NEH Landmarks of the Underground Railroad:

From Christiana to Harpers Ferry


Faces and Places on the Underground Railroad in Ohio


Submitted by:  Gail Greenberg, Library Media Specialist

                  Giddings Elementary School (PreK-8)

                      Cleveland (OH) Municipal School District


I.  Overview


            In this collaborative cross-curricular lesson between the library media specialist and classroom teachers, students use primary and secondary sources to investigate the lives and connections between Joshua R. Giddings (1795-1864), one of the most renowned antislavery leaders in the U.S. Congress, and Charles A. Garlick (1827-1912), who was born a slave in Virginia and escaped to Ohio in 1843 on the Underground Railroad.  Students will read, analyze and discuss selected documents, focusing on each man’s experiences and accomplishments and the impact he had locally, regionally and nationally. 

This procedure will then be expanded to include research of other Ohioans and their roles in the Underground Railroad and antislavery movement.  Students will share their findings with the class through the creation of a biography cube, online scrapbook and biography report chronicling that person’s contributions to the causes of abolition and freedom.  This lesson is appropriate for fourth through sixth grades.


II.  Curriculum Standards


The following benchmarks and indicators taken from the Ohio Department of Education Academic Content Standards for English Language Arts, Social Studies and Library are addressed in this lesson:


Students will be able to:

·         Use effective listening strategies, summarize major ideas and draw logical inferences from presentations and visual media.


      of the source.

·         Select and summarize important information and sort key findings into categories about a topic.

·         Write informational reports that include facts, details and examples that illustrate an important idea.








III.  Time Requirements


At least six, 50-minute class periods (one to introduce and discuss the topic; two to plan  and research; two to write and develop projects; and one to share and assess.)


IV.  Teacher and Student Resources


Digital History:  Primary Source Documents


The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

African American History


The Friends of Freedom Society

Ohio Underground Railroad Association – Ohio Underground Railroad History Links


Library of Congress

The African American Odyssey:  A Quest for Full Citizenship


National Geographic Online – The Underground Railroad


The Ohio Historical Society

The African-American Experience in Ohio 1850-1920


Ohio History Teachers


Ohio Memory – An Online Scrapbook of Ohio History

Underground Railroad Collections


Ohio Pix

Gallery:  Wilbur H. Siebert Underground Railroad Collection


Safe Passage Online


Slavery in America


Understanding Slavery

The Biography Maker – Bellingham Public Schools


Read Write Think – Bio-Cube



Carson, M. K. (2005). The underground railroad for kids: from slavery to freedom with

            21 activities. Chicago, IL: Chicago Review Press, Inc.


Hamilton, V. (1993). Many thousand gone: African Americans from slavery to freedom. New

            York, NY: Knopf.


Hamilton, V. (1985). The people could fly: American black folktales. New York, NY:



Haskins, J. (1993). Get on board: the story of the underground railroad.  New York, NY:



Higgins, B. L. & Pearsall, S. (1998). Next stop, freedom! : a resource guide on the          underground railroad through Ohio and across the Great Lakes. Vermilion, OH:            Great Lakes Historical Society.


Lester, J. (1998). From slave ship to freedom road. New York, NY: Dial Books.


Pearsall, S. (2002). Trouble don’t last. New York, NY: Knopf.


Rappaport, D. (2002). No more! Stories and songs of slave resistance. Cambridge, MA:

            Candlewick Press.


Rappaport, D. (2000). Freedom river.  New York, NY: Jump at the Sun.


Rappaport, D. (1991). Escape from slavery: five journeys to freedom.  New York, NY:



V.  The Lesson


      Day One


      Anticipatory Set


  1. Ask students what they know and wonder about the Underground Railroad.
  2. Create a list of their responses, using a K-W-L graphic organizer on the blackboard, overhead or computer with LCD projector.
  3. Expand this discussion to include the Underground Railroad in Ohio.
  4. Read aloud “A Slave,” the story of runaway Tice Davids, from Many Thousand Gone:

African Americans from Slavery to Freedom by Virginia Hamilton.

  1. Share feelings about the story.  Define key terms.         




  1. Together, look at an Ohio map and locate some of the stops on the Underground Railroad i.e., Cincinnati, Marietta, Ripley, Westerville, Oberlin, Sandusky, Lorain, Cleveland, Painesville, Ashtabula and Jefferson.
  2. Explain that runaway slaves often had to find their own way to the North, at which point they would meet people working on the Underground Railroad who assisted them on their way to Canada.
  3. Ask students to consider whether they would have assisted these runaways to freedom and, if so, the possible consequences of their choices.
  4. Individually or with a partner, take a “virtual tour” aboard the Underground Railroad     

and complete the Learned column on the K-W-L graphic organizer.


