Adam Cooper

                                                                                                                  Landmarks of the Underground Railroad

                                                                                                                  Lesson Unit

                                                                                                                  August 31, 2007


Comprehending the Henry Box Brown Escape




The following lesson explores the history of the 1849 Henry Box Brown escape from slavery within the context of the 19th century abolitionist movement and the Underground Railroad. Students will learn about the events that made up Henry Box Brown’s life, from slavery to freedom, and what obstacles Brown faced in actualizing his unique and daring escape.


Students will utilize both textual and media materials to appreciate the realities of the escape. Students will also be asked to utilize their writing and artistic skills to bring to life the drama of a comparable story from their own lives. The lesson activities will include making a timeline to help set the events of Brown’s life within the context of a larger movement. Students will also be asked to teach their peers about the timeline highlights.


After students learn about the incidents and characters in Brown’s story, they will acquire a deeper appreciation of the events by engaging in open and thorough discussion and analysis of the escape and the role it played in his life and in America in general. Students will then write one narrative about a singular event in their own lives which will in turn serve as inspiration for the creation of a performance or artwork dramatizing that event. Students will create an advertisement for their work and will perform or display their art project.


In addition to the central activities of the lesson, this unit plan also includes numerous resources for further classroom activity as well as for homework assignments. These resources include topics for further discussion, Internet, textual, and visual materials, a lengthy list of questions to stimulate more expansive class discussion, and extensive listings of assessment activities involving research, writing, oral presentation, artwork, and performance. This lesson has supplemental materials useful for further research on African American history. These sources include a listing of African American achievers in a variety of fields, a sampling of African American films and books, and a catalog of content-related websites.


The Activities


Introductory Activity


To introduce students the Henry Box Brown escape, students should be assembled into small groups and each group will get a one-page summary sheet (possibly utilizing the Internet Resources listed below) describing the escape and Henry Box Brown’s life. Each group should read and discuss the material and ascertain the most salient points. On the chalkboard students will create a large timeline documenting the major events of Brown’s life before, during, and after the escape. Each student group will label their events on the timeline and make a short presentation to the class about them.


Central Activity


Following the completion of the timeline, the teacher will present a mini-lesson on the major events encompassing the escape. The teacher will also introduce the central characters shaping the events and the various key scenes of the story and will provide context with summaries on American slavery, the abolitionist movement, and the Underground Railroad. Finally, utilizing topics from “Further Classroom Discussion” and prompted by questions from “The Questions” below, students should engage in analysis of the meaning of the Henry Box Brown escape and its context within the abolitionist movement.


The teacher will then present to the students the two versions of the lithograph documenting the liberation of Henry Box Brown in Philadelphia (utilizing the lithographs from the “Comparative Media Elements” listed below). Students will be asked to compare and contrast the two images and to discuss the meaning of them and the role they likely played in shaping public opinion among disparate groups of people. The teacher should encourage students to empathize with Brown’s experience and to comment on the challenges of such a risky escape attempt, especially considering the political climate of mid-19th century America, the legality and omnipresence of slavery, and the inherent dangers of being shipping as dry goods.


Students will then be asked to write about one amazing, life-changing experience from their personal history. Students should cover the events of the story but should also provide context of the world of their lives at the time the story played out. Students should also offer detailed characterizations of the major players who shaped the story’s action. Finally, students will present their stories to the class and will field observations and comments.


Follow-up Activity


As an extension of the central activity, students should then individually conceive of some kind of performance or artwork that expresses the personal narrative they created above. Students can take Henry Box Brown’s panorama and performance of his experiences as inspiration. Students should also create an advertisement for their performance or artwork (see the Henry Box Brown panorama ad below). Subsequently, students will present their performance or artwork, followed by leading their own class discussion on the material.


