Teaching Hard History Podcast

What we don’t know about American history hurts us all. Teaching Hard History begins with the long and brutal legacy of chattel slavery and reaches through the victories of and violent responses to the civil rights movement to the present day. From Teaching Tolerance and host Dr. Hasan Kwame Jeffries, Teaching Hard History brings us the lessons we should have learned in school through the voices of leading scholars and educators. It’s good advice for teachers and good information for everybody.

Understanding and Teaching the Civil Rights Movement

Edited by Hasan Kwame Jeffries

Own the book that inspired and informs season three of the Teaching Hard History podcast! Use the code CIVILRIGHTS for a 30 percent discount on this book from the University of Wisconsin Press.

The Civil Rights Movement

Season 3

American Slavery

Season 1  |  Season 2

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Season 3: The Civil Rights Movement

Episode 4: Jim Crow, Lynching and White Supremacy

Jim Crow was more than signs and separation. It was a system of terror and violence created to control the labor and regulate the behavior of Black people. In this episode, historian Stephen Berrey unpacks the mechanics of racial oppression, the actions white people took—in and beyond the South—to maintain white supremacy, and the everyday ways Black people fought back. And the directors of the film An Outrage join ELA-teacher Ahmariah Jackson to discuss teaching the racial terror of lynching.

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Episode 3: A Playlist for the Movement

Music chronicles the history of the civil rights struggle: The events, tactics and emotions of the movement are documented in songs of the era. From The Freedom Singers to Sam Cooke, historian Charles L. Hughes explains how your students can use music for both historical insight and evidence in the classroom. 

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Episode 2: Beyond the "Master Narrative"

Students don’t enter our classrooms as blank slates. When it comes to the civil rights movement, we often have to help our students unlearn what they think they know while we’re teaching them what actually happened. The people were more complex, the strategies more complicated and the stakes more dangerous than we like to remember. In this episode, historian Nishani Frazier and social studies teacher Adam Sanchez demonstrate the value of teaching the movement from the grassroots up.

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Episode 1: Reframing the Movement

Teaching the civil rights movement accurately and effectively requires deconstructing the myths and misconceptions around it. Most people are familiar with a very specific version of the movement that exaggerates government support and denies the existence and persistence of racism outside the South. Julian Bond called this the “Master Narrative.” It celebrates sanitized icons and downplays grassroots organizing. And it overhypes nonviolence while disparaging self-defense and Black Power. In this episode, we talk with historian Nishani Frazier and social studies teacher Adam Sanchez about how to separate fact from fiction in your civil rights teaching.

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Season 2: American Slavery

Episode 15: Wrap Up: Teaching the Connections

The systems that enabled and perpetuated African and Indigenous enslavement in what is now the U.S. have much in common, and their histories tell us a great deal about the present. Professors Bethany Jay and Steven Oliver join us to talk about connections between the first two seasons and how to teach them, and we preview what’s to come in season three.

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Episode 14: Hard History in Hard Times – Talking With Teachers

In this special call-in episode, listeners share their stories and questions from throughout season 2—including teaching remotely, working with families and stakeholders, and incorporating social justice into subjects like math and science. As educators, we’re strongest when we support each other. And you’ll hear great suggestions from fellow teachers, like these resources we discuss from Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia.

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Special Episode: Call Us! (by Sunday, April 19)

It’s time for our first call-in show! We know things are chaotic for you and every other educator right now. We feel it too, so this seems like the perfect time to talk. Pick up the phone and dial 888-59-STORY (888-597-8679). Our lines are open until Sunday night, April 19. Teaching hard history is even harder right now, so let’s talk about resources you can use if you’re teaching virtually. Ask us your questions; tell us your stories. And let us know how you’re doing.

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Episode 13: Inseparable Separations: Slavery and Indian Removal

Indian Removal was a brutal and complicated effort that textbooks often simplify. It is also inseparably related to slavery. Enslavers seeking profit drove demand for Indigenous lands, displacing hundreds of thousands of Indigenous people. Some of these Indigenous people participated in chattel slavery. Focusing on the Chickasaw and Choctaw nations, this episode pulls the lens back to show how Removal and enslavement must be taught together. This story must be told if we're going to understand the full hard history of American enslavement.

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Episode 12: Slave Codes, Liberty Suits and the Charter Generation

The Americas were built on the lands, labor and lives of Indigenous peoples. Despite being erased from history textbooks after the so-called first Thanksgiving, Indigenous peoples did not disappear. Colonial settlers relied on the cooperation, exploitation and forced labor of their Native neighbors to survive and thrive in what became North America. Focusing on New England, historian Margaret Newell introduces us to the Charter Generation of systematically enslaved people across this continent.

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Episode 11: Using the WPA Slave Narratives

From 1936 to 1938, the Federal Writers’ Project collected stories from people who had been enslaved. The WPA Slave Narrative Collection at the Library of Congress is a valuable resource; these oral histories are also problematic. Interpreting these narratives within literary and