scholars Excluded From Schools. Engage students in conversation around the following questions:

  • What is happening in the image?
  • What do you see that makes you believe that?
  • Why would children of African descent be excluded from attending school during this period?
  • What do you believe the Black community did as a result?
  • What would you have done if you were living at the time?

EXTEND: Have students research educational access in the United States or another place of their choosing. Do characteristics like race, gender, religion, disability, etc., impact children’s access to educational opportunities? If so or if not, what might this say about the culture being researched?

Development, Option 1 (40-45 minutes)

Unlikely Friends: James Forten and William Lloyd Garrison
Teacher preparation: Review Big Idea 5: The Forten Family: Abolitionists and Reformers. Ensure students have access to computers, tablets, or other devices with working internet connections to read Big Idea 5 or print out enough copies for each student.

After students have read Big Idea 5 in class or for homework, engage them in a conversation around the following questions:

  • Why was the friendship and partnership between James Forten and William Lloyd Garrison unexpected?
  • How did Forten and Garrison fight for the same goal, but in different ways?
  • How did their relationship and cooperation benefit both of them?

Break students into two groups: James Forten and William Lloyd Garrison. In the Forten group, have students consider how James Forten’s life would have been different had he never met William Lloyd Garrison. In the Garrison group, how would William Lloyd Garrison’s life have been different if he had never met James Forten? Have students work together to create a list of how their lives would have been different.

Once students are finished with their list, have them present their thoughts to the class and have a class discussion around the following questions:

  • How might history have been different if these two men did not meet each other?
  • Did it matter to their work to end slavery that they were so different?
  • What is necessary for people with different backgrounds and perspectives to still work together to accomplish great things or make the world a better place?

Finally, ask students if they feel like they could be friends with someone from whom they are very different? What would be the benefits of such a relationship? Would there be any difficulties? How could they overcome them?

Development, Option 2 (40-45 minutes)

Revolutionary Ideals and Actions
Teacher preparation: Review Big Idea 5: The Forten Family: Abolitionists and Reformers. Ensure students have access to computers, tablets, or other devices with working internet connections to read Big Idea 5 or print out enough copies for each student. Prepare copies of the Revolutionary Ideals and Actions worksheet.

Allow students time in class or for homework to read Big Idea 5. Then pass out the worksheet and allow students time to complete it. Afterwards, go over the students’ responses to the primary source readings. Then have students present their findings to the class on the ways that James Forten and his family fought for the ideals of the American Revolution.

Engage students in a conversation around the following question or assign the question to be answered for homework: To what extent was the American Revolution important to James Forten?

Development, Option 3 (45-50 minutes)

Colonization: Two Sides of an Argument
Teacher preparation: Review Big Idea 5: The Forten Family: Abolitionists and Reformers especially the section on colonization. Ensure students have access to computers, tablets, or other devices with working internet connections to read Big Idea 5 or print out enough copies for each student. Prepare copies of the Colonization: Two Sides of an Argument worksheet.

Have students read Big Idea 5 in class or for homework. Distribute copies of the worksheet Colonization: Two sides of an Argument to each student or group. Allow students time to complete the worksheet.

Assign students to use both the Big Idea and worksheet to consider how James Forten’s views on colonization changed by imagining his perspective in 1820. Assign students to write a letter to a newspaper as if they were James Forten in 1820. Have them focus on why his opinion changed.

EXTEND: Have students consider if they ever changed their opinion on an issue that was important to them? Why did they change their mind?

Culmination/Group Project

The Forten Family's Vision Today
Assign students to groups based on the following issues that were important to James Forten and his family:

  • Group 1 - Ending forced labor for people around the world
  • Group 2 - Equal access to education for all Americans
  • Group 3 - Right to vote for all Americans
  • Group 4 - People of African descent having equal opportunities in the United States.

After students have read Big Idea 5, have them create a presentation in the form of a PowerPoint, Prezi, theatrical performance, or poster board focusing on the history of the issue from Forten’s death in 1842 to today. Have students focus on the following:

  • What were the pivotal moments that impacted each issue? (successes and challenges)
  • Would James Forten be happy with the status of the issue today? Why or why not?
  • Finally, have students consider ways in which they can help make Forten’s vision come true today.

Extensions & Adaptations

SCHOOL DEDICATION
Lombard Street School in Philadelphia was renamed James Forten Elementary School in 1897. If you were dedicating a school to a person, who would it be and why?

ABCDs OF ACTION
Teacher preparation: Prepare to display the image The Anti-Slavery Alphabet. Prepare copies of the ABCDs of Action worksheet.

After students have read Big Idea 5, display the Anti-Slavery Alphabet image. Have students pick a cause that is important to them and create similar A, B, C, D expressions promoting their cause on the worksheet. Display the worksheets around the room.

HOW CAN YOU USE YOUR PEN?
It’s unclear if James Forten was able to vote, but he made his voice known in other ways. Ask students: even though you can’t yet vote, how can you use your pen to make your opinions count? Consider assigning students to write to a local government official about an issue in your community.

CAN I VOTE? (Opinion Piece)
Ask students to list the groups of people who live in the United States that are allowed to vote. Then, ask if they can think of any groups that are not allowed to vote. Explain to students that not all people who live in the United States and the territories are allowed to vote. Have students research one of the following groups and create an opinion piece in the form of a written article on why they believe that group should or should not be allowed to vote in your state.

  • Non-citizens, including permanent legal residents
  • Some people with felony convictions (rules vary by state)
  • Some people with psychiatric disabilities (Laws vary by state. Some people consider these restrictions to be unfair.)
  • United States citizens living in the U.S. territories cannot vote for president
  • Citizens under the age of 18

FREE MARKET STORES
Explain to students that in the 1830s, the Forten family supported efforts to purchase goods only produced by “free labor” or non-enslaved workers. Multiple free produce stores, as they were called, operated in Philadelphia at the time. The goods they sold — clothing, ceramics, candy, accessories, and more — were often more expensive and of poorer quality than goods commonly available on the market. The free produce stores struggled as a result.

Engage students in a conversation around the following questions:

  • What message did this protest hope to send?
  • Do you think shoppers valued quality or cause more highly when shopping?
  • Would you have shopped at one of these stores?

Assign students to produce an advertisement for one of these stores as if they were living in 1830.

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