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Many Reasons To Leave Lesson Plan
In the narrative Runaway Journeys, the section "Many Reasons to Leave" reveals that enslaved African Americans not only headed north in search of freedom, but they also left to local places for other reasons, such as visiting family and loved ones, and conducting business. Using the "Many Reasons to Leave" lesson, teachers will lead students to consider where this information fits into their preconceived notions of runaways by having students read a variety of personal slave narratives from the Library of Congress to supplement the content of the narrative.
Grade Levels:High school students, grades 9-12
For use with:Runaway Journeys
Concentration Area:History
National Curriculum Standards met by this lesson
The following standards have been taken from the Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McRel) standards.
Students will understand

  • Different economic, cultural, and social characteristics of slavery after 1800 (e.g., the influence of the Haitian Revolution and the ending of the Atlantic slave trade, how slaves forged their own culture in the face of oppression, the role of the plantation system in shaping slaveholders and the enslaved, the experiences of escaped slaves).
  • How slavery influenced economic and social elements of southern society (e.g., how slavery hindered the emergence of capitalist institutions and values, the influence of slavery on the development of the middle class, the influence of slave revolts on the lives of slaves and freed slaves).
  • Slavery prior to the Civil War (e.g., the importance of slavery as a principal cause of the Civil War, the growing influence of abolitionists, children's roles and family life under slavery).
Time required
Two class periods
Materials needed
Teacher Advisory
Primary sources reflect the sensibilities and often the prejudices of the era in which they were created. Accordingly, some will contain offensive language, descriptions of graphic violence or sexual situations, or physical stereotypes. You should read documents through (letters, journals, and Work Projects Administration (WPA) ex-slave narratives, for example) and examine political cartoons' captioning and depictions to determine if their use is consistent with the guidelines of your school district, appropriate for meeting the educational goals of a unit of study, and suitable for the maturity level of your students.
Anticipatory Set

  1. Pose the following questions to students:

    1. What do you know about the fugitive slave migration?
    2. What is your knowledge of the Underground Railroad?
    3. What were the destinations of these runaways?
    4. Did African Americans run to other places?
    5. Why did they run?
    6. What sorts of punishments were waiting for them if they were caught?

  1. After they have read The Migrations of Fugitives, specifically "Many Reasons to Leave," ask students questions, such as:

    1. What were the various reasons to leave?
    2. What sort of motivation did African Americans have to leave?
    3. What rights did African Americans have? What was the difference between a freeman and an enslaved person?
  2. Assign the links to the narratives to the students. At your discretion, they may read as few or as many as needed; no excerpt is longer than 2,000 words.
  3. Once students have read their excerpts, have them list what they have learned about the situations in which the people would leave. You may choose to discuss with students the punishments meted out for such offenses.
  4. Using the lists students have created from the readings, tell each student to create a fictional narrative about escaping the conditions of slavery, including why they are leaving, possible punishments should they be captured, and why freedom is so important to them. Make sure students pay special attention so that the narratives sound like first-person narratives giving personal details and habits. Give students time in class to edit and rewrite their narratives. Students will share their narratives with the class.
  5. After the class hears the students' narratives, have students openly dialogue about the reasons for escape, such as the separation of family. Have them explore whether there were things more important than freedom to some of these people.
  6. Post-lesson discussion: After they have read first-account narratives and Runaway Journeys, ask students to answer this question: What have you learned that you did not know at the onset of this lesson?

You may assess the student narratives with the following rubric and worksheet, or you may adapt your own to serve your needs:

Content Areas Grading Elements Points
Rough Draft/ Editing: Includes efforts in correcting spelling, grammar, clarity, and additional detail No effort exhibited 0
Insufficient effort 5
Minimal effort 10
Good effort 15
Excellent effort 20
Voice: Includes personal details, habits, family, and word choice) No effort exhibited 0
Insufficient effort 10
Minimal effort 20
Good effort 30
Excellent effort 40
Historical accuracy: Includes era-appropriate details, facts from research, and class discussion No effort exhibited 0
Insufficient effort 10
Minimal effort 20
Good effort 30
Excellent effort 40
Total Points

Interdisciplinary Links

  • Library of Congress' Work Projects Administration (WPA) Slave Narratives at:
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