Kentucky's Underground Railroad-Passage to Freedom could be used in the language arts classroom to teach the importance of writing, and the importance of written records that represent diverse points of view. Because of the secretive nature of the fugitive slave movement in Kentucky, very few written records exist. However, the absence of written documents makes it rather interesting for students to create their own works, including writing original poems, plays, short stories, news articles, and personal narratives in the context of the classroom curriculum after hearing the family stories of tragedy and bravery on the documentary.
The importance of reading is illustrated in the documentary by showing how important newspapers and books were to convey information and espouse a particular point of view during this time period. The connection between having access to printing press and affecting public opinion is very clear. In addition, there are frequent references to Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe and to narratives written by former slaves, including the historical context of these works and their effect on the course of events.
The documentary can also be used to teach media literacy, especially in combination with the behind the scenes commentary of the production crew. No work of art is completely value free, and students can "read" the documentary to find the perspectives of the producer/director and the effect on the finished product.
Explain how can people today relate to Margaret Garner's story. Does her story have anything in common with stories in the news today? Read Beloved by Toni Morrison.
Analyze the contribution of Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe to the understanding of the experience of American slavery. Discuss how it caused change within the American culture.
Read the narratives of William Wells Brown, Henry Bibb, and Frederick Douglass. How did these works affect the mood of the country prior to the Civil War?
Visit the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for a collection of slave narratives.
Compare and contrast the use of the printing press by James G. Birney and Cassius Clay to building Web sites to express personal opinion today. Why or why not would one have more influence than the other?
Listen to the voiceover at the beginning of the documentary. Read the words. Write your own introduction. Keep it under 30 seconds!
Create a collection of poetry with a common theme, e.g., freedom, and write an analysis of several of the poems. Write why you chose this theme.
Create and perform a play written about some of the family stories on the documentary.
Language Arts Connections to Kentucky's Core Content for Assessment
Arts and Humanities