Further Classroom Discussion



Internet Resources on the Henry Box Brown Escape


Extension Activities for Assessment


Research Papers


·         Write a research paper on the history of the Underground Railroad or the abolitionist movement

·         Write a short biography on one of the key players in the Henry Box Brown escape

·         Write a short biography on one abolitionist

·         Write a survey paper on national and international events that shaped and provided a backdrop for events of the Underground Railroad

·         Write a report on the history of Philadelphia Vigilance Committee

·         Write an argumentative essay on the pros and cons of using nonviolent direct action to achieve social change

·         Write a personal essay on what the abolitionist movement means to the student

·         Write an analytical essay on the causes and effects of the events of the abolitionist movement

·         Write a comparative essay on arguments for and against slavery


Oral Presentations



Artwork and Performances



Comparative Media Element: Visual Images


1) The Resurrection of Henry Box Brown at Philadelphia, lithograph


Henry 'box' Brown


2) The Resurrection of Henry Box Brown at Philadelphia, alternative lithograph





3) Advertisement for the panorama, “Mirror of Slavery”


Advertisment for Henry Box Brown


In addition to analyzing the history of Henry Box Brown escape and completing the exercises above, students should view and discuss the lithographs and advertisement above (and other important images) from the escape experience. Topics for discussion might include the following:



