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African Americans in the Gilded Age

120 min


  • Students will trace and evaluate efforts to achieve equality and protect the natural rights of blacks during the period following the Civil War.
  • Students will analyze primary source documents and respond to a document-based question concerning efforts to achieve racial equality.
  • Students will apply critical thinking skills to compare and evaluate proposals aimed at protection of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for blacks in America.
  • Students will participate in informed civil discourse aimed at solving problems related to controversial issues.
  • Students will analyze documents and events to understand constitutional principles and essential virtues necessary for civil society.

  • Emancipation
  • Disfranchisement
  • Segregation
  • Thirteenth Amendment
  • Fourteenth Amendment
  • Fifteenth Amendment
  • Freedmen’s Bureau
  • Civil Rights Act, 1875
  • Sharecropping
  • Peonage
  • Lynching
  • Reconstruction
  • Poll tax
  • Literacy test
  • Grandfather clauses
  • Civil Rights Cases (1883)
  • Jim Crow
  • Plessy v. Ferguson (1896)
  • Progressive Era
  • Social Darwinism
  • Eugenics
  • Boycott
  • Tuskeegee Institute
  • Up from Slavery
  • Atlanta Exposition, 1895
  • Souls of Black Folk
  • Niagara Movement
  • National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)
  • Spanish-American War
  • World War I
  • Tyranny
  • Great Migration
  • Harlem Renaissance
  • Civil Rights Movement

  1. Distribute and assign for homework the background essay, Handout A: African Americans in the Gilded Age.
  2. In class, lead a brief discussion to clarify any misunderstandings and have students share their responses to the review questions.
  3. Point out Handout K: Constitutional Principles and Essential Virtues. Review questions found throughout the lesson call for students to analyze documents regarding principles and virtues; this graphic organizer will be a useful tool for these discussions.
  4. Write the Key Question on the board so that students may refer to it throughout the lesson:

Which, if any, of the varying approaches advocated by black leaders during the period from 1865-1920 do you believe was the most likely to achieve equality and lead to protection of the rights of blacks? To what extent and in what ways did conditions for American blacks change in the era?

  1. Divide the class into three Study Groups of equal size. Though the number of documents varies, the number of pages assigned to each group is similar. Tell each group to fill in the parts of Handout L: Documents Organizer that coincide with their assigned documents, and that each student will become an expert, responsible for explaining their assigned documents to classmates. The teacher should monitor and move from group to group, helping where needed.
  2. Jigsaw to new teaching groups so that six students (two from each of the Study groups) are in each of the new groups. Their task in this phase is to share and discuss what they have learned about each document so that all students grasp the bigger picture and can fill in the remainder of the Handout K: Documents Organizer. Stress that students are to focus on synthesis and analysis of the documents as a whole, not just to fill in the rows on their documents organizer.
  3. Once all groups have finished the discussion of all documents and completed the documents organizer, then direct them to remain in their Teaching groups to discuss the Key Question.

  1. Conduct a whole-class discussion allowing each of the Teaching groups to share their answers to the Key Question.
  2. Ask: What was the proper role and responsibility of government in protecting the rights of blacks during this era? What mistakes and shortcomings can be instructive to us today? What virtues and constitutional principles are most relevant to achievement of civil society in which all persons can enjoy life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness?

  1. Have students write an essay in which they use the documents and their background knowledge to answer the Key Question. The writing could be done by individuals, or by groups of students working in teams. Have students exchange papers and apply the class grading rubric to one another’s essays.
  2. Have students collect and share current event articles that are related to the themes, principles, and virtues explored in this lesson.
  3. Have students write position papers as though they are advisors to elected officials today, using what they have learned from this lesson to recommend wise policy to address current events concerns.
  4. To what extent is the John Hope quote relevant in the 21st century?

    “Rise, Brothers! Come, let us possess this land. Never say, ‘Let well enough alone.’ Cease to console yourselves with adages that numb the moral sense. Be discontented. Be dissatisfied. ‘Sweat and grunt’ under present conditions. Be as restless as the tempestuous billows on the boundless sea. Let your discontent break mountain-high against the wall of prejudice, and swamp it to the very foundation. Then we shall not have to plead for justice nor on bended knee crave mercy; for we shall be men. Then and not until then will liberty in its highest sense be the boast of our Republic…”
    –John Hope, “We are Struggling for Equality,” 1896

Student Handouts

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