Did Southern Free Men of Color Fight for the Ideals of the South?

Much of history is distasteful. Primary sources often reveal attitudes acceptable at the time that no longer are. But to understand controversial historical events, historians must examine primary sources that represent a wide variety of perspectives. Here, middle schoolers examine a series of primary sources revealing complex, often contradictory, motives and attitudes to understand why men of color supported the Confederacy or the Union during the American Civil war.

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CCSS: Adaptable
Instructional Ideas
  • Instructors should prepare for the lesson by reading the "10-Point Model for Teaching Controversial Issues"
  • If class members have not studied issues that led to the Civil War, the Slave Debate, the Election of 1860, and the formation of the Confederate States of America, conduct a read-aloud of the "Topic Background" paper, frequently pausing to ask and respond to questions
  • Rather than a debate, have research groups present the results of their research to the class
  • To conclude the lesson, ask individuals to imagine themselves as a man of color facing the decision to support the Union or the Confederacy and indicate what choice they would make
Classroom Considerations
  • A protocol must be in place to permit a safe, respectful discussion of controversial issues
  • Several of the primary sources contain what today is considered offensive language–be sure to emphasize that this language reveals the mindset and attitudes of the speaker
  • The primary sources reveal the many social and economic factors in play at the time
  • None
Common Core