Questions for Class Discussion



African American Achievers


Angela Davis                           1970’s Black Feminist Movement

Sojourner Truth                       1800’s Abolition Movement

Harriet Tubman                       1800’s Abolition Movement

Bob Moses                              1960’s Civil Rights Movement

Julian Bond                              1960’s Civil Rights Movement

Rosa Parks                               1950’s Civil Rights Movement

Ida B. Wells                             1800’s Women’s Movement

Fannie Lou Hamer                   1960’s Civil Rights Movement

Ella Baker                                1960’s Civil Rights Movement

Bobby Seale                             1960’s Black Empowerment

Huey Newton                           1960’s Black Empowerment

Mary Church Terrell                1890’s Women’s Rights, Civil Rights

Stokely Carmichael                  1960’s Black Power Movement

Malcolm X                               1960’s Black Nationalism

Marian Wright Edelman           1970’s Civil Rights, Children’s Rights

A. Phillip Randolph                 1930’s Labor Rights, Civil Rights

Frederick Douglass                  1800’s Abolition Movement

James Farmer                           1960’s Civil Rights Movement

Martin Luther King Jr.             1960’s Civil Rights Movement

Nat Turner                               1830’s Abolition Movement

Marcus Garvey                        1910’s Black Empowerment

Bayard Rustin                          1960’s Civil, Worker, Human Rights



Richard Wright                         1940’s Novelist, Essayist

Harriet Jacobs                          1860’s Abolitionist Writer

Zora Neale Hurston                 1930’s Novelist

Phillis Wheatley                       1700’s Poet

Lorraine Hansberry                 1950’s Playwright

Maya Angelou                         1970’s Nonfiction Writer, Poet

Eldridge Cleaver                      1960’s Essayist

Countee Cullen                        1920’s Poet

Toni Morrison                         1980’s Novelist

Ntozake Shange                       1970’s Playwright

James Baldwin                         1950’s Novelist, Essayist

Ralph Ellison                           1950’s Novelist, Essayist

Virginia Hamilton                    1970’s Writer of Children’s Books

August Wilson                         1980’s Playwright

Audre Lorde                            1970’s Poet

Alice Walker                            1980’s Novelist, Poet, Essayist

Gwendolyn Brooks                  1940’s Poet

Rita Dove                                 1980’s Poet

James Weldon Johnson            1920’s Lyricist, Poet


Performance Artists

Sidney Poitier                          1950’s Actor

Richard Pryor                          1970’s Comedian

Mahalia Jackson                      1940’s Gospel Singer

Hattie McDaniel                       1930’s Actress

Ray Charles                             1950’s Soul Singer

Louis Armstrong                     1920’s Jazz Trumpet Player

Marian Anderson                     1940’s Opera Singer

Josephine Baker                       1920’s Dancer

Bessie Smith                            1920’s Blues Singer

Dorothy Dandridge                  1930’s Actress

Aretha Franklin                        1960’s Soul Singer

Dick Gregory                           1960’s Comedian

Ella Fitzgerald                          1940’s Jazz Singer

Billie Holiday                           1940’s Jazz Singer

Odetta                                      1960’s Folk Singer

Blind Lemon Jefferson            1920’s Blues Musician

Alvin Ailey                              1950’s Dancer, Choreographer

James Brown                           1960’s Soul Singer

Mary Alice                               1970’s Actress

Paul Robeson                           1920’s Spiritual Singer, Actor

Miles Davis                             1950’s Jazz Trumpet Player

Katherine Dunham                   1930’s Dancer, Choreographer

Jimi Hendrix                            1960’s Rock Musician

Ruby Dee                                 1960’s Actress

Robert Johnson                        1930’s Blues Musician

Little Richard                           1950’s Rock Singer


Visual Artists

Richmond Barthe                     1930’s Sculptor

Horace Pippin                          1930’s Painter

Lois Mailou Jones                   1930’s Painter

Edmonia Lewis                        1800’s Sculptor

William H. Johnson                 1930’s Painter

Palmer Hayden                        1930’s Painter

James Van Der Zee                  1920’s Photographer



Muhammad Ali                        1960’s Boxer

Satchel Paige                            1930’s Baseball Player

Althea Gibson                          1950’s Tennis Player

Tony Dorsett                           1970’s Football Player

Alice Coachman                       1940’s Olympic Athlete

Jackie Robinson                       1940’s Baseball Player

Bill Russell                              1950’s Basketball Player, Coach

Serena & Venus Williams        2000’s Tennis Players

Willie Mays                             1950’s Baseball Player

