Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

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Teaching Multicultural Literature : A Workshop for the Middle Grades
Workshop 1 Workshop 2 Workshop 3 Workshop 4 Workshop 5 Workshop 6 Workshop 7 Workshop 8
Workshop 6: Historical and Cultural Context - Langston Hughes and Christopher Moore
Overview
Authors and Literary Works
Langston Hughes
Biography
Work
Christopher Moore
Biography
Work
Interview
Joyce Hansen/ Gary McGowan
Biography
Work
Barbara Chase-Riboud
Biography
Work
Key References
Video Summary
Teaching Strategies
Commentary
Student Work
Resources
Interactive Workbook -- Explore two poems using strategies from these workshops. Go.
Channel-Talk -- Share your views on the discussion board. Go.


Authors and Literary Works
Breaking Ground, Breaking Silence: The Story of New York's African Burial Ground

This invaluable account of the excavation of what 18th-century maps of New York termed the "Negroes' Burying Ground" combines archaeology, anthropology, and history to tell the engrossing story of African slaves in colonial America. Young adult readers will receive a contemporary lesson about the conservation process while they gain new perspective on race relations in earlier times.

In September 1991, an archaeological team hired by the federal government was on hand to analyze a site in lower Manhattan where ground had been broken to build a federal office building. They were expecting to find perhaps 50 burials and various bone fragments and artifacts that had been covered up for over 200 years. What emerged instead from beneath their tools was a monumental archaeological find: the remains of more than 400 graves of African Americans of all ages. This discovery began an extensive reconstruction process that contributed substantially to knowledge about African Americans in early New York. In 1993, the African Burial Ground was made a National Historic Landmark. It is America's oldest and largest known cemetery for people of African descent.

Joyce Hansen, a former New York City schoolteacher and author of several Coretta King Honor Books, collaborated with Gary McGowan, who was the head conservator of the team studying the burial ground. The book details the painstaking process involved in uncovering and conserving the remains. The archaeological team had to contend with many obstacles, including a high water table, fluctuating temperatures, and extremely fragile remains. An early surprise was Burial #6, adult male, the first completely intact skeleton to be found. The ongoing process yielded a treasure of artifacts: beads, brass buttons from British Navy uniforms, a child's ear bob, and pottery fragments. The archaeological group teamed up with anthropologists at Howard University to re-create the forgotten African American community.

Breaking Ground, Breaking Silence moves on to give context to these important discoveries by recounting the history of slavery in New York. Slavery is so commonly associated with the South that it is surprising to realize how widespread it was in New York -- and from the earliest days. In 1626, 11 African men arrived in the harbor of New Amsterdam on a Dutch West India Company ship. Other Africans followed. Eighteen years later, a small group of black men petitioned the company for their freedom and got it. But in a bitter irony, their children remained slaves, so this was only the beginning of an arduous struggle for freedom for African Americans.

As the British succeeded the Dutch as rulers of the colony, the numbers of free blacks shrank, and the slaves' lives became more constrained. After the slave revolt in 1712, conditions worsened. Thousands of slaves came to New York in the 1700s from the Caribbean and South Carolina. Eventually, laws were passed restricting the freeing of slaves. By 1741, 2,000 New York residents were of African descent (out of a population of 11,000) and most of them were slaves. A typical advertisement offered: "Parcel of likely Negro Boys and Girls, from 9 to 12 Years of Age." "The lives of enslaved men, women, and children were ... severe. Analysis of the skeletal remains in the burial ground reveals just how difficult their lives were." There may have been as many as 20,000 buried in the African Burial Ground before it closed in 1796. It wasn't until 1827 that New York State finally ended slavery.

Many honors have been bestowed on Breaking Ground, Breaking Silence. It was named a Coretta Scott King Honor Book, and was included on the following lists: Books for the Teen Age (by the New York Public Library), the IRA-CBC Children's Choices (International Reading Association-Children's Book Council), and the NCSS-CBC Notable Trade Books for Young People (National Council for the Social Studies-Children's Book Council). Breaking Ground, Breaking Silence was also recommended by Booklist (American Library Association), the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, Kirkus Reviews, and Publishers Weekly, and was given a starred review by School Library Journal.

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