LEARNING GUIDE MENU
Suggestions for Using "Unchained Memories" in a
Several documents accompany this Learning Guide:
English Language Arts Classes: This film and a
selection from the readings listed in the Bridges
to Reading section, will introduce students to the slave narrative,
an important genre in American literature. The movie is also an
excellent platform for assignments and activities that fulfill
skills-based curriculum requirements. (See Assignments,
Projects and Activities and Teaching
Students to Write a Narrative.) In addition, "Unchained Memories"
provides cross-curriculum content for American history classes.
Before showing the movie, describe the slave narrative genre and its
importance in American literature. (See the Helpful Background Section
Social Studies Classes: This film brings to
life the experience of being a slave in the Antebellum South. The
student handout, Slavery:
A World-Wide View, Then and Now, places American slavery into a
global and historical context. TWM has created a Homework Assignment to confirm students'
understanding of the facts in the handout.
The film's narration provides many important facts about slavery in the
U.S. Tell students to listen carefully to what is said in the movie and
to take notes, especially of information supplied by the narration.
Then engage the class in a discussion based on the questions
set out below or have students undertake appropriate Assignments, Projects and Activities. Afterwards,
teachers can give students the Comprehension
Test on Slavery in the Southern United States, which is based on
facts presented in the film. A brief lecture describing the importance
of the slave narrative in the development of American literature (see
Helpful Background section below) will provide cross-curriculum content
with American Literature classes.
The Slave Narrative as Literature
African American literature in the U.S. begins with slave narratives,
autobiographical accounts of former slaves. Written slave narratives
have had a profound effect on society, building pressure for an end to
slavery and increasing respect for black men and women. Harriet Beecher
Stowe took many of the incidents detailed in Uncle Tom's Cabin
from slave narratives. Ms. Stowe's book, published in 1852, was an
important factor in turning public sentiment in the North against
Several slave narratives have been bestselling books for their time.
The first slave narrative bestseller, entitled The Interesting
Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano; or, Gustavus Vassa, the
African, Written by Himself (1789), was written by a former English
slave. Mr. Equiano's book set the standard for slave narratives for more
than 50 years. (Click
here for an excerpt describing domestic slavery in Africa during
the 18th century.) Another was Solomon Northrups Twelve Years a Slave published in 1853. In 2013 Northrup's book was made into an Oscar Winning Movie.
There were approximately 65 slave narratives published in England and
the U.S. from 1740 to 1865. In 1845 The Narrative of the Life of
Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Written by Himself was
published. Mr. Douglass created the lasting ideal of the African
American committed to intellectual as well as physical freedom. His book
is considered the epitome of the slave narrative. (Click here for a short
excerpt detailing Mr. Douglass' decision to learn to read at whatever
cost.) Abraham Lincoln's acquaintance with Douglass was an important
factor in Lincoln's increasing respect for black Americans. Harriet
Jacobs gave an unforgettable account of the life of a female slave in Incidents
in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861). (More on this
narrative is set out below.)
Approximately fifty slave narratives were published from the end of the
Civil War to the 1920s. Most of the post-war narratives focus on how the
former slaves adapted to life in post-slavery society and how they
prospered. Many were stories of spiritual growth written by ministers.
Booker T. Washington's Up from Slavery (1901) described African
American progress and interracial cooperation after the end of slavery.
(TWM recommends chapters I - VI, which describe Mr. Washington's life as
a boy.) Two slave narratives were published for the first time in 2007
under the title A Slave No More: Two Men Who Escaped to Freedom.
One of these narratives came to light when the woman to whom it had been
entrusted saw "Unchained Memories" on television. She took the
narrative out of the back of her closet and called the local historical
Slaves in the Southern United States were born into a world in which
they were devalued as human beings. In slave narratives, former slaves
stood up for themselves, showing the world that they were literate,
thinking, feeling people whose stories were worth telling. The act of
writing and publishing a slave narrative was a self-affirming experience
for the author. Reading a slave narrative was self-affirming and
liberating for black people. In addition, for whites and blacks who had
not experienced slavery, reading a slave narrative opened a window into
the effects of slavery and what was necessary to overcome those effects.
The slave narrative is truly a literature of liberation.
