Historical Issue-Analysis and Decision-Making
If you believe a system is flawed, do you fight within the system to change it or do you leave the system and start another, creating the ideal you had envisioned? This debate is at the heart of the movement to colonize Liberia.
Assign students one of these groups to represent:
- African Americans in the South or North, freed or enslaved
- Whites in the South or North
- Senator from New York
- Senator from South Carolina
- British merchant in Africa
Create a scenario in which the year is 1865 and $100,000 is available from the federal government to invest in aiding African Americans. The class must debate how to use the money. Based on the roles they were assigned, they can choose a side in the debate, either for or against the colonization of Liberia by African Americans. Students can then form alliances with others who have similar goals or views as their own. Students who are undecided will moderate the debate.
Allow each group in the debate to prepare and present a statement in support of their decision. To assist in their presentations, have students read the arguments of others by searching on Liberia and American Colonization Society in African-American Perspectives, 1818-1907 and From Slavery to Freedom: The African-American Pamphlet Collection, 1824-1909.
Students can also use the maps in the collection to substantiate their arguments. Can they point to success in the colonization effort that would warrant more resources? Or do they see failure that would discourage wasting federal funds by assisting the colonists?
Allow each group time to form a rebuttal and to present it to the class. Afterwards, the undecided students can ask questions of the debating parties towards forming their own opinions. Following the debate, take a vote to see how the class believes the money should be spent based on the options suggested by the class. Have the class come out of character and discuss what their experiences were in debating this issue. What frustrations did they encounter? How did their opinions change from what they believed before the debate?
After the debate, students can use Maps of Liberia to consider the historical record and analyze the decisions people made. How would students judge the success of the efforts for equality for African Americans? To inform their analysis, students can Browse the collection Geographic Location. Do the maps depict thriving communities? By 1867, 13,000 emigrants had arrived in Liberia through he efforts of the American Colonization Society. Are these numbers adequate measures of success? What was the experience of African Americans remaining in the United States? Students can browse these collections for perspective:
- African-American Mosaic
- African American Odyssey
- African American Perspectives, 1818-1907
- From Slavery to Freedom: The African-American Pamphlet Collection, 1824-1909
Based on their research into these collections, have students discuss how they might modify their original decision as to how to spend the federal money.