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African American baseball players from Morris Brown College

[Detail] African American baseball players from Morris Brown College

Lesson Overview

Examine the tension experienced by African-Americans as they struggled to establish a vibrant and meaningful identity based on the promises of liberty and equality in the midst of a society that was ambivalent towards them and sought to impose an inferior definition upon them.

The primary sources used are drawn from a time of great change that begins after Reconstruction's brief promise of full citizenship and ends with the First World War's Great Migration, when many African-Americans sought greater freedoms and opportunities by leaving the South for booming industrial cities elsewhere in the nation.

The central question posed by these primary sources is how African-Americans were able to form a meaningful identity for themselves, reject the inferior images fastened upon them, and still maintain the strength to keep "from being torn asunder." Using the primary sources presented here, look for answers that bring your ideas together in ways that reflect the richness of the African-American experience.


Students will:

  • Recognize how African-Americans survived in an environment in which they were considered inferior;
  • Identify ways in which African-Americans sustained for themselves a vibrant culture;
  • Appreciate how personal identity requires coming to terms with external pressures; and
  • Recognize how common, shared experiences shape a people's identity.


Time Required

  • Three to five classes

Recommended Grade Level

  • 9-12
  • 6-8


  • African American History
  • Culture & Folklife


  • Rise of Industrial America, 1876-1900


Scott Culclasure & Pat Adams-Caskie