The influence of the slave narrative can still be seen in modern works
of autobiography and fiction. These include Richard Wright's Black
Boy (1945) and The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965),
important autobiographies of black Americans. Novels written by both
blacks and whites are indebted to the slave narrative. These include, The
Confessions of Nat Turner (1967) by William Styron, The
Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (1971) by Ernest J. Gaines (see Learning
Guide to the film version), and Beloved (1987) by Toni
Claiming that slave narratives were unreliable and biased, historians
initially refused to use them as sources of information about slavery.
The historians noted that slave narratives were often created in
cooperation with white abolitionist editors who wanted to use the
narratives to further their cause. On a few occasions, when the former
slaves were illiterate, abolitionists wrote the narratives based on the
former slaves' dictation. (It turns out that the abolitionists,
recognizing that exaggerated accounts would hurt their movement, were
careful to make sure that facts were accurately stated in the narratives
they edited.) Moreover, slave narratives challenged the myth, prevalent
in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, that Southern plantations
were benevolent institutions which helped civilize barbaric Africans.
This view held that plantations were places where the races cooperated
according to their innate abilities and that slaves lived contented
lives. With the rise of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and
1960s, this view changed and historians started to take slave narratives
During the Great Depression, the Federal Writers' Project (FWP) was
created to give jobs to writers and researchers. By 1936, 70 years had
passed since slavery had been outlawed by the 13th Amendment. Former
slaves were nearing the end of their lives and, unless recorded, their
memories would have been lost. To preserve memories of life in slavery,
the FWP began a major effort to gather oral histories from former
slaves. Some 2,500 people were interviewed. Their testimony eventually
filled 40 volumes. These interviews recorded the experiences of a much
larger cross-section of slave society than had been described in
published slave narratives.
For excerpts from various slave narratives which are excellent reading
assignments, see Bridges to Reading.
The sources for this section are: "slavery." Encyclopedia Britannica.
2007. Encyclopedia Britannica Online. 30 Dec. 2007 ; The Slave
Narratives: A Genre and a Source by David W. Blight published by
History Now; a lecture by Mr. Blight about his book A Slave No More:
Two Men Who Escaped to Freedom at the National Civil Rights Museum
in Memphis, Tennessee broadcast on Book TV in February, 2008; and Slave
Narratives: Black Autobiography in Nineteenth-Century America by
Robert A. Gibson, published by the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute.
Homework Assignment on Slavery World-Wide, Then
The purpose of this assignment is to highlight important points in the
student handout Slavery:
A World-Wide View, Then and Now by requiring students to paraphrase
the information in the handout. The questions reach only Bloom's
Taxonomy levels for "Knowledge" and "Comprehension". They reach Level
One in Art Costa's three levels of intellectual functioning.
Before distributing this homework, tell students that the assignment is
open book and that in framing their responses, they should refer to the
handout. However, students should answer in their own words and not
simply quote the book. Make sure the class understands the definition
of irony or modify Question #8.
1. Two reservoirs of slavery have been identified and one
other probable reservoir has been discussed by historians. Describe the
geographic location of these pools of people, the periods of time
during which they existed, and the types of people who were enslaved.
2. What is the origin of the word "slave"?
3. Which of the ancient civilizations that have formed the
basis for modern Western culture practiced slavery at one time or
another? Name at least two.
4. How extensive was slavery in Africa before the Europeans
started the Transatlantic slave trade? Who were the slavers and who were
5. What is "pawnship" and in what geographic area is it
6. What is "compensation marriage" and on which continent is
7. The local African slave trade in the 18th and early 19th
centuries was complementary to the Transatlantic slave trade in one
respect. Describe this.
8. The handout lists five ironic situations in the history of
slavery. (In history, an ironic situation is one in which the facts are
opposite from, or at least very different from, what we expect.)
Briefly describe the ironic fact referred to in the handout that has to
do with the creation of the United States and one other ironic fact
shown by the history of slavery. For each situation, explain why it is
9. What is the range of estimates about how many slaves exist
in the modern world?
10. Why are arranged marriages considered by many to be a
form of slavery for women?
11. Name four forms of modern day slavery other than
compensation marriage and arranged marriage.
12. What is human trafficking?
13. How many people did the U.S. State Department estimate
were the victims of human trafficking in 2007?
14. Describe some of the work that people trafficked into
the United States perform.
