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Freedom in Congo Square by Carole Boston Weatherford is an amazing book that lends itself very well to teaching kids about reading, writing, art, and black history. Keep reading to learn more about my Read-Aloud Unit for Freedom in Congo Square and how to use this amazing book in your elementary school classroom!
So this past spring break, I went to New Orleans, and because I am a huge nerd, I spent more time at the history museum than I did at the festivals.
But, while there, I had an experience that rocked me to my core. My sister wanted to go to the Whitney, which is the only plantation tour that focuses on plantation life solely from the slaves’ perspectives.
It was amazing, and I highly recommend it. However, the tour company that was in charge of transportation also took another group to a different plantation. Of the 39 people they were driving, only 7 of us went to the Whitney.
Everyone else went to a different plantation down the road that the driver later told us, only focused on the big house and the trees. However, they’d recently decided to rebuild the slaves’ houses.
That’s right; I said rebuild.
Meanwhile, they insure all the trees but probably tore down the slave cabins.
Now that pissed me off like no other, and while there’s not much I can do about the plantations that are still profiting off the labor of long-dead slaves, I can take a book I found in the Whitney gift shop and build an amazing unit with arts integration.
Hence how I created the Read-Aloud Unit for Freedom in Congo Square.
Keep reading to learn about how to integrate black history, reading, art, and writing all into one amazing unit!
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What is Congo Square?
If you are wondering what Congo Square is, you are certainly not alone. I had never heard of it before a tour on the history of Voodoo.
Congo Square used to be a clearing when New Orleans was first founded. Indigenous People used it as a gathering spot and religious center.
When slaves came to New Orleans, they used it as a meeting place because it was close to the church.
Per Louisiana law slaves did not have to work Sunday Afternoons, and Congo Square was the only place slaves could meet without being watched by whites.
They would drum or sell goods in the square on their afternoons off.
Congo Square is also home to the Ancestor Tree, which is still used in Voodoo practice today.
The tree has been there longer than the city itself and was there when slaves could congregate there.
People still leave offerings under it for the spirits.
Slavery can be an intense subject to talk about with kids, but Freedom in Congo Square by Carole Boston Weatherford does a great job of being factual and accurate while still ending on a positive note for readers.
This award-winning book talks about the life of a slave throughout the week and does a great job contrasting everyday life versus Sunday afternoons, when slaves could engage with their own culture.
The forward includes amazing insights into the history of Congo Square with engaging artwork.
All my students loved it!
Or check out this blog post on other diverse books for kids.
Why Teach it?
Now if you’re looking to teach black history with a book, there’s a lot of options out there, so you might be wondering why make a Read-Aloud Unit for Freedom in Congo Square.
It’s a valid question since most people have never heard of Congo Square.
In my mind, though, that makes it a must-teach!
Congo Square was a unique place and possibly the only place slaves were allowed to gather without white people around to watch them.
Combining that with the fact that it still has cultural significance to black culture today, more people should know about it, and it will make a unique lesson that will stick out to our students.
Read-Aloud Unit for Freedom in Congo Square
When you’re making a read-aloud unit for Freedom in Congo Square, I recommend breaking it down and pre-teaching important components of the history and vocabulary.
That flows into reading the book before doing the art project and writing an artist statement.
My calendar for the unit goes as follows
- Day One: Preteach
- Day Two: Read Aloud
- Day Three: Art Project
- Day Four: Write Artist’s Statement
- Day Five: Edit
- Day Six: Gallery Walk
Now each of these lessons and days does require a lot of prep work, but I have gone ahead and uploaded how I do it to TpT.
To get a high-quality unit and save hours of prep time, click here to purchase!
When it comes to teaching black history, it often might feel like our only options are to teach civil rights or slavery.
While this Read-Aloud Unit for Freedom in Congo Square might still incorporate slavery, it adds another element to the usual narrative and teaches about more important components of black history and black culture.
Incorporating lessons like these can help students of all colors and cultures feel seen and improve student engagement and performance overall.
However, that doesn’t mean you’re alone in your planning. Make sure to purchase my pre-made Read-Aloud Unit for Freedom in Congo Square to get all these amazing benefits.