How do the legacies of racial slavery shape our world today?
First Edition. August 2020.
PREVIEW THIS UNIT. The preview includes the table of contents, a student reading excerpt, and one lesson plan. PREVIEW ALL UNITS. Additional unit descriptions for the U.S. History Series that summarize key events, people, and terms, as well as underrepresented histories and skill development are available, along with a timeline, on this MIRO BOARD.
Teachers: Are you still using A Forgotten History: The Slave Trade and Slavery in New EnglandWe retired that unit in 2017 and recommend that you no longer use it. We plan to update the unit and re-release it at a later date. In the meantime, please consider whether Racial Slavery in the Americas could work in your courses. Please contact our office at if you have any questions.

Racial slavery was at the center of the Atlantic World’s economy for centuries. One of the primary legacies of racial slavery is that white supremacy and anti-Black racism became so deeply ingrained in the Atlantic World that they became part of the structures of society that are with us to this day. Racial Slavery in the Americas: Resistance, Freedom, and Legacies provides the opportunity for students to consider how the past shapes the present on these fundamental issues. This curriculum provides a wide-ranging overview of racial slavery in the Americas over many centuries. It is not comprehensive. Instead, it provides a broad and illustrative survey of the development of the colonial systems that led to the creation of racial slavery. The focus throughout is on how enslaved people experienced and resisted these systems of oppression and how the legacies of racial slavery have shaped our world today. Racial Slavery in the Americas: Resistance, Freedom, and Legacies covers more than four centuries of history of the Atlantic World. The unit is divided into four parts. Each part includes:

  • Student readings
  • Accompanying study guides, graphic organizers, and key terms
  • Lessons aligned with the readings that develop analytical skills and can be completed in one or more periods
  • Videos that feature leading experts

This unit includes additional synthesis lessons that allow students to synthesize new knowledge for assessment. You do not need to use the entire unit; feel free to select what suits your classroom needs.

This unit was developed in collaboration with the Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice (CSSJ) at Brown University with the generous support of a gift to CSSJ from Mary and Jerome Vascellaro. CSSJ is a scholarly research center with a public humanities mission.

“The Choices unit on racial slavery offers a concise but thorough exploration of this terrible period in American history, including applications to the present day. It will be a welcome supplement to conventional coverage of slavery, which often leaves out more than it includes.” – Kate Shuster, Director of the Teaching Hard History Project

Part I: Colonization and the Creation of Racial Slavery

Part I recounts the relationship between colonialism and the creation of racial slavery. There is one lesson aligned with Part I: Data Analysis: Slavery, Empire, and Capitalism.

Part II: The Slave Trade

Part II focuses on the slave trade and its effects. There is one lesson aligned with Part II: The Human Geography of the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

Part III: Life in the Americas

Part III explores the experiences of enslaved people in the Americas. There are two lessons aligned with Part III: 1) Primary Source Analysis: Enslaved People's Perspectives on Life and Labor in the Americas, and 2) Art Analysis: Portrayals of Plantations and Enslavement.

Part IV: The Abolition of Slavery and Its Legacies

Part IV examines the Black abolition movement, the legacies of slavery, and racial justice movements’ responses to these legacies. There are two lessons aligned with Part IV: 1) Reporting the Haitian Revolution, and 2) Juneteenth: Symbolism, Ritual, and Meaning.


Data Analysis: Slavery, Empire, and Capitalism

Students analyze, calculate, and interpret data from the French colony of Saint-Domingue (present-day Haiti) and consider the connections between capitalism and slavery.

The Human Geography of the Transatlantic Slave Trade

After developing knowledge about the geography of the transatlantic trade, students read an enslaved person’s narrative and use it to map the person’s experiences.

Primary Source Analysis: Enslaved People's Perspectives on Life and Labor in the Americas

Students explore excerpts from slave narratives from across the Americas and consider the concepts of everyday resistance and community building for enslaved people.

Art Analysis: Portrayals of Plantations and Enslavement

Students compare artistic depictions of enslavement, identify the artists’ points of view, and place the images in their historical contexts.

Reporting the Haitian Revolution

Drawing from primary and secondary sources about the Haitian Revolution, students work cooperatively in groups to gather evidence and create a news report on the Haitian Revolution.

Students analyze text sources that reveal important symbolism and rituals in Juneteenth commemorations and reflect upon the significance of Juneteenth as an American holiday. This lesson is also available online.

Reparative Justice: Writing an Appeal for Action

Synthesis Lesson: Students examine official government apologies and other historical documents and then write a letter to an international government panel considering beginning the reparative justice process for racial slavery.

Public Monuments to Slavery

Synthesis Lesson: After examining three memorials to Harriet Tubman and her role in U.S. history, students consider the challenges of memorializing the history of slavery and reflect on the present-day effects of public memorials on historical figures or events.

Historical Memory: Commemorating Racial Slavery

Synthesis Lesson: Students explore the purpose of memorials and consider the idea of historical memory. Students then design a memorial to commemorate racial slavery.

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