15. Identify three trends which foster slave labor in the
Comprehension Test on Slavery in the American
The purpose of this test it to assess student understanding and recall
of important points about slavery in the Southern United States. The
questions reach only Bloom's Taxonomy levels for "Knowledge" and
"Comprehension". They reach Level One in Art Costa's format for framing
This comprehension test is based on facts described in the film. Before
showing the movie, tell students to listen carefully to what is said in
the film and to take notes of important facts, especially information
supplied by the film's narrator.
1. There were 31,441,000 people in the U.S. at the time of
the Civil War. Approximately how many were slaves? What was the
percentage of Americans who were slaves?
2. Name three of the four major cash crops grown on
plantations in the American South before the Civil War.
3. Why weren't slaves usually permitted to learn how to read?
4. List two potential consequences if a slave was found with a
5. There were three classes of slaves that are mentioned in
the movie. What were they?
6. What percent of slaves lived on plantations with 50 slaves
7. What was the effect of the fact that white men required
slave women to submit to their sexual advances?
8. What does it mean to checker a person?
9. Salt and pepper had a special use on slave plantations
that had nothing to do with food. What was it?
10. What was the importance of funerals to the slaves?
11. In one of the narratives, a former slave describes how
the slaves on her plantation were fed. What did she say?
12. Why did some slave owners encourage their slaves to
convert to Christianity?
13. Some masters didn't want their slaves to have their own
religious meetings. One narrative talks about a signal among the slaves
that a secret church meeting would be held that night. What was it?
14. What was a "paddyroller"?
15. What percentage of slave families were separated as a
result of family members being sold?
16. What percentage of slave children were sold away from
their families or had their families sold away from them?
17. Name two of the punishments for trying to run away
mentioned in the movie.
18. What organization collected slave narratives during the
19. How many days a week did slaves have to work on the usual
20. What did slaves customarily steal and why?
1. Why was writing a slave narrative a self-affirming act by
2. In the U.S. in the first half of the 19th century, slave
narratives provided different benefits to white society in the free
states than to black society (slave and free). What were those social
3. How did the genre of the slave narrative change after
4. Many incidents in a book that had a profound influence on
Northern perceptions of slavery were taken from slave narratives. What
was the book and who was it's author?
5. Until the 1950s, what was the attitude of most historians
about the usefulness of slave narratives as a source of historical
6. What event changed historian's attitude toward the
usefulness of slave narratives?
7. What was the Federal Writer's Project?
8. Why did the Federal Writer's Project start to interview
slaves in 1936?
Social Studies Discussion Questions
1. In a republic, the majority, acting through its elected
representatives, make the laws and decide what the government will do.
There are, however, certain areas in which the rights of the individual
are so important that the majority is not permitted to make laws that
restrict those rights. Thus, in the United States, certain provisions
of the Constitution, especially the first ten Amendments, set out areas
in which the majority cannot act. For example, the majority cannot make
laws abridging freedom of speech or setting up a state religion. The
government cannot take away the property of an individual or punish an
individual without due process of law. The majority cannot permit
unreasonable searches and seizures, etc.
In the United States, the decision to go to war is a decision made by
the President and Congress, i.e., the majority acting through their
elected representatives. In every war that the U.S. has entered, there
have been some Americans who disagreed with the decision to go to war.
However, in wars such as the Civil War, the First World War, the Second
World War, the Korean War and the Vietnam War, individuals who disagreed
with the decision to go to war were drafted into the military and
served their country. The majority had made its decision and as members
of society, those who disagreed with that decision had the obligation
to cooperate. If they refused, they would go to jail. In each of these
wars some men who refused to serve were imprisoned. Many of these men
were people of exceptional moral strength who did not hide or run away
and who accepted their imprisonment as the price of their convictions.
(Opponents of wars who did serve in the military could write to their
Congressman or vote or campaign against the decision to go to war, and
while the war was going on they could do the same in support of a
decision to stop the war. Conscientious objectors drafted into the
military could serve in non-combatant roles.)
Before the Civil War some slaves escaped to the North and lived out
their lives in freedom. Whites were divided about this. Those who
abhorred slavery helped the runaways find a new life and tried to
protect them from their former masters. However, other whites were
interested in collecting rewards for the return of slaves offered by
Southern slave owners.
In the Compromise of 1850, Congress revised the Fugitive Slave Law,
giving slave owners the right to hunt down runaway slaves in any state.