Lawrence Taylor                      1980’s Football Player

Wilt Chamberlain                     1960’s Basketball Player

Sugar Ray Robinson                1940’s Boxer

Jim Brown                               1960’s Football Player

Hank Aaron                             1960’s Baseball Player

Carl Lewis                               1980’s Olympic Athlete

Arthur Ashe                             1970’s Tennis Player

Tiger Woods                            2000’s Golfer

Jesse Owens                            1930’s Olympic Athlete

Michael Jordan                        1990’s Basketball Player

Walter Payton                          1970’s Football Player

Jack Johnson                           1900’s Boxer


Government Officials

Shirley Chisholm                     1970’s Congresswoman

Carl Stokes                              1960’s Mayor

Adam Clayton Powell Jr.          1950’s Congressman

Joseph H. Rainey                     1870’s Congressman

Harold Washington                  1980’s Mayor

Barbara Jordan                         1970’s Congresswoman

Ed Brooke                               1960’s Senator

Robert Brown Elliot                 1870’s Congressman

John Conyers Jr.                      1960’s Congressman

Mary McLeod Bethune            1930’s Presidential Advisor

John Mercer Langston             1880’s Congressman



Garrett Augustus Morgan         Automatic Traffic Light

Matthew Alexander Henson     North Pole Discoverer

Bessie Coleman                       Aviator, Stunt Flyer

Madam C.J. Walker                  Cosmetics and Hair Care Products

Mother Hale                             Child Care Advocate

Arturo Alfonso Schomburg     Archivist

Lewis Latimer                          Light Bulb Filaments

Duke Ellington                         Jazz Composer

Jan Ernst Matzeliger                 Shoe Lasting Machine

Elijah McCoy                           Steam Engine Lubricating Cap

Carter Woodson                       African-American Historian

Benjamin Banneker                  Astronomer, Surveyor

Dr. Charles Richard Drew        Blood Bank Pioneer

Booker T. Washington             Tuskegee Institute Founder

Dr. Daniel Hale Williams         Open Heart Surgery Pioneer

Thurgood Marshall                  Lawyer, Supreme Court Judge

W.E.B. Du Bois                       NAACP Founder, Scholar, Editor

Charles Hamilton Houston       Civil Rights Lawyer

Oscar Micheaux                       Filmmaker

W.C. Handy                             Blues Composer

Ralph Bunche                          UN Under Secretary General

Benjamin O. Davis                   US Army General



George Washington Carver      Agricultural Chemist

Edward Alexander Bouchet     Physicist, Chemist

Jewel Plummer Cobb               Biologist, Physiologist

Lloyd Augustus Hall                Chemist

Charles Henry Turner              Zoologist

Herman Russell Branson         Physicist

Ernest Everett Just                   Biologist

Virgil Garnett Trice Jr.             Chemical Engineer

Roger Arliner Young                Zoologist

Media Resources on African Americans




‘Round Midnight

4 Little Girls

Across 110th Street

Africans in America (series)


Autobiography Miss Jane Pittman



Black Like Me

Blues: A Musical Journey

Boyz ‘N the Hood

Can’t You Hear the Wind Howl?

Carmen Jones


Color Purple

The Color Purple

Come Back, Africa

Cool World

Cotton Comes to Harlem

Crisis at Central High

Cry Freedom

Cry, the Beloved Country

Daughters of the Dust

The Defiant Ones

Devil in a Blue Dress

Do the Right Thing

Emperor Jones

Eyes on the Prize (series)

Five Heartbeats

Five on the Black Hand Side



The Gospel at Colonus

Great Day in Harlem

Great White Hope

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

Half Slave, Half Free

Having Our Say

Hollywood Shuffle

Hoop Dreams

Huey P. Newton Story

I’m Gonna Git You Sucka!

Images & Realities (series)

In the Heat of the Night

Introducing Dorothy Dandridge

The Jackie Robinson Story

Jazz (series)

The Jesse Owens Story

Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life is Calling

Jungle Fever

Just Another Girl on the I.R.T.

Killer of Sheep

Lady Sings the Blues

Lean on Me

The Learning Tree

Lilies of the Field

The Long Walk Home

Malcolm X


The Mark of the Hawk

Menace II Society

Miss Evers’ Boys


No Way Out

Nothing but a Man

One False Move

Paul Robeson: Here I Stand


Porgy and Bess

Public Housing

Putney Swope

Ralph Bunche: American Odyssey

A Raisin in the Sun

The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow

Roots (series)

Search for Robert Johnson

Separate but Equal



She’s Gotta Have It

Soldier’s Story

Song of Freedom


Story of a People (series)

Story of a Three Day Pass

That’s Black Entertainment

Thelonious Monk

To Sleep with Anger

Tuskegee Airmen

Uncle Tom’s Cabin

The Vernon Johns Story

Waiting to Exhale

The Watermelon Man

White Lie

A Woman Called Moses

The Women of Brewster Place




Adrienne Kennedy Reader by Adrienne Kennedy

Annie John by Jamaica Kincaid

At the Bottom of the River by Jamaica Kincaid

The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man by James Weldon Johnson

