Skip to Main Content

Jourdon Anderson and Justice

60 min

Essential Question

  • How does justice promote a healthy civil society? 

Guiding Questions

  • How can an individual seek justice on behalf of another person? On behalf of themselves? 
  • Why can it be helpful to have others join in addressing unjust situations?

Learning Objectives

  • Students will define the word justice and relate it back to their lives and the lives of others.  
  • Students will analyze the story of Jourdon Anderson to explain the importance of justice in a healthy civil society. 
  • Students will create their own definitions and examples of justice by researching past thinkers and practitioners of justice.

Student Resources

Teacher Resources

  • Analysis Questions 
  • Virtue in Action  
  • Journal Activity
  • Sources for Further Reading  
  • Virtue Across the Curriculum  

  • Justice: Upholding of what is fair and right. Respecting the rights and dignity of all.
  • Victuals: Another word for food. 
  • Provost-Marshal-General: During the Civil War, the position of Provost-Marshal-General was responsible for managing recently liberated slaves. 
  • Recompense: To compensate. 


  • The following lesson asks students to consider the virtue of justice. Students will engage with the story of Jourdon Anderson as they consider the question: How can an individual seek justice on behalf of another person? On behalf of themselves? 
  • The main activity in this lesson requires students to read and analyze a letter that explores how Jourdon Anderson responded to the injustice in his life. Students may work individually, in pairs, or small groups as best fits your classroom. The analysis questions provided can be used to help students comprehend and think critically about the content. As the teacher, you can decide which questions best fit your students’ needs and time restraints.    
  • Lastly, the lesson includes sources used in this lesson for further reading and suggestions for cross-curricular connections.   


  • Scaffolding Note: You may use this activity to prepare your students and introduce the vocabulary and ideas discussed in this lesson. Make sure students are clear on the definitions of and differences between self-serving and self-sacrificing ambition before completing the organizer.
  • Post or project this definition of justice: Upholding of what is fair and right. Respecting the rights and dignity of all. 
  • Ask students: Have you ever wished you said or done something in response to someone’s words or actions but thought of just the right words or actions when it was too late to do or say it? Allow time for a brief discussion. 
  • Introduce a “quick-write” using the following prompt: Describe a time you either witnessed or experienced an injustice. What happened? How did you respond? Are you satisfied with how you responded? Why or why not? 
  • Assign students to groups of 3-4 and have them discuss and compare how they responded in their respective situations. Have them compare and discuss any regrets. After they have some time to discuss, ask: Does having at least one other person with you help you to address injustice? Why? 
  • As a large group, discuss: Why can it be helpful to have others join in addressing unjust situations? 


  • Transition to the Jourdon Anderson and Justice primary source. You may use either the scaffolded version or the full narrative with your students. Explain that in 1865, a man who had fled injustice had an opportunity to say some things he had previously not said to his oppressor. As you read about him, pay attention to the people along the way who stood alongside him in ways that may seem small to us now. And think about what character traits it required for Anderson to say what he did. 
  • Scaffolding Note: You may want to use the Talk, Read, Talk, Write (TRTW) strategy with your students. TRTW is an engaging classroom strategy to help students access content. Students generally read an academic text with structured opportunities to talk and write about content and their understanding of it. For more specific information, use these directions. Additional reading strategies are provided for other options that may meet your students’ needs. 
  • Essential Vocabulary: 
    • Victuals: Another word for food. 
    • Provost-Marshal-General: During the Civil War, the position of Provost-Marshal-General was responsible for managing recently liberated slaves. 
    • Recompense: To compensate. 
  • Transition to the analysis questions. Have students work individually, with partners, or as a whole class to answer the questions. 
  • Scaffolding Note: If there are questions that are not necessary to your students’ learning or time restraints, then you can remove those questions.  
  • Analysis Questions 
    • Describe the characteristics of the man who wrote this letter? 
    • When was it written? What did Anderson claim was his purpose in writing it? Describe Anderson’s tone. Do you believe he expects compensation? If not, why does he include that language in his letter? 
    • What events does he describe that give you clues about what his life as an enslaved person was like? 
    • Go through the narrative and circle each occurrence of a term, or variations of a given term, that is repeatedly used. Identify the term. What theme emerges in Anderson’s repeated use of this word? 
    • What does Anderson mean by “the balance will show what we are in justice entitled to”? How would you define the term “justice” in this context? 
    • To what does Anderson refer with this statement: “Surely there will be a day of reckoning for those who defraud the laborer of his hire”? How does this relate to your response to question 4? 
    • Anderson says of his family: “The great desire of my life now is to give my children an education, and have them form virtuous habits.” What kinds of virtuous habits might he mean? What is the relationship between education and justice? 
    • Think of justice in the context of other virtues. Do other virtues depend on just purposes? For example, can courage in defense of an evil cause rightly be called courage? Explain whether justice should be considered a primary virtue. 
    • How is Anderson’s vigilant stand for justice a “snapshot” of the role of individual people in maintaining a republic based on inalienable rights, liberty, and equality? 
    • Do you think Anderson’s response to his old master was just? Explain. 
    • Who is V. Winters, Esquire? What role did he play in this situation? Identify and tell about a time you aided someone else in their pursuit of justice in a similar way (or when you witnessed it). 
      • What, in human nature, leads to injustice? What, in human nature, leads us to desire justice?

Assess & Reflect

Virtue in Action  

  • Philosophers, poets, and activists have wrestled with the definition of justice for millennia. Research the ways great thinkers have defined the term from ancient times to today. Create collages of the definitions and principles. Post these collages around the classroom.  
  • After reviewing these definitions of justice, think about examples of ways you can act justly and promote justice. Add these examples to the collages.    


Justice Journal Activity  

  • Have students self-reflect and answer the following question in their journal: 
    • Think about what a just society looks like. Is a just society one where the laws treat everyone the same, or one where the laws treat people differently? Explain. 



Sources & Further Reading  

  • Explore the following list for additional sources and further reading on Jourdon Anderson.  
    • Berlin, Ira, et al. Slaves No More: Three Essays on Emancipation and the Civil War. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1992.
    • Blight, David W. A Slave No More: Two Men Who Escaped to Freedom, Including Their Own Narratives of Emancipation. Reprint ed. New York: Mariner, 2009. 

Virtue Across the Curriculum  

  • Below are corresponding literature suggestions to help you teach about justice across the curriculum. Sample prompts are provided for the key corresponding works. For the other suggested works, or others that are already part of your curriculum, create your own similar prompts.  
    • Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
      • Jean Valjean is willing to forfeit all that he has and all that he has worked for in order to prevent an innocent man from serving a prison sentence meant for him. How does this action display a commitment to justice? How do other characters act virtuously throughout the novel? 
    • The Law of the Wolves by Rudyard Kipling
      • Compare and contrast “the law of the jungle”, as described in this poem, with “standing for equally applied rules and making sure everyone obeys them.” 
    • Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford
      • Closely read both the words and illustrations in this picture book to identify and discuss the themes of justice included in it. With what specific actions did Harriet Tubman address injustice? What else do you know about Tubman? What additional civic virtues are evident in Tubman’s life and actions? In those of the other people represented in the book?
    • Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe 
    • Freeman by Leonard Pitts, Jr. 
    • Antigone by Sophocles 

Student Handouts

Related Resources