Chicago History Minute

On October 24, the Zambian Independence Celebration is organized around Chicago, bringing different community members together under one hall for dance, food, and a party.
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Civil War

As part of the commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, we have gathered all the Chicago History Museum’s online Civil War classroom resources together in one easy-to-use location. The resources are arranged by topic, so you can easily locate the perfect lesson plan to complement your classroom instruction. Choose from these seven categories 

runawaySlavery

A House Divided: Slavery in the United States

Grades 5 to 12

Slavery was the most explosive issue in the 1850s, when Lincoln rose to political prominence. This lesson asks students to analyze two broadsides—one advertising a slave auction and the other inviting people to attend an antislavery meeting—and participate in a simulated abolitionist meeting. 

> Download the A House Divided lesson plan (PDF, 1.6 MB) 

This short history soundscape suggests the environment of a slave auction. 

> Download the A House Divided audio file (MP3, 5.1 MB)

Facing Freedom 

Grades 7 to 12 

Enslaved people did not live only on plantations; they were also forced to work in American urban centers such as Charleston, South Carolina which used a hiring-out system during the 1850s. 

> Learn more about Facing Freedom

lincolnrailsplitterAbraham Lincoln

The Union is Perpetual: Lincoln is Elected 

Grades 5 to 12 

In 1860, Lincoln won the presidency in a hotly contested election. Using four primary sources (two visual and two written), students explore popular reaction—both favorable and favorable and unfavorable—to Lincoln’s candidacy and election. 

> Download The Union is Perpetual lesson plan (PDF, 3.3 MB) 

This short history soundscape portrays the scene of one of Lincoln’s campaign rallies. 

> Download The Union is Perpetual audio file (MP3, 4.2 MB)

With Malice Toward None: Lincoln’s Assassination 

Grades 5 to 12 

In his last public address, Lincoln spoke about the challenges of reconstruction and endorsed limited black suffrage. Among those in attendance was John Wilkes Booth. Three days later, Booth shot Lincoln at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C. Using primary sources, students examine the search for and arrest of Booth and create a breaking news report of the unfolding events. 

> Download the With Malice Toward None lesson plan (PDF, 2.4 MB) 

This short history soundscape sets the scene of Lincoln’s assassination. 

> Download the With Malice Toward None audio file (MP3, 5.3 MB)

Lincoln at 200 

Grades 7 to 12 

This website hosts two online exhibitions, Lincoln & The West: 1809–1860 and The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War. Collectively they present and interpret hundreds of key Lincoln artifacts. 

> Learn more

lincolnincrowdEmancipation Proclamation

Are We the People? 

Grades 6 to 12 

During this lesson, students will consider how the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Emancipation Proclamation limited or expanded individual rights for different groups of Americans. Students will study the documents, write letters in the persona of a historical character in response to the documents, and conduct research to evaluate their responses and place them in a historical context. 

> Download the teacher and student materials for this lesson 

Are We Free Yet? 

Grades 6 to 12 

Through document analysis of excerpts from the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, the Emancipation Proclamation, and the Thirteenth Amendment, this lesson encourages students to evaluate the level of freedom promised by each of these documents. Students will also learn how freedom in society is interpreted through the creation of government documents. 

> Download the teacher and student materials for this lesson 

A New Birth of Freedom: Black Soldiers in the Union Army 

Grades 5 to 12 

A series of military failures put enormous pressure on Lincoln to rethink his war strategy and his views on slavery. On January 1, 1863, he issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which declared immediate freedom for more than three million African American slaves and authorized the enlistment of black soldiers into the Union army. In this lesson, students explore the contributions of black soldiers in the Union forces by examining a recruitment poster, a photograph, and excerpts from Frederick Douglass’s speeches. 

> Download the A New Birth of Freedom lesson plan (PDF, 2.4 MB)

This short history soundscape sets the scene of African Americans enlisting in the Union Army. 

> Download the A New Birth of Freedom audio file (MP3, 5.3 MB)

spoonBlack Soldiers

A New Birth of Freedom: Black Soldiers in the Union Army 

Grades 5 to 12 

A series of military failures put enormous pressure on Lincoln to rethink his war strategy and his views on slavery. On January 1, 1863, he issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which declared immediate freedom for more than three million African American slaves and authorized the enlistment of black soldiers into the Union army. In this lesson, students explore the contributions of black soldiers in the Union forces by examining a recruitment poster, a photograph, and excerpts from Frederick Douglass’s speeches. 

