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Maps showing the southern states using different gradations of black to indicate the number of slaves in an area,
Map showing the distribution of the slave population of the southern states of the United States. Compiled from the census of 1860

Reflections from the Library: Interesting Finds to Introduce Content

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This is the second in a series of posts by Caneisha Mills, the 2022-23 Library of Congress Teacher in Residence.

This year, one of my primary tasks has been examining items from the Library of Congress collections related to particular topics or themes and then reviewing items in different formats, such as stereographs, films, historical newspapers, and manuscripts, that document historical turning points.

At first, it was a unique opportunity to review sources related to these topics. I work with knowledgeable educators who allow me to share resources and collaborate on content taught in our respective classrooms, so having time to read and reflect on a source over an extended period is valuable.

Typically, educators expose students to thematic maps when teaching population density, commercial, economic, or agricultural trends, and migratory patterns within the continental United States and the world. For example, when discussing the use of enslaved labor to boost the Southern economy, educators can use this map from the 1860 Census. However, using maps together with newspaper articles, manuscripts, or other sources from the period under question can deepen discussion of a social or cultural phenomenon.

For example, when discussing the Great Migration, or mass exodus of African Americans from the south in the early part of the 20th Century, consider using the headline article from “The Weekly Echo” in 1941. The article informs its readers about the number of African Americans involved in the Great Migration with a short recount of its beginnings in 1900. And it includes the opinion of the Weekly Echo, run by Colored Methodist Episcopal (CME) Church minister Roy Lee Young, on what the Migration will mean for African Americans.

Foster discussion by asking:

  • What do you notice about the current title?
  • What title would you give this article?
  • What “widespread relief” do you think African Americans were seeking outside the South?

The depth of this newspaper selection is also found in its celebration of George Washington Carver for his receipt of the 1940 Humanitarian Award of the Variety Clubs of America “for outstanding contributions to the American way of life.”

In 1941 African Americans were moving north and west due to discriminatory policies and the threat of violence in the South. Some were also receiving prestigious awards of national significance for their commitment to helping others despite the difficulties around them. The front page of this newspaper adds depth to discussions about discrimination, migration, and inequality within the United States, going beyond what would be attainable with a map.

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  1. It is refreshing to recognize that, while the news from some states is willfully perverse and cruel, the Library of Congress is quietly building pathways to a fair understanding of the nation’s history.

    As a senior university professor, I have witnessed, over the last 60 years of my career, the developmental consequences of the material brought to the attention of young minds.

    I find Caneisha Mills’ posting a breath of fresh air, lightening the suffocation emerging from sundry national quarters.
    –Pradyumna Chauhan

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