Living the Story: The Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky
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Lesson Plan: Black Kentuckians and the Civil War

Suggested Grade Level

Intermediate (lesson can be modified for other grade levels)

This lesson could be taught within a unit on the Civil War, slavery, Kentucky history, or government.

Academic Expectations

1.15 Students make sense of and communicate with movement.
2.14   Students understand the democratic principles of justice, equality, responsibility, and freedom and apply them to real-life situations.
2.15   Students can accurately describe various forms of government and analyze issues that relate to the rights and responsibilities of citizens in a democracy.
2.20   Students understand, analyze, and interpret historical events, conditions, trends, and issues to develop historical perspective.

Program of Studies

    4th Grade:
  • Explore different perspectives and interpretations of Kentucky history by using primary and secondary sources, artifacts, and timelines.
  • Examine cause-and-effect relationships for events in Kentucky history and understand that some events had multiple causes.
  • Recognize how lifestyles and conditions have changed over time in Kentucky.
  • Recognize that in a democratic society, individuals need to participate in government and civic affairs.
  • 5th Grade:
  • Explore the interpretive nature (how perceptions of people and passing of time influence accounts of historical events) of the history of the United States using a variety of tools (e.g., primary and secondary sources, data, artifacts).
  • Develop a chronological understanding of the history of the United States and recognize cause-and-effect relationships and multiple causation.
  • Examine the historical contributions of individuals and groups.
  • Understand that, in a democratic society, citizens have rights and responsibilities.
  • Explore the rights and responsibilities of citizens in real-life situations.

Core Content

  • SS-E-1.3.2
  • SS-E-1.3.3
  • SS-E-5.1.2
  • SS-E-5.1.3
  • SS-E-5.2.3

Objectives of Lesson

  • Students will demonstrate how the American Civil War affected black Kentuckians socially and politically.
  • Students will recognize that only a small portion of the state population (about 20%) were slave owners and examine how that small group used its power to prevent the peaceful, legal abolition of slavery in Kentucky.
  • Students will summarize the importance of Kentucky to the Union and associate that importance with how President Lincoln waited to issue the Emancipation Proclamation until after Kentucky had sided with the Union.
  • Students will identify and discuss the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which forced the end of slavery in Kentucky months after the Civil War ended.


Students will use the information they gather from class discussions, assigned readings, the video Living the Story: The Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky, and the Internet to do one of the following:

  • Give a brief oral presentation accompanied by a visual aid, such as a poster or transparency, that demonstrates how the American Civil War affected black Kentuckians both socially and politically. Students should use specific examples and quotes from resources in their presentation.
  • Work in small groups, or alone, to create and perform original monologues or short dramas that depict what life was like for black Kentuckians during the Civil War.
  • Take on the persona of a Kentuckian during the Civil War—black soldier, family member, slave owner, etc.—and share that individual’s perspective of the war in writing. This piece can be in the form of a journal, letter, or personal narrative.

Suggested Scoring Criteria

The teacher needs to generate separate rubrics, or other forms of assessment, for each of the above activities and give students a copy of the appropriate rubric as the activities are assigned.

Materials Needed for Lesson

  • Web site: archived features—African American Journey
  • Video:
    Living the Story: The Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky

Additional/Optional Resources for Teacher or Student Use

  • Publications:
    Kentucky’s Black Heritage. Published by the Commonwealth of Kentucky: Kentucky Commission on Human Rights, Frankfort; © 1971.
    History of Blacks in Kentucky: From Slavery to Segregation, 1760-1891 by Marion Lucas

Description of Lesson

Statistics mentioned in this description were taken from the book Kentucky’s Black Heritage.

  1. Students will review the reasons for the American Civil War, focusing on the injustices that black Kentuckians faced as slaves and as freed men and women who daily lived in fear of becoming slaves again.
  2. Students will watch the opening portion of the video, “Livin’ the Story, Tellin’ the Story,” to hear the account by Jennie Hopkins Wilson of her parents, who lived as slaves in Kentucky.
  3. Students need to comprehend Kentucky’s strategic physical location during the Civil War and how that caused President Lincoln to wait until Kentucky had officially joined the Union’s cause to issue the Emancipation Proclamation.
  4. Students will review the impact of the Emancipation Proclamation on the Civil War; specifically, how it angered the Confederate states and how Kentucky was exempt from it because the state was technically still part of the Union.
  5. Discuss with students how, even though the Union army refused to enlist black soldiers in state regiments, ten percent of black Kentuckians still enlisted, either directly with the Union army or in regiments from other states. This percentage is greater than the seven percent of white Kentuckians who served in the Civil War.
  6. Emphasize to students that there were two reasons black Kentuckians wished to fight in the Civil War: They were fighting for freedom for all blacks, and a federal law stated that any slave who enlisted in the Union army would receive his freedom and freedom for his wife and children. (This law was difficult to enforce, and many blacks did not gain their freedom or the freedom of their families after fighting in the Union army.)
  7. Students need to know that after the Civil War, the state of Kentucky refused to pass laws to abolish slavery and would not ratify the 13th Amendment. Only one other state, Delaware, briefly held on to the institution of slavery following the Civil War. This refusal was directly linked to the slave owners in Kentucky, who equaled only 20% of the state’s population. Stress that slavery was ended in Kentucky after the 13th Amendment was ratified by enough other states to become law.
  8. Using the Internet, students will work individually or in pairs to find background information on black troops and their families during the Civil War.

Other Suggested Activities

  • Have a group of students participate in a role-play involving President Lincoln, his advisers, and the Emancipation Proclamation. Students could choose a stand and try to convince Lincoln to make the proclamation before Kentucky announces its intention of officially fighting with the Union, or they could insist that he wait until Kentucky has announced its position. Remind students to state reasons why the Union wanted Kentucky on its side (e.g., physical location, livestock and crops, transportation).
  • Students could role-play the Kentucky legislature as its delegates debate the issue of abolishing slavery following the Civil War. Students would choose sides, research the issue, and present the debate to the class. Then discuss the students’ views on Kentucky’s desire to keep its slaves.

Teacher Contact

Bonita Pack, John W. Reiley Elementary School, Campbell County,

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