     Day Two




  1. Orally, share responses to Learned column on K-W-L graphic. 
  2. Introduce primary and secondary resources and the biographies of Joshua R. Giddings

and Charles A. Garlick as examples.

  1. Together, read aloud and discuss excerpts of each person’s life, highlighting dates, places, difficulties and successes.  Have one or two students compile lists of their classmates’ responses. Note the similarities and differences in the men’s lives.
  2. In the computer lab or media center, explore The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History: African American History and Ohio Memory:  Underground Railroad Collections.  
  3. Select primary sources from examples of published and unpublished documents, visual documents, oral histories and artifacts.
  4. Analyze primary sources with questions such as,

1.    Who created the source and why?

2.    Did the recorder have firsthand knowledge of the event?

3.    Was the recorder a neutral party?

4.    Was the source meant to be public or private?

5.    Did the recorder wish to inform or persuade others?

6.    Was the information recorded during the event, immediately after the event, or after some lapse of time?


Day Three




  1. Summarize the accomplishments of Joshua R. Giddings and Charles A. Garlick.
  2. In the computer lab or media center, continue to view and discuss primary sources, using the Ohio Pix Gallery: Wilbur H. Siebert Underground Railroad Collection.
  3. Introduce and explain the Ohio Underground Railroad Research Project, in which students work with a partner and utilize primary and secondary resources to investigate one of these individuals:

     Levi Coffin, John Parker, John Brown, Rev. John Rankin, Abby Kelly Foster, Thomas and

     Charity Rotch, John Price, Charles Langston, John Copeland, Shields Green, Lewis S.

     Leary, Eliza Bryant, William Hubbard, Jonathan and Sarah Haines and Harriet Beecher


  1. Provide a list of recommended electronic and print resources.


     Days Four and Five




  1. In the computer lab or media center, students take notes on their chosen topic, using the topic graphic organizer and create a Bio-Cube.
  2. Each pair of students designs a three-four entry scrapbook page with resources from the Ohio Memory: Underground Railroad Collections
  3. Organize all information into a written report, using the Biography Maker as a guide. 


      Day Six




  1. In the computer lab or media center, research couples make a three to five-minute presentation, highlighting their Bio-cube, scrapbook page and written report.
  2. Provide student feedback to the presentations with comments and questions.

C.  Summarize and conclude the lesson, highlighting the lives of Joshua R. Giddings and

          Charles A. Garlick, the use of primary and secondary sources and the roles various Ohio

          cities played in the Underground Railroad.



VI.  Extension Activities


In addition to these lesson activities, structured for assigned media/computer class time, classroom teachers could have their students do the following:


  1. Select one or more books from the recommended titles in the resource list and use them for literature circles.
  2. Read or listen to other slave narratives.
  3. Write journal or diary entries from the perspectives of fugitive, conductor or stationmaster.
  4. Contact local or regional historical societies for more information on the topic.
  5. Complete a WebQuest.  (See Safe Passage WebQuest Links and the Underground Railroad Historical Card Game.)
  6. Schedule Distance Learning from the Ohio Historical Society.
  7. Reserve the Ohio Underground Railroad Case History kit.


VII.  Glossary            


Abolitionist:          a person who held strong antislavery views

Agent:                   Underground Railroad code for a person who plotted a safe course and

                              made arrangements for escaping fugitive slaves

Conductor:            an individual who helped escaping persons move from station to station on the Underground Railroad

Emancipation:       to be freed from someone else’s control or power, especially from slavery

Enslave:                to force another into bondage

Fugitive:               someone who is fleeing from the law

Manumit:              to free

Maroons:               runaways who escaped

Master:                           A man who owned slaves

Station:                 Underground Railroad code for a safe place where fugitives were sheltered

Stationmaster:      Underground Railroad code for a person who ran a safe house

Underground           the network of places, people and pathways that helped slaves

Railroad:               escape from slavery 



VIII.  Assessment Options


            Each lesson element has an evaluation piece for which a grading rubric can be created.


  1. Class participation


  1. Graphic organizers


  1. Group Work


  1. Information


  1. Presentation