Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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Langston Hughes in Focus

LangstonHughes_Teaching Multicultural Lit_6

Writer Langston Hughes believed that art should be accessible to all. He used his poetic voice to speak to all Americans about racial, political, and economic justice. Biographer Arnold Rampersad wrote of Hughes, “His art was firmly rooted in race pride and race feeling, even as he cherished his freedom as an artist…” Use the following resources to introduce students to Hughes’ life and works, and to inspire students to use poetry and art as a means to both explore their heritage and call for public attention to larger issues within their communities.

  • See Teaching Multicultural Literature, workshop 6, “Historical and Cultural Context – Langston Hughes and Christopher Moore.” Stanlee Brimberg’s 7th graders learn about the experiences of African slaves in early New York, examine texts by Hughes, and create postage stamps to commemorate the African Burial Ground Memorial.
  • View the hour-long video on Langston Hughes in Voices & Visions.  Interviews, music, and dance performances convey his work and influence, discussed by James Baldwin and biographer Arnold Rampersad.
  • Hughes is a featured poet in the video for American Passages, unit 10, “Rhythms in Poetry.” Discover more about the author’s life and work and find teaching tips and questions for classroom study of Hughes’ poetry.

Exploring African-American Culture Through Slavery’s Sorrow Songs

AmPass_7_sorrowsongs_blogBlack History Month is a great time to celebrate the achievements of African-American writers, artists, musicians, scientists, and religious and political leaders. It’s also a great time to learn about and reflect on the historical and cultural contexts from which these achievements emerged. One way is to take a journey into the rich and vibrant culture that developed in African-American slave communities in the face of horrific oppression and adversity.

For example, a close look at slave spirituals called Sorrow Songs reveals an awe-inspiring story of hope, collaboration, ingenuity, and an unstoppable hunger for freedom.

The Sorrow Songs are not the songs played by slave musicians at an owner’s social gathering and they’re not the hymns sung during formal church services. Nor are they the great slave narratives of Frederick Douglas and Harriet Jacobs, written to galvanize the abolitionist cause. Most slaves would not have been able to read the narratives even if they had access to them.

Instead, the Sorrow Songs were created collaboratively by the slave community for the slave community. They were current events bulletins and teaching tools. How did the community know that many escaped slaves were crossing into the Union? “Many Thousands Gone.How did a runaway avoid being detected by dogs? “Wade in the Water.” How did the word get out about a secret meeting? “Steal Away to Jesus. The songs connected European Christian imagery with the slaves’ spiritual values. They poked fun at the masters and eased labor. In other words, in a depraved world where humans were allowed to own humans, the slaves created beauty and meaning that they alone owned. “Slavery and Freedom,” unit 7 of American Passages: A Literary Survey,  provides context and content for this exploration.

Find ideas for connecting this remarkable story to other aspects of slave community culture or to the emergence of gospel and jazz music in the unit’s Author Activities page. Students could try collaborating on music and lyrics for a Sorrow Song of their own or revise an existing song to reflect a current event. Students may also make connections to how other oppressed groups have used music or other arts to subvert oppressors.

What stories from Black History will you be exploring with your students this month?