> Download the A New Birth of Freedom lesson plan (PDF, 2.4 MB) 

This short history soundscape sets the scene of African Americans enlisting in the Union Army. 

> Download the A New Birth of Freedom audio file (MP3, 5.3 MB)

Who was Contraband? 

Grades 6 to 12 

In this lesson, students will learn the definition of "contraband" and explore the unique use of this term during the Civil War, when it was applied to people. Students will analyze primary sources, to determine the often-harsh realities of life for those considered contraband. Students will also investigate U.S. government policy regarding African American participation in the Union forces during the early years of the war and how those policies evolved over time. 

> Download the teacher and student materials for this lesson 

African American Soldiers 

Grades 6 to 12 

During this lesson, students will examine photographs, broadsides, and letters to learn more about African American participation during the Civil War. Students will consider the variety of ways African Americans served in Union forces, the reasons African Americans chose to serve, how their experience and treatment differed from that of their white counterparts, and the major contributions they made toward Union victory. 

> Download the teacher and student materials for this lesson

johnjonesAbolitionist Movement and Northern Racism 

Halfway to Freedom 

Grades 9 to 12 

This narrative is one of twelve Great Chicago Stories, an award-winning suite of historical fiction narratives and supporting classroom resources developed in collaboration with local teachers. 

Story Summary: Join Hannah as she arrives in Chicago during the early 1850s for temporary shelter at a stop on the Underground Railroad. Hannah is aided by the Jones family, prominent abolitionists, and by a brave young man named Shepherd. Even in this northern city, danger is all around for African Americans. They must cope with both the realities of daily life under the Illinois Black Laws and fugitive slave hunters, who enter the state to capture runaways. Read on to discover what happens to Hannah and her friends as they risk everything for freedom. 

> Abolitionist Movement in Chicago: Halfway to Freedom

Meet John and Mary Jones 

Grades 6 to 8 

John and Mary Jones were affluent African American abolitionists who lived in Chicago in the mid-1800s. In this lesson, students will learn the importance of artifacts as they examine the Joneses' lives. 

> Download the teacher and student materials for this lesson 

Living Under the Black Laws of Illinois 

Grades 6 to 8 

Although Illinois was admitted to the union as a "free state" in 1818, it still placed severe restrictions on the civil liberties of African Americans. These restrictions were called the Black Laws of Illinois and existed from 1818 until 1865. During this lesson, students will critically examine the Black Laws of Illinois and draw conclusions about why these laws were passed in a "free state" and how they affected the lives of African Americans. 

> Download the teacher and student materials for this lesson 

John Jones and the Fight for the Repeal of the Black Laws of Illinois 

Grades 6 to 8 

John Jones dedicated himself to the fight for the repeal of the Black Laws of Illinois. In this lesson, students will study excerpts from the Black Laws of Illinois and John Jones’s the Black Laws of Illinois and a Few Reasons They Should be Repealed to determine how well Jones structured his arguments. Afterward students will write a persuasive letter Jones asking for his support on a contemporary issue. 

> Download the teacher and student materials for this lesson 

John and Mary Jones and the Importance of Oral History 

Grades 6 to 8 

The Chicago History Museum owns a letter written by John and Mary Joneses’ granddaughter in 1955. The letter includes information about the Joneses and is an example of the importance of oral history in the gathering of historical data. After analyzing a copy of this letter, students will conduct their own oral history interviews and write a letter to a make-believe descendent based on the information they obtained in their interview. 

> Download the teacher and student materials for this lesson  

A House Divided: Slavery in the United States 

Grades 5 to 12 

Slavery was the most explosive issue in the 1850s, when Lincoln rose to political prominence. This lesson asks students to analyze two broadsides—one advertising a slave auction and the other inviting people to attend an antislavery meeting—and participate in a simulated abolitionist meeting. 

> Download the A House Divided lesson plan (PDF, 1.6 MB)

This short history soundscape suggests the environment of a slave auction. 

