Courageous Black Lives – Benjamin Banneker and Music from Slavery

In History by Caris Adel6 Comments

Last fall I taught a class at our homeschool co-op on Courageous Black Lives. I was a little nervous about doing this topic, but ended up being able to frame the class in a way that not only discusses the courage and bravery of over 30 people that I want the kids to recognize, but also talks about the powers of white supremacy that they were fighting against. I’m slowly posting what we did and links to resources I used.



What does it mean to be Courageous? We’re going to look at why people were so bold and courageous, why they seemed to do things out of the ordinary, and what the ordinary things were that they were standing up against. Why did they need to be courageous? Each week we’ll look at a person throughout history, along with a creative black person that you should be familiar with who used their art courageously.

Benjamin Banneker


Born: November 9, 1731

Died: October 9, 1806

A free African-American scientist, surveyor, almanac author and farmer.


Watch whole thing

Black History Month #7 – The Scientists: Benjamin Banneker

A brief elementary grade level exploration of the life and work of Benjamin Banneker.


Start at 1:17

Voices of the Civil War Episode 2: “Banneker’s Letter”

In Episode 2, we commend African Americans who fought back against prejudice and racism long before the Civil War, with a focus on Benjamin Banneker. In 1791, Banneker confronted Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson about his conflicting views of slavery. He challenged Jefferson’s perception of African Americans by offering himself as a role model of intelligence, wit and strength.



Banneker Bingo

B I N G O among the first scientific farmers to employ crop rotation was the first to track the 17 year locust cycle first to disclose that the Star of Sirius is two stars, not one. His hypothesis was not confirmed until the Hubble Telescope 200 years later first African-American, to…


Laws and Practices

(we’re going to keep a list of all the laws we come across)

     3/5 Compromise (interesting to realize that it was the North who pushed for the enslaved people to be not counted as humans. I never realized that. Good rabbit trail to explore more about power.)



Power Discussion

Using the form below, we reviewed the lesson and they filled in the squares. Some of the kids drew pictures to represent it if they didn’t want to write it all out.

Who Had the Power?

publisher of almanac, government
What Was the Injustice?

not publishing an almanac by a black man, slavery and not being considered a full human
Who Were the Allies?

abolitionists, the Ellicotts, and Quakers in general
How Could It Have Been Fixed?

published the almanac, ended slavery, not having the 3/5 compromise to begin with (which brought up a discussion of what America would have been like if the southern states had refused to join)
What Were the Acts of Resistance and Courage?

writing the almanac and continuing it until his death, teaching himself, and the letter to Jefferson


Power Worksheet

I also brought up how when Banneker was alive, Thomas Jefferson spoke well of him, but after he died, Jefferson said that Banneker had help with his math and science and had a mind of very common stature. The kids were also horrified to learn that as they were burying Benjamin, that his house was burned to the ground and his notebooks and his clock (especially his clock!) were destroyed. 

“The color of the skin is in no way connected with strength of the mind or intellectual powers.” –Benjamin Banneker
The main discussion points I wanted to get across were that Benjamin was a hard worker, taught himself advanced subjects, and was well accomplished in an age when black people were considered to be inferior, stupid, less than human, and his life itself was an act of courage and resistance to the labels put upon him.

Songs from Slavery

Watch start to :50, 4:53-6:42, 7:20-7:42, 9:27-9:50


for more info: Watch the full segment from the History Detectives Special celebrating African American contributions to music. The president of the Mayme A. Clayton Library & Museum in Culver City, California, recently discovered an unusual book in his late mother’s extraordinary collection of African-American artifacts.


Watch whole thing, pause throughout and talk through the Coded song worksheet.

Wade in the water – Ella Jenkins


Watch whole thing

Watch Full Episodes Online of Underground Railroad: The William Still Story on PBS | Coded Spirituals

Many of the well-known Negro Spirituals popular in the United States during the mid-1800s are much more complex than they first appear. Historians of the Underground Railroad refer to them as “Coded Spirituals”. What that means is that the words actually have two meanings; one that is immediately apparent and one that’s hidden just below the surface.


Watch whole thing

Swing Low, Sweet Chariot – The Plantation Singers

Watch more Plantation Singers songs: The Plantation Singers of Charleston, SC are a professional a cappella singing group renowned locally, nationally and internationally for their singing of the of the music of the Lowcountry. We met up with them and the group’s director, Lynnette White, in Charleston, SC.


Article on history of African-American music (will be used throughout semester)

Listen to Wade in the Water video, use with worksheet.

Swing Low coded worksheet

The main discussion points I wanted to get across were from the article, mainly that “By working within sociocultural constraints, innovating and adapting musical styles, African-Americans created a musical tradition distinctively their own, and that in itself was a form of defiance”, as well as the idea that black people had to conform to white expectations of what was allowed, in anticipation of talking about minstrel shows next week. 


Week 1 – Benjamin Banneker and Music from Slavery

Week 2 – Harriet Ann Jacobs and Eubie Blake

Week 3 – Mifflin Gibbs and Lucille Clifton

Week 4 – Robert Smalls and Elizabeth Catlett



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