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Caribbean Migration
Bitter Sweet Legacy Lesson Plan: Afro-Caribbean Americans and the Sugar Economy
The narrative Caribbean Immigration examines how the collapse of the sugar economy during the Nineteenth century in the Caribbean stimulated Caribbean migration. Using Bitter Sweet Legacy: Afro-Caribbean Americans and the Sugar Economy, a lesson plan for history or economics classes, students will study the relationship between sugar, African and Caribbean laborers, and migration. Students will examine the role of enslaved Africans in the creation of the Caribbean sugar industry, the nineteenth-century crisis in the sugar industry and its impact on Afro-Caribbean Americans, and the role of sugar in the lives of Afro-Caribbean Americans today.
Grade Levels:High school, grades 9-12
For use with:Caribbean Immigration
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

  • Contributions of African slaves to economic development in the Americas (e.g., contributions of rice cultivation and cattle raising in South Carolina) and the transmission of African cultural heritage (e.g. through religious practices, dances, and work songs).
  • Background and experiences of immigrants of the late Nineteenth century.
  • Economic boom and social transformation of post-World War II United States
Time required
One to two 50-minute class periods if students read the narrative outside of class, and depending on the speed of the oral presentations
Materials needed
  • Narrative, Caribbean Immigration
  • Twenty (20) packets of sugar, one can of soda (optional whether empty or full)
Anticipatory Set

  1. Place ten packets of sugar (one tsp. each) where students can see them and explain that this is the recommended daily serving. Ask students how many packets of sugar per day they think they consume. Then, place the soda can next to the sugar, explain to students that a can of regular soda averages nine-eleven teaspoons of sugar. Ask them to recalculate their consumption.
  2. Place 20 packets of sugar out and explain that the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that this is the average amount of sugar consumed by Americans each day. Over the course of a year, per capita consumption averages 100 pounds of sugar.
  3. Ask students if they know the price of sugar (currently around 40¢ per pound). Explain that economic historians calculate that the price of sugar in the year 1500 averaged around $8–$13 per pound or the value of four day's wages for a laborer. Discuss with students whether they would consume as much sugar if they had to pay that price.
  4. Direct students to look at images of enslaved people working in the sugar cane fields. JOHN: LINKS TO 3-033; 3-039; 10-001; 10-017 TO 10-020; 10-035

    1. Discuss with students the work that was necessary to produce refined sugar in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
  5. Explain that the price of sugar went down 75 percent in the years between 1470 and 1510. Brainstorm and record ideas about what factors, including labor and the introduction of sugar cane into the New World, might account for the plummeting prices. Ask students what sources they might check to learn more about sugar production during this era and also during contemporary sugar production.

  1. Explain to students that they will be examining how the production of sugar and the migration of people of African origin have been intertwined from the sixteenth century to the present. Direct students to read the narrative Caribbean Immigration, focusing on the segment " "Economic Crisis in the Caribbean." "
  2. Divide the class into three teams and ask them to conduct research to present an oral report on one of three eras of sugar in the Americas, as follows:

    1. Group One (Colonization to 1800) will examine the introduction of sugar cane to the New World—probably to Hispaniola in 1497 by Columbus on his second expedition—and the rapid conversion from the use of Taino slave labor in the production of this crop to the use of enslaved Africans, beginning around 1501. Students in this group should:

      1. Trace the simultaneous expansion of the slave trade and of sugar plantations in Spanish, English, French, Dutch, Portuguese, and Danish colonies in the Caribbean.
      2. Investigate the type of labor and working conditions of slaves on Caribbean sugar plantations.
      3. Study how sugar, molasses, and rum are related and how this became the basis of the infamous triangle trade.
      4. Relate the migration of Africans and Caribbean-born individuals of African origin to the expansion of sugar.
    2. Group Two (1800–1910) will examine the impact of the introduction of the sugar beet, the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade, and the emancipation of slaves on the Caribbean sugar economy. This group should trace the road from slavery to peonage of Afro-Caribbean cane field laborers and its impact on their quality of life and their migration in the Americas.
    3. Group Three (1910-present) will examine Caribbean sugar cane production today. This group will trace how the end of direct European colonialism and competition from corn syrup has impacted the sugar economy of the Caribbean and the lives of Afro-Caribbean cane field laborers. Students in this group should:

      1. Compare the Cuban experience with that of other Caribbean sugar (or rum) producers such as Puerto Rico, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Jamaica.
      2. Examine the impact of the volatile sugar economy on standards of living and contemporary Afro-Caribbean migration.

Assess oral presentations using the 20-point rubric that follows as a basis, multiplying by five to weight the grade or convert to a letter scale.

Grading Element Excellent (10) Good (9-8) Fair (7-6) Not Satisfactory (5-1) No Work (0)
Oral Skills Effective speaker: tonal variety, speed, volume, clarity Minor Problems: monotone, soft, mumbling, too rapid Numerous speaking problems


Minimal participation
Communication lacking


Wanders off topic
No participation
Historical Research Locates and uses specific historical arguments and examples

Relates examples consistently to topic

Contains no factual errors
Locates and uses general historical arguments and a few examples

Relates some examples to topic

Contains no factual errors
Locates and uses general information

Provides weak linkage of facts to topic

Contains some factual errors
Demonstrates little research

Shows limited understanding of arguments, and is not related to the topic

Contains many factual errors
No research

Related Works

  • The Library of Congress' American Memory Collection features over seven million online digital documents. It is a rich resource for a wide variety of documents about the African-American experience with sugar cane, including films, photographs, sheet music, Work Projects Administration (WPA) interviews, and government documents. American Memory's homepage is:
  • " "Sugar at LSU: a Chronology," " is an online exhibition based on the 1995 physical exhibition commemorating the bicentennial of commercial sugar production in Louisiana. It is curated by Louisiana State University (LSU) librarians Christina Riquelmy and Debbie Currie, and is mounted by Emily Robison. The exhibit may be visited at
  • The Slave Ship Fredensborg, another UNESCO Slave Route project, examines the wreck of a slave ship on the final leg of its triangular voyage bearing sugar from St. Croix in 1768. This site also shows sites and monuments in Ghana, St. Croix, and Norway that are associated with the transatlantic slave trade. It may be visited at
  • " "A Documentary History of the Cinnamon Bay Plantation 1718–1917," " an archaeological investigation of a historic sugar plantation on St. John, Virgin Islands compiled by David W. Knight, studies a Caribbean sugar plantation that operated from the colonial era through the collapse of the sugar cane economy at:
Interdisciplinary Links

  • Language Arts: Abolitionists of the late Eighteenth century and early Nineteenth century, including leading British writers, understood the relationship between sugar and slavery. Three different forms of persuasive argument are provided in William Cowper's 1788 poems, " "The Negro's Complaint" " or " "Sweet Meat has Sour Sauce: or the Slave Trader in the Dumps," " John Stuart Mill's essay, " "The Negro Question," " and newspaper accounts of William Wilberforce's 1780 Abolition Speech in Parliament. Ask students to read one of these abolitionist literary works and analyze its techniques, content, and structure. Then, students should evaluate its effectiveness as a persuasive use of the language.
  • Economics: Boycotts are not just a modern technique for social change; in the 1800s, abolitionists encouraged Americans to use sugar beet sugar since most of it was produced by free workers, as opposed to cane sugar which was largely produced by slaves. Ask students to conduct research to determine what products today are most often produced by slave and/or child labor, where they are produced, and whether any are carried by local merchants. If appropriate, students may wish to present their findings to the student government and school administrators to form an action plan to eliminate these products from the shelves of their community.
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