> Download the A House Divided audio file (MP3, 5.1 MB)

campdouglaspaintingThe Soldiers' Experience

A Picture Worth 1,000 Words? 

Grades 3 to 5 

Camp Douglas, located on Chicago's South Side, was the largest camp in Illinois. During the Civil War, it held over 18,000 prisoners. During this lesson, students will derive factual information about one of Chicago's roles in the Civil War by studying photographs of Camp Douglas. The lesson encourages students to empathize with both sides of the war and to understand that both the North and the South suffered losses. 

> Download the teacher and student materials for this lesson 

Who is William Huff? Blueback or Grayback? 

Grades 3 to 5 

People in history often lose their identities and become names in textbooks. By studying the diary of Private William Huff, in which he narrates his experiences at Camp Douglas, Chicago’s confederate prison camp, students will learn that people in history were real people and not so different from people today. Students will also explore how language adds authenticity to documents and consider how studying the language of the past helps us to see history more clearly. 

> Download the teacher and student materials for this lesson 

I Have a Story to Tell 

Grades 3 to 5 

"I Have a Story to Tell" encourages students to use journal writing to study the Civil War and its effects on the people of the time. After studying Confederate Private William D. Huff's diary, in which he narrates his experiences at Camp Douglas in Chicago, students will be asked to use their imaginations to combine factual research with creative elements to write a believable diary from the perspective of a Civil War identity. 

> Download the teacher and student materials for this lesson 

Look Out My Window. What Do You See? 

Grades 3 to 5 

Private William D. Huff included many drawings in his diary. By studying these drawings, students will discover how artwork enhances a document and helps to better our understanding of a time period and place. Students will then assume a Civil War identity and create their own illustrations depicting life in the 1860s. Download the teacher and student materials for this lesson. Facing Freedom Just one day of the Civil War, the battle in 1863 at Railroad Redoubt, left 500 soldiers dead and more than 3,000 wounded. 

> Learn more

A New Birth of Freedom: Black Soldiers in the Union Army 

Grades 5 to 12 

A series of military failures put enormous pressure on Lincoln to rethink his war strategy and his views on slavery. On January 1, 1863, he issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which declared immediate freedom for more than three million African American slaves and authorized the enlistment of black soldiers into the Union army. In this lesson, students explore the contributions of black soldiers in the Union forces by examining a recruitment poster, a photograph, and excerpts from Frederick Douglass’s speeches. 

> Download the A New Birth of Freedom lesson plan (PDF, 2.4 MB) 

This short history soundscape sets the scene of African Americans enlisting in the Union Army. 

> Download the A New Birth of Freedom audio file (MP3, 5.3 MB)

Who was Contraband? 

Grades 6 to 12 

In this lesson, students will learn the definition of "contraband" and explore the unique use of this term during the Civil War, when it was applied to people. Students will analyze primary sources, to determine the often-harsh realities of life for those considered contraband. Students will also investigate U.S. government policy regarding African American participation in the Union forces during the early years of the war and how those policies evolved over time. 

> Download the teacher and student materials for this lesson 

African American Soldiers 

Grades 6 to 12 

During this lesson, students will examine photographs, broadsides, and letters to learn more about African American participation during the Civil War. Students will consider the variety of ways African Americans served in Union forces, the reasons African Americans chose to serve, how their experience and treatment differed from that of their white counterparts, and the major contributions they made toward Union victory. 

> Download the teacher and student materials for this lesson

campdouglasPhotography

On Deck of a Union Warship 

Grades 5 to 8 

In this lesson, students will analyze an image of a Union warship. The lesson explores the purpose and effectiveness of naval blockades and the experience of serving on board a ship performing this type of duty. The lesson culminates in a writing activity in which students place themselves in the photograph and write a letter as a crewmember of ship. 

> Download the teacher and student materials for this lesson

Civil War Photography 

Grades 5 to 8 

Students will work in small groups to analyze a variety of photographs from the studios of Mathew Brady. In a timed rotation, students will work together to complete an initial observation chart for each image. Each small group will present its findings to the class. As individuals, students will then take their analysis to a higher level by answering key questions about the images and expressing critical thinking about photography during the Civil War and today. 

> Download the teacher and student materials for this lesson

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