Ho to Kansas!

The intent of this lesson is to introduce the idea that many former slaves left the south after the Civil War to find true freedom and own land. This time period goes beyond the 3rd unit, however, it ties in with the Westward Movement and teaches a part of Black History that is absent from the 5th grade MCPS curriculum.

Lesson Objective

By the end of the lesson, students will be able to provide the reasons African Americans migrated West by adding thought bubbles to a photograph of exodusters as they gaze across a river.



  1. Students will complete the anticipation guide in a small group or with a partner. Encourage discussion. Collect them. Tell students that by the end of the lesson, they will be able to identify the reasons many ex slaves migrated to the West.
  2. Use the Nystrom Atlas, to set the context by talking about the time period after the Civil War and the options available to African Americans. Chart student responses. Pgs. 48,49,56,57
  3. Read the book, I Have Heard of a Land. After reading, share information from the author’s note. Have students take a second look at their anticipation guide to see if they would change any responses. Allow 1-2 minutes.
  4. Present the flyer to the class. Read the flyer to the students or ask for volunteers. Pass out the worksheet.
  5. Close reading of the primary source/Analysis – What type of document is this? Who might have created it? Who was it written for? How do you know? According to the flyer what are the advantages of moving to Kansas? Does this flyer appear to be written by someone trustworthy? What language does the author of the flyer use to make you think they are trustworthy? According to the flyer, what are the reasons for going to Kansas? What are some questions you have about the flyer?
  6. Locate Kansas on the map. Discuss the options they had for travel. Introduce the photograph of Pap Singleton.
  7. Close reading/Analysis – (1) “In what time period you think this picture was taken” (2) “How do you know?” (3)”What type of work do you think he does?” (4) “Does his clothing give us any information?” (5) “Can you make any connections between the flyer and the man in this photograph?” (6) “What other questions do you have about the photograph?”
  8. If necessary, make the connection for them, between the poster and the photograph –“Pap Singleton”
  9. Have students fill in the chart after analyzing each primary source.
  10. Provide Context – Set the scene – Slavery has ended. Former slaves could leave the plantation with nothing or very little. They continue to work for their former slave master for very little pay. What might be some reasons they chose to leave the plantation? What would be the advantages of going to Kansas?
  11. Group work – Students discuss reasons for migrating to Kansas based on what they have read/heard thus far. Share responses and chart ideas. Encourage discussion.
  12. Hand out the “Recollections of a Black Migrant” to Kansas. Select a strategy for reading the recollections.
  13. Close Reading/Analysis – “What do we know about this migrant?” “What information did we learn about his life as a slave?” “How did his life change after slavery?” “Why did he choose to go to Kansas?” “Based on what we have learned, so far, what kinds of things might he have heard about Kansas?” “What other questions do you have about Bill Simms that the recollections don’t answer?”
  14. Pass out the photograph of the family of exodusters gazing across the river. Frame certain areas of the photograph. (The expression on the children’s faces and pots and pans on the ground)
  15. Close Reading/Analysis – (1) “Who do you think these people are?” (2) “Do you think they are related?” (3) “Where do you think they are going?” (4) “When do you think this photograph was taken?” (5) “What can you tell me about the expressions on their faces?” (6) “What else do you wonder about this photograph and the people in it?”
  16. Pass out the speech bubble – post its and the assignment. Read the directions with the students. Allow sufficient time for questions. Pair the students. After 10-15 minutes, have partners share their thoughts with the class.


Use the assignment with the speech bubbles to determine if the students understand the reasons ex slaves migrated to the West.


Scott, Foresman and Company. Within My Reach: The Important Things in Life. Glenview, Ill: ScottForesman, 1993.

Brenner, Barbara, and Don Bolognese. Wagon Wheels. New York: Harper and Row, 1978.

Kathy Wilmore, “The Other Pioneers: African-Americans on the Frontier.” Scholastic. http://www2.scholastic.com/browse/article.jsp?id=4807 (accessed August 28, 2011).

“Exodusters: African American’s in the 1870s.” http://middle.usm.k12.wi.us/faculty/taft/unit5/westwebquest/exodusters/ (accessed August 28, 2011).

“Recollections of a Black Migrant to Kansas.” A Narrative History of the American Republic (5th Edition). http://highered.mcgraw-hill.com (accessed August 28, 2011).