The courts and the police were required to assist them. Officials would
receive a reward if they returned a fugitive slave to his owner. If
they failed to return the slave they would be fined. Private citizens
were also required to assist in the recapture of runaways and if they
did not, could be fined, sentenced to jail, and required to pay
restitution to the slave owner. In this way, the majority had stated
through the Fugitive Slave Law, that stolen or missing property had to
Many in the free states hated the Fugitive Slave Law and refused to
comply with it. However, there were instances in which people felt that
their social contract obliged them to obey the law, and as much as they
disliked doing it, they returned fugitive slaves to their Southern
owners. Below is a poster put up by abolitionists in Boston a center of
abolitionist sentiment, after passage of the new law.
What you would do in the following hypothetical situation?
It is the early 1850s and you live in a village in New England making a
living by fixing equipment in a local textile factory. Your employer's
business takes cotton grown on slave plantations and makes it into
cloth. Slavery is not legal in your state, however, the Fugitive Slave
provides that any citizen, North or South, must notify the authorities
if they see someone they think may be a fugitive slave. The authorities
will put the person in jail until his or her master can send someone to
take possession and return him to the South. While people who refuse
to obey the Fugitive Slave Law can be fined or required to pay
restitution to the slave owner, that seldom happens.
One night, a runaway slave comes to your door asking for directions to
Canada. He is a strong young man, a prime field hand. He tells you that
his master has a small farm and has no other slaves. For the time this
slave was with his master, he was well treated. The master has a large
family to support and had just purchased the slave for $500. (Assume
that $500 in those days was worth about $50,000 in today's money.) It is
clear that without this slave the master will not be able to bring in
the next crop and will suffer extreme financial hardship, in addition to
losing the $500 that he had paid for the slave.
Should you turn the slave in or should you hide him and help him get to
2. One of the arguments used by Southerners to defend
slavery was based on the unfairness of depriving them of their slaves
and their property. They contended that the Southern colonies had
joined the American Revolution on the explicit promise that they would
be permitted to retain slavery. The slave owners pointed to several
provisions of the Constitution that implicitly permit slavery. Their
grandfathers and great-grandfathers had fought in the Revolutionary War,
and some had died, based on this bargain. The Southerners also pointed
to the fact that they had hundreds of millions of dollars invested in
slaves. In addition, the defenders of slavery pointed to the fact that
the North made money on the textile industry which was almost
exclusively based on cotton and the slave labor needed to grow it.
Evaluate these arguments.
3. The cost to the federal government of the Civil War,
together with pensions and care for wounded soldiers, is estimated to
have been well over $9.5 billion. (See Historical Times
Encyclopedia of the Civil War, edited by Patricia L. Faust.)
The South paid additional billions for the war effort and suffered
billions of dollars in damage to property. This is well over the value
of the 4,000,000 slaves at market prices. More importantly,
approximately 600,000 soldiers on both sides died of their wounds or of
illness in camp. More than this number were injured. Of course, these
losses were not anticipated before the war. However, if you were in
Congress in the 1850s, would you have supported a plan to require the
slave owners to free their slaves and to pay them for the value of those
4. One of the actresses was distressed that former slave
Sarah Ashley (Episode #15) was proud that she always made her quota when
she was picking cotton. Should a slave be proud that she was good at
her job and did it well?
5. Which of these three narrators do you most admire? Pick
one and describe your reasons.
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See Social Studies Discussion Questions above.
1. Which of the former slaves exhibited the most courage in
the events described in the narratives read in this film?
Moral-Ethical Emphasis Discussion Questions
Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of
this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional
questions are set out below.
(Treat others with respect; follow the Golden Rule; Be tolerant of
differences; Use good manners, not bad language; Be considerate of the
feelings of others; Don't threaten, hit or hurt anyone; Deal peacefully
with anger, insults and disagreements)
1. How does the Pillar of Respect apply to slavery?
(Play by the rules; Take turns and share; Be open-minded; listen to
others; Don't take advantage of others; Don't blame others carelessly)
2. See Social Studies Discussion
question #2. What does this tell us about fairness?
