Educator Spotlight: Imagining Travel in the Jim Crow Era

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Danielle Hance, this week’s Educator of the Week, uses historical fiction to build empathy and primary sources to bring history to life. Danielle is a language arts and social studies teacher for 5th graders at Chapin Intermediate School in Chapin, South Carolina.

Photo by Elizabeth Burke

Activity: Green Book Travelers

Grade Level: 3-12

Time Commitment: 2 class periods

Introducing Primary Resources with Literature
This lesson came after we’d been studying the Civil Rights Movement for a while in my history class. Before I introduced our primary resource, The Negro Travelers’ Green Book by Victor H. Green, we read a children’s book called Ruth and the Green Book by Calvin Alexander Ramsey and Gwen Strauss. As we read the storybook, students shared their reactions and collected historical references as well as the names of places the characters went. Students identified with the characters in the book, and this helped them to understand the history better and to care more deeply about it.

The next day, we looked at digital images of The Green Book and used this map to see which hotels, restaurants, or tourist spots Green had identified as safe for African Americans to visit. The students were fascinated by the map and were surprised to notice large sections of states that were entirely empty.

Click to see the map on the University of South Carolina library’s digital collections website.

Because the family from Ruth and the Green Book started in Chicago, we zoomed in on Chicago. We followed Ruth’s family’s journey on the map and discussed how carefully they had to plan. Some students noticed that all of the spots the family visited were in the South Side of Chicago. They were able to make connections with previous knowledge about the Great Migration and about demographics today.

See a full lesson plan here.

What surprised or impressed you about your students’ reactions to this lesson?
The students really wanted to look at places on the map where they’d traveled or lived and even though they are young, they had a sense that the historic map might tell us something about race relations in America today.

The lesson also made me see the need to use maps more often to teach historical concepts, particularly for my more visual learners. Geography can be a useful unifier across multiple disciplines as well as learning styles.

Students list questions about the Green Book map on the board. Photo by Danielle Hance.

Why do you think it’s important to teach using primary sources?
Primary sources bring history to life and help kids understand concepts on a deeper level. For example, I’ve taken the kids and their families on a behind-the-scenes tour of the South Carolina Department of Archives and History, and we’ve held the Ordinance of Secession in our hands—the document that started the Civil War. When you can physically touch history like that, you don’t forget it. Even if it the gravity doesn’t sink in right then, a seed has been planted.

Do you have any other children’s literature recommendations for teaching history
Right now we’re reading A Night Divided by Jennifer A. Nielsen, which is about Berlin during the Cold War. Once students have imagined themselves as characters, it’s much easier to bridge the gap with historical documents—and those include maps, too!

green nominateDo you know a great educator who teaches about our world? Nominate a colleague or yourself as the next Educator of the Week!

The Educator Spotlight series features inspiring activities and lessons that educators are implementing with their students that connect them to the world in bold and exciting ways.

3 thoughts on “Educator Spotlight: Imagining Travel in the Jim Crow Era

  1. Bravo & thank you Danielle . As a person of color as well as one who experienced this dark chapter in our history I commend you for sharing this real history to our youth

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