Alec Turner in Grafton, Vermont

Overview Enslaved people were human beings with aspirations, dreams, fears, and families. They constantly resisted their enslavement in small and large ways. These activities are designed to help students see the enslaved as real people, to understand the ways in which the institution of slavery dehumanized them, and to highlight ways that enslaved people resisted and acted with agency to maintain their human dignity.

Topics Transatlantic Slave Trade, Slavery, Resistance to Slavery

Compelling Question How does Alec Turner’s story demonstrate his resistance to being enslaved?

Historical Thinking Skills Primary Source Analysis; Synthesizing Sources

Lesson Outline

Activating Prior Knowledge/Building Historical Context

Review the Turner Family Timeline, paying particular attention to the beginning through to the Civil War.

Begin with the activity “People Not Numbers,” in which students grapple with the magnitude of 12 million people enslaved and forcibly taken from Africa to the Americas. 

Then use the visual thinking slide deck to examine the painting Slaves Waiting for Sale. Tell students the title of the painting; after visual thinking strategies are used, discuss what the people in the painting might have been thinking about and feeling. How might Alec’s father, Alessi, have felt when he arrived in New Orleans and was sold to John Gouldin? What hopes, dreams, and fears do you think he had?

Investigation of Primary Sources

As a class, examine the two pages of the 1850 slave census for the John Gouldin plantation, where Alec Turner was enslaved. 

What do the students observe? How do the listers describe the people represented by the census pages? Why might that be?

The Resisting Slavery activity asks groups of students to examine quotes from primary sources and oral histories and summarize how they demonstrate ways that Alec Turner took actions on his own behalf to resist the condition of being enslaved and envision a future of freedom for himself. Examples students might identify include: resistance at work; running away; direct confrontation; resistance to maintain the family; resistance through culture, music, religion, and education (learning to read)

Sum up with how Alec’s story provides opportunity to teach 3 key points:

  • Enslaved people were human beings with families and lives to live 
  • Enslaved people resisted and found agency where they could
  • Many self-emancipated themselves

Summative Assessment

Enslaved people were human beings with aspirations, dreams, fears, and families. They constantly resisted their enslavement in small and large ways. After examining the primary sources, what hopes, dreams, and fears do you think Alex might have had for his future? Do you think they were different from his father’s?

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