Bridges to Reading:
Any of the slave narratives mentioned in this Learning Guide
are good reading experiences. If students are going to read less than a
full length narrative, TWM suggests the following excerpts:
Links to the Internet:
- Born In
Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936 - 1938;
this site contains hundreds of slave narratives, pictures of the former
slaves, and documents such as receipts for the sale of slaves;
Ex-Slave Narratives, 1937-1938; 27 narratives from former slaves
living in Ohio that are not in the Library of Congress;
Slave Narratives: An Online Anthology from the University of
Virginia; this site contains some recordings of narratives;
- First Person,
Third Person: Slave Voices From The Special Collections Library of Duke
University; this site contains images of documents of the slave era
and the Civil War;
- North American
Slave Narratives from Documenting the American South;
- African Slave Narratives Page
from the Museum of the African Diaspora;
- The Slave
Narrative, looking at the Slave Narrative as a form of literature
from Dr. Donna Campbell, Department of English, Washington State
from Slave Narratives edited by Steven Mintz, University of
Websites About Slavery
The slave narrative as a literary genre
Websites about Modern Day Slavery
Slavery in Canada:
Assignments, Projects and Activities:
Projects and Activities Suitable for Any Film.
2. Write a Personal Narrative: Have students write a
narrative of an important incident in their own lives. Guarantee them
anonymity if they want it so that they can write frankly.
3. A Creative Project Using a Slave Narrative: Have
students read a slave narrative (they are available on the Internet) and
then use the narrative in some creative effort. The narrative can be
one of the narratives in the film or the students can select another
narrative. Students can also base their project on a slave narrative
that has appeared in print. For examples see Helpful Background section and Bridges to Reading. If this assignment
will be based on narratives from the movie, hand out the List
of Episodes before students see the movie and tell them that
immediately after the film they will be asked to select an episode from
those which are followed by an asterisk. The creative projects can
be: a poem based on an incident in the former slave's narrative; a
letter from the former slave to his or her owner or to the class; a
letter from the student to the former slave; a drawing, a short film, a
piece of instrumental music, or a song. As an alternative, the class
can be divided into groups of three or four students and each group can
choose or be given one of the projects described above. Be sure to tell
the students how long and involved each project should be and the
rubric which will used to grade the project. Most of the narratives can
be found at the Library of Congress web page, Born In Slavery:
Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936 - 1938.
4. Interview a Former Slave: Students can pick a
former slave for whom there is a narrative (either from the movie or
from some other source), compose questions and write proposed answers
based on the narrative. Students can be paired, with both contributing
to the script and then one student acts as the questioner and the other
as the former slave. These skits can be performed in front of the
5. Research Project and Essay: Have students
research and write an essay on one of the following topics: (1) a
history of slavery in one of the countries in which their ancestors
lived before immigrating to the U.S.; (2) the extent of slavery today in
any country they select; (3) the experiences of any of their ancestors
who may have been enslaved (this works well for black children and
Jewish children); or (4) the difference between a serf and a chattel
slave. [Note for teachers. A good essay on the last topic will touch
upon most of the following issues: serfs were usually bound to the land
(the most significant exception was the Russian serf between about 1700
and 1861), whereas the slave was bound to the owner; i.e., the serf had
to live where the owner told him to, and could be hired out by the
owner. A slave could also be sold by the owner at any time. The serf
usually owned the means of production (livestock, farming tools) except
for the land, whereas the slave owned nothing, not even the clothing
that he or she wore. The serf's right to marry away from the lord's
estate often was restricted, but the master's interference in the serf's
reproductive and family life were ordinarily much less than was the
case for the slave. Serfs could be called upon by the state to pay
taxes, to perform free labour on roads, and to serve in the army, but
slaves usually were exempt from all of those obligations unless they
were owned by the state or the ruler and that was their job. ].
See also Teaching
Students to Write a Narrative, a TeachWithMovies.com lesson plan.
Many of the other lesson plans based
on this film have projects and activities.
In addition to websites which may be linked in the
Guide, the following resources were consulted in the preparation of this
- "slavery." Encyclopedia Britannica. 2007. Encyclopedia Britannica
Online. 30 Dec. 2007 .
- "slave narrative" Encyclopedia Britannica. 2008. Encyclopedia
Britannica Online. Retrieved January 30, 2008, .
- Lecture by historian David Blight author of A Slave No More: Two
Men Who Escaped to Freedom at the National Civil Rights Museum in
Memphis, Tennessee broadcast on Book TV in February, 2008.
Slave Narratives: A Genre and a Source by David W. Blight published
by History Now; and
Narratives: Black Autobiography in Nineteenth-Century America by
Robert A. Gibson, published by the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute.
Last updated June 16, 2014.
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