Forty Acres? The Question of Land at the War's End

In this activity students consider different viewpoints on whether former slaves should be given land at the end of the Civil War. Students read one of five primary sources and summarize the author's viewpoint. This activity makes a good introduction to a unit on Reconstruction or to sum up a unit on the Civil War. This activity was designed to help students with language processing challenges synthesize historical documents.

Objectives

  • Students will summarize arguments for and against redistribution of land to former slaves at the end of the Civil War.  

Instructions

Step 1:  Review with students the situation of former slaves at the end of the Civil War. The teacher may review points from the historical context or distribute the reading from Freedom's Unfinished Revolution. Make sure that students understand that the question of redistribution of land to freedmen was unsettled and that many competing visions were in play.  

Step 2: Pass out the worksheet and copies of "A Freedman and a General Discuss the Meaning of Freedom." Ask for two students to read the script, one person as the general, one person as the freedmen. Use this document to model for students what they will be doing with the other documents. Students should summarize the document on one of the sides of the house by completing the statement with the name of the speaker and circling either "distributed" or "returned" and then explain why on the lines provided. Before moving onto the next step, ask for students to share their responses and make sure everyone is on track.

Step 3: Assign students into groups of four. Give each group member one of the four remaining documents. (The teacher may choose to distribute documents according to reading level of students; see below for suggestions.) Each student should read his/her document and fill in a space on the worksheet. Then group members should explain their documents to each other and share their summarizing statements so that each member's worksheet is complete.  

  • Low-level reading: Photograph, "James Hopkinson's Plantation, Planting Sweet Potatoes

    Mid-level reading: An Ex-Slave Protests Eviction from "the Promised Land"

    Mid-level reading: A Southern Planter Argues that "the Negro Will Not Work"

    High-level reading: Thaddeus Stevens Calls for Redistribution of Confederate Land

Step 4: Wrap up the activity by asking students to consider what they think would be the best option at the end of the Civil War, and explain why.  Ask students to predict what will happen and how different factions (southern planters, freedpeople, Northern politicians) will react. 

Source | American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning, 2010.
Creator | American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning
Rights | Copyright American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Item Type | Teaching Activity
Cite This document | American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning, “Forty Acres? The Question of Land at the War's End,” HERB: Resources for Teachers, accessed October 25, 2014, http://herb.ashp.cuny.edu/items/show/1605.