En la Clase: Black Indians, Sugar and Slavery

As Ailesha wrote in her last World Wide Web post, over the next few weeks we’ll be writing on different ways to teach about Black History Month through a Latino lens.  Often times classroom lessons in January and February focus on U.S. history topics like slavery, the Civil War, and the Civil Rights Movement.  Yet, there’s actually an incredibly rich history of African resistance in Latin America, which is typically overlooked in our standard curriculum.  The following highlights some great resources to use to teach about this topic.  Many of these resources come from the teacher resource book Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years.  I know I’ve mentioned this book in a number of previous posts.  I promise, I’m not getting paid each time I talk about it. It really is just an amazing resource that covers a number of topics with articles and lesson plans that can’t be found anywhere else!!  If you don’t have it, check your local library, many of them do have this book.  If you’re an Albuquerque local, contact me, I’d be more than happy to get you copies of the materials mentioned here.  Their curriculum materials can be copied for educational purposes, we just can’t reproduce them electronically here on the blog.  All of the articles discussed below could be used in the classroom as individual, small group, or whole group reading.  They are probably most appropriate for upper-elementary through high school.

Our lessons on slave resistance or abolition are often written from a solely U.S. perspective.  However, Latin America has a strong history of slave resistance and revolt. blackindians In fact, the first recorded slave rebellion in the Americas took place in Santo Domingo in December of 1522.  In his article “Black Indians and Resistance” William Loren Katz describes a great deal of this typically overlooked history (Rethinking Columbus, p. 125-127).  Katz’s article highlights the role of race and race relations in these revolts.  He points out two important facts: first, nearby Native Americans joined the African and Indian slave rebellion in 1522; and second, Europeans learned that they would need to use racial division as a tool if they were to succeed in conquering and colonizing these lands.  In Santo Domingo, Governor Diego Columbus hired Native Americans to track the rebel fugitives after the rebellion.  Katz goes on to write that the December 1522 revolt was not an isolated event–over the next decade slave revolts took place in Colombia, Panama, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Mexico.  Slave revolts were quite powerful in Mexico.  At one point the strength of the slave resistance in Mexico actually forced the Spanish to halt African slave importation.  According to Katz, “by the 1570s [in Mexico]. . . .One in every ten slaves was living a free life in hiding” (p. 126).  There were even decrees to keep Africans and Native Americans apart–trade, commerce or communication between the two groups was illegal.  Katz also discusses the history of the maroon settlements.  The maroon settlements were outlaw communities of former slaves.  While there is a great diversity in terms of how these settlements were set up and run, for many they were “. . .the fulfillment of an American dream–a sheltered home in freedom.  The maroon communities were places for families to educate they young, to develop agriculture and trade, to practice religions and justice based on their own traditions, not those of slave masters” (p. 126).  Katz has an excellent excerpt in his article on one of the most famous maroon settlements: The Republic of Palmares in northeastern Brazil. For more information on Palmares here or here.   Katz’s article was based on his book Black Indians: A Hidden Heritage which was recently updated and reissued in 2012.  Two lessons from the Zinn Education Project (which I’ll reference below) draw from Katz’s book.

In “African-American Resistance” Bill Fletcher, Jr. also discusses the impact of Spanish colonization, and Columbus specifically, on the slave trade in the Americas (Rethinking Columbus, p. 24-27).  Fletcher’s article brings up a number of important topics including: the evolution toward slavery in the Americas, organized slave resistance, and Columbus’ African legacy.  Through Fletcher’s article, students will learn that the largest slave revolts took place in South America and the West Indies, and how Haiti’s slave revolt resulted in the first Black republic in the western hemisphere.

While not necessarily a typical topic for Valentine’s Day, Philip Martin’s “Sugar & Slavery” discusses the history of sugarcane and the role and impact of the sugar trade on slavery in the Americas (Rethinking Columbus, p. 22-23).  Martin discusses in detail what it was like to work on a sugarcane plantation.  He asks  important questions that I think students should consider: “What was the price of the sweet cravings? What was the cost of the desire of Spanish plantation owners. . .to clear-cut ancient forests, to start sugarcane plantations, and to buy slaves, so they could make a profit? All it took was a willingness to use manacles, whips, guns, swords, and torture to keep their slaves under their thumbs” (p. 23).

As mentioned above, The Zinn Education Project has two lesson plans that draw on Katz’s book Black Indians: A Hidden Heritage:

  • “The Color Line” is a lesson written by Bill Bigelow that covers the countless colonial laws enacted to create division and inequality based on race. This helps students understand the origins of racism in the United States and who benefits. You will need to register (for free) on the Zinn Education Project site to access the complete pdf.
  • “The Cherokee/Seminole Removal Role Play” teaches about the Cherokee and Seminole Removal or Trail of Tears.  According to the Zinn Education Project, “The Cherokees were not the only indigenous people affected by the Indian Removal law and the decade of dispossession that followed. The Seminoles, living in Florida, were another group targeted for resettlement. For years, they had lived side by side with people of African ancestry, most of whom were escaped slaves or descendants of escaped slaves. Indeed, the Seminoles and Africans living with each other were not two distinct peoples. Their inclusion in this role play allows students to explore further causes for Indian removal, to see ways in which slavery was an important consideration motivating the U.S. government’s hoped-for final solution to the supposed Indian problem. The role play encourages students to explore these dynamics from the inside. As they portray individuals in some of the groups that shaped these historical episodes, the aim is for them to see not only what happened, but why it happened—and perhaps to wonder whether there were alternatives.”

5 thoughts on “En la Clase: Black Indians, Sugar and Slavery

  1. EVERY teacher should own a copy of Rethinking Columbus. I use it with preservice teachers every time I teach “Integrating Social Studies into the Elementary Classroom” (a graduate level Social Studies methods course).

    But when, oh when, will we get away from “Black history Month,” “Women’s History Month,” etc. and just teach balanced history?

    • I couldn’t agree more–every teacher should own a copy! We’ve done a workshop for teachers here at the Latin American and Iberian Institute the past two years around Rethinking Columbus, and one of my favorite parts is that each teacher walks out the door with a copy of the book.

      You make such a good point about teaching balanced history. It’s something we struggle with here when we write on the blog–we know many teachers plan around these thematic months (and many are encourage to by their schools). But, it’s always our hope that these sorts of topics are integrated throughout the year. I think it’s a discussion closely related to the ideas behind teaching “Beyond Holidays and Heroes”. Thanks for the great comment!

  2. You bring up such an important and less known topic. I was glad to learn about it. History is written by the victors, after all. I love getting a Latino version of it. It’s so enriching (and more accurate!).

    • You are so right–history is written by the victors. It can be so time consuming as a teacher to have to search out these ‘alternative’ versions that give a more accurate picture. That’s why I’m always so glad when we can share these kinds of resources on the blog. Glad you liked the post!

  3. Pingback: En la Clase: “Chocolate ~ From New World Currency to Global Addiction” | Vamos a Leer

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