The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Alex Haley

Beloved by Toni Morrison

Black Boy by Richard Wright

Black Power by Kwame Ture

Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

Cane by Jean Toomer

Ceremonies in Dark Old Men by Lonne Elder III

Collected Poems of Audre Lorde by Audre Lorde

Collected Poems of Langston Hughes by Langston Hughes

The Color of Water by James McBride

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou by Maya Angelou

Complete Fiction of Nella Larsen by Nella Larsen

Complete Poems by James Weldon Johnson

Dutchman and the Slave by LeRoi Jones

Fences by August Wilson

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide… by Ntozake Shange

Freedom’s Daughters by Lynne Olson

Go Tell it on the Mountain by James Baldwin

Gorilla, My Love by Toni Cade Bambara

Her Stories by Virginia Hamilton

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

Jubilee by Margaret Walker

A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines

Manchild in the Promised Land by Claude Brown

Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter G. Woodson

My Soul’s High Song by Countee Cullen

The Narrative of Sojourner Truth by Sojourner Truth

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglas

Native Son by Richard Wright

People Could Fly by Virginia Hamilton

Phillis Wheatley: Complete Writings by Phillis Wheatley

Piano Lesson by August Wilson

Race Matters by Cornel West

Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry

Raising Fences by Michael Datcher

Reed Reader by Ishmael Reed

Roots by Alex Haley

Rosa Parks: My Story by Rosa Parks

Seize the Time by Bobby Seale

Selected Poems by Gwendolyn Brooks

Selected Poems by Rita Dove

Selected Poems of Nikki Giovanni by Nikki Giovanni

Soul Kiss by Shay Youngblood

Soul on Ice by Eldridge Cleaver

Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. DuBois

The Street by Ann Petry

A Taste of Power by Elaine Brown

A Testament of Hope by Martin Luther King, Jr.

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

To Be Young, Gifted, and Black by Lorraine Hansberry

Up from Slavery by Booker T. Washington

Who Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day by Pearl Cleage

Women, Race, and Class by Angela Davis

The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon

Zami: A New Spelling of My Name by Audre Lorde

Websites on African American Topics


Website                                                                                                                  Description                                                                 Extensive Resources on African American History                                             Educational Resources on Black History                                                                  Encyclopaedia Britannica’s Website on Black History                                            Artists of the Harlem Renaissance                                                        Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture                                                    Congressional Black Caucus of the US Congress                                                                               Congress for Racial Equality                                                                              Primer on the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee                                                             The Martin Luther King, Jr. Papers Project                                                                          The King Center, Dedicated to Martin Luther King’s Legacy                                                                      Extensive Resources on Malcolm X                                                   Official Website of Malcolm X                                                                           Information on the Black Panther Party                                                                             Website Dedicated to the Legacy of the Black Panther Party                                                                  Resources Accompanying PBS’s “A Huey P. Newton Story”                            Articles on African American History                                                                    Extensive Internet Resources on the Blues                                                                             History of Jazz Before 1930                                                                        Duke Ellington’s Official Website                                                                                   Louis Armstrong’s Official Website                                                                         Official Website of Ella Fitzgerald                                                       Resources Accompanying PBS’s “Africans in America”                     Biography of Frederick Douglass                                                                  Information on African Americans in the US Military                                                                                             The Nation of Islam                                                                                       National Association for the Advancement of Colored People                                                                 Historically Black Colleges and Universities                                                             Website of the Black Radical Congress                                        Internet Resources on Paul Robeson                                             Educational Resources on African American History                                     African American Resources at the Smithsonian Institution                                                                  The National Civil Rights Museum                                                    Historic Places of the Civil Rights Movement                                                     The History of Jim Crow                               American Slave Narratives                                                            Chronology of American Slavery                                                                    Resources for PBS’s “Slavery and the Making of America”                                                                                 New-York Historical Society’s “Slavery and the Civil War”                 Library of Congress’s African American History Exhibits                                                                                        Database of African Americans in the Armed Forces & NASA                                                                      Information on the Tuskegee Airmen                                                                         Resources on the Buffalo Soldiers of the Western Frontier                                                        Official Kwanzaa Website                                                                        African American Culture, History, & Black Studies Links                    Black History and Classical Music                                                                                      Negro Baseball Leagues                                                                            Black Athlete Sports Network, an Online Newsmagazine                                                                                 News Resources for the African American Community                                                                  PBS’s “African American World”: Educational Resources                                                                                           Black Entertainment Television                                    African American Writers Online E-texts                                                                         African American Pioneers                                                                       African American Almanac: Internet Resources                                 African American Scientists and Inventors                                                                       The Black Inventor Online Museum                                         Black Women in Mathematics                                           Materials for Black History Month on the History Channel