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Resources for Teachers and Students

      Kentucky's Underground Railroad: Passages to Freedom fills in a missing piece of Kentucky history and supports inquiry in a variety of subject areas. Teachers in grades 4-12 can use the entire 60-minute program, or segments, to illustrate Kentucky's role in the story of slavery, abolitionism, and the underground railroad. Several Kentucky educators have reviewed the documentary and written letters to colleagues suggesting uses with students at the elementary, middle and high school levels.

Letters to Colleagues

      The documentary fits with Kentucky's Learning Goals and Academic Expectations in the fields of social studies and arts and humanities.

An overview of some of the themes in the documentary can be used to develop cross curricular units.

Ideas and activities are given to include the documentary with Kentucky's curriculum in:
Earth Science Geography Language Arts Music
Economics History Visual Arts Humanities Themes

      Individual sections of the documentary can be adapted to fit specific grade levels. Plus, a behind-the-scenes look at the documentary provides ideas to incorporate technology with content and offers insights into careers in television production.

Visit the KDE companion Web site (www.kde.state.ky.us/) for more teaching resources and related educational Web sites.

The Kentucky Department of Education Core Content for Assessment site will be useful to teachers in all curriculum areas. KDE Core Content

Kentucky's Learning Goals and Academic Expectations

Kentucky's Underground Railroad-Passage to Freedom connects to the following goals in social studies and arts and humanities.

Social Studies

  • Goal 2.14 - Students understand the democratic principles of justice, equality, responsibility, and freedom and apply them to real-life situations.
  • Goal 2.16 - Students observe, analyze, and interpret human behaviors, social groupings, and institutions to better understand people.
  • Goal 2.19 - Students recognize and understand the relationship between people and geography and apply that knowledge in real-life situations.
  • Goal 2.20 - Students understand, analyze, and interpret historical events, conditions, trends, and issues to develop historical perspective.

Arts and Humanities

  • Goal 2.23 - Students analyze their own and others' artistic products and performances using accepted standards.
  • Goal 2.24 - Students have knowledge of major works of art, music, and literature and appreciate creativity and the contributions of the arts and humanities.
  • Goal 2.25 - In the products they make, and the performances they present, students show that they understand how time, place, and society influence the arts and humanities such as languages, literature, and history.
  • Goal 2.26 - Through the arts and humanities, students recognize that although people are different, they share some common experiences and attitudes.

Documentary Theme Overview

Kentucky's Underground Railroad-Passage to Freedom illustrates the influence of Kentucky geography, history, economy, politics, and culture in the context of a much larger social, political and moral struggle in American history. By hearing interviews with real people telling their family stories, students will realize that history lessons are not always found in books. They will also realize the importance of corroboration when history was not recorded and activities were conducted secretly.

Humanities themes in this documentary are:
  • Kentucky's unique geography and the effect of the proximity to freedom for slaves
  • Kentucky's dual economy built as a supplier to the north of goods and materials and supplier to the south of slaves and the resulting effect
  • Kentucky slavery and its consequences for African American families
  • Existence of a belief system that justified slavery
  • Resistance to slavery including the role of free blacks, slaves, and the African American church and methods of escape including the Underground Railroad
  • Music as a source of solace and rebellion within a cultural and historical context
  • Freedom as a powerful motivator for action and upheaval and as a source of artistic expression
  • Importance of documentation and preservation of local history


This story of rebellion and sacrifice in resistance to human bondage and cruelty has largely been undocumented. The costs of being discovered after a failed escape were death, imprisonment, whipping, or sale "down the river" so secrets of successful escapes were well hidden. Help for escaping slaves could come from many sources including other slaves, free blacks (some never held in bondage), Native Americans, whites acting alone, or whites acting as conductors along the Underground Railroad. Similarly, there were patrollers acting alone or with others who tried to foil escapes and return slaves to their masters. Secret codes of communication to aid escapees were embedded in music, quilts, and signals. The stars, particularly the North Star, were guides for runaways. Though hidden passageways, stairs, and rooms are frequently rumored throughout Kentucky, few are actually documented as sites to aid the escape of slaves.

Importance of documentation and preservation of local history

Many of the stories represented in the documentary have been passed down for generations in oral histories, some with physical evidence that the stories were true. Others are well documented and represent some of the bravest stories of Kentuckians on record. Kentucky still has the opportunity to document and preserve what remains untold of this story. Teachers and students must first incorporate what is documented into the curriculum and then encourage students at all levels to research their own family and local community histories and use various forms of communication to share with others.
      The fact that the full story of bravery, resistance, and escape has not yet been documented can inspire students and teachers, as well as community members, to undertake more research at the local level. Tips for conducting local research, as well as activities for students are included here.

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Last Updated: Tuesday, 09-May-2006 10:39:19 Eastern Daylight Time