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Our Town

African American Settlements & Communities Throughout History

Against all odds, they built self-sufficient communities that came to represent the resilience and innovation of black people in America. These emancipated settlements became beacons for free African Americans and sanctuaries for those daring enough to escape the clutches of slavery. While little remains of these early communities and, in some cases, their stories are just being told, these resources will help you share the tales of the rise and fall of black meccas like Oklahoma’s Black Wall Street and New York City’s Seneca Village. Through oral history and the examination of primary source documents, students will learn a valuable lesson about how a plot of land and a dream can become a town, and how everything from geography to racial tension can change its trajectory in only a matter of years.

Overview

Historic Black Settlements & Communities Map | Kiddom

Using this interactive map, students can explore many of the prominent black settlements that have existed throughout history. The approximate location of each historic site is marked, and by clicking on the icon, students will receive an overview of important events, as well as photos and links to outside websites that can give them more insight into what life was like in these towns and communities. Please note that this is not a comprehensive catalog and there are many, many more towns that are not featured here. On their own, students can familiarize themselves with some of these places before engaging with the resources that follow, that highlight just a few of these sites.

Focus 1: Black Wall Street — Tulsa, OK

Solomon Sir Jones’ Rare Greenwood Footage | Smithsonian

Take a trip back in time to see rare colorized footage of Black Wall Street in its heyday, as well as some of the only surviving footage of the community during the bloodiest racial massacre in American history.

Tulsa’s Black Wall Street Massacre | CNN

For years the racial tension that exploded into unspeakable violence in Oklahoma was only spoken of in whispers by its few survivors but now, almost a hundred years later, their stories are being told and we are forced to interrogate how the media’s misrepresentation of that event may have led to it being hidden away for so long. This video offers a more detailed account of life in Greenwood before, during and after the massacre that changed it forever. By drawing connections to race relations today, it can spark a discussion about how media portrayals of contemporary events have the power to alter the narrative even today.

Tulsa Race Riot Lesson Plans | Oklahoma History Center

The 1921 Tulsa Race Riot Centennial Commission has been pushing for students statewide in Oklahoma to be required to study the legacy of Black Wall Street and they have worked with the Oklahoma History Center to create this powerful curriculum. It offers a one-day lesson plan, as well as a five-day course of study, if you’d like to take a deeper dive into this topic. Through analysis of survivor accounts to gain an understanding of the devastating events of 1921 and discuss what we can do to heal from the past and learn how to prevent these things from ever happening again.

Click here to access the 1-day lesson plan. 

Click here to access the 5-day unit plan.

Focus 2: Rosewood, FL

Rosewood | 60 Minutes

Although Florida’s town of Rosewood was much more quaint than Oklahoma’s Greenwood, the story of how it was all but wiped off the map- and out of history- by a furious mob, binds them together in history. This video filmed in 1983 is especially important to share because it includes an interview with Minnie Lee Langley who was only 8 at the time of the attack and was one of the only remaining voices left to tell the story of what happened to her birthplace. She has since passed but her memories are preserved here, as well as those of a couple of the white residents of nearby Sumner, where the mob formed. It’s a difficult story to hear but important to honor the legacy of a town that stared down a mob of a hundred in an attempt to protect the homes and lives they cherished.

Rosewood Wiped Off The Map | Timeline

This article provides some background about life for the residents of Rosewood before the attack, as well as a detailed account of the final days. Through images and excerpts from interviews, students will learn how the surrounding areas responded back then and why it took so long for this story to be uncovered.

Focus 3: Seneca Village, NY

New York City's First Free Black Communities: Seneca Village | PBS

It’s hard to imagine that when you’re strolling through New York’s Central Park, you may be walking over the remnants of one of New York’s first community of free blacks. Learn about daily life in Seneca Village, some of its residents, and how it met its end when the decision was made to build Central Park on the lands that Seneca’s people called home. See rare images of Seneca Village and learn about how researchers are using archival information and artifacts to piece together their story.

Seneca Village Interactive Site Map | Seneca Village Project

It’s hard to imagine that when you’re strolling through New York’s Central Park, you may be walking over the remnants of one of New York’s first community of free blacks. Learn about daily life in Seneca Village, some of its residents, and how it met its end when the decision was made to build Central Park on the lands that Seneca’s people called home. See rare images of Seneca Village and learn about how researchers are using archival information and artifacts to piece together their story.

Focus 4: Weeksville, Brooklyn, NY

A Day in Weeksville | Viceland

This video features another of New York’s African American settlements – Brooklyn’s Weeksville. We have selected this Viceland video because it does a wonderful job of using a touch of humor to document the daily lives and accomplishments of the town’s residents. Students will see what the wore and what their homes looked like. Documentarian Messiah Rhodes visits the Weeksville Heritage Center which still maintains the historic Hunterfly Houses.

The Inspiring Story of Weeksville | Brownstoner

Students can read this article to get more background information on the inspiring story of Weeksville. Learn about what the area of Central Brooklyn was like before slavery was abolished and how James Weeks went from being a longshoreman to the founder of one of this country’s earliest black settlements.

Note-Taking and Assessment

Our Town Graphic Organizer | Kiddom

Students can use this graphic organizer to organize information that they collect from the resources both in this playlist as well as anything they glean from their own independent research. It includes some reflection questions that ask for students to compare and contrast the communities they’ve chosen to document.

Final Projects: Student Choice

Give your students two options for final projects that will assess their knowledge and understanding of the topics presented in these resources.

Option A: Come On Down!
In some cases, the residents of settlements that were successful and looking to grow sent out flyers to let others know that they had a safe and prosperous place to settle down. For this project, students will imagine that they live in one of these historic settlements and create a brochure or flyer that includes facts about the community so that potential residents know what to expect. They can also find images to include in their brochure or draw them.

Option B: From Our Town, With Love
For this project, students will create two postcards that show a correspondence between residents from two different settlements of their choosing. For example, they might imagine what a resident of Nicodemus, Kansas would want to tell their cousin in Eatonville, Florida and vice-versa. These postcards should reveal the differences or similarities between both sites.

Eboni Hogan

Content Specialist

Eboni has extensive experience in curriculum development, with a focus on culturally-responsive and arts-based approaches. Having spent years creating academic content and providing professional development to teachers, she now curates themed playlists meant to provide educators with valuable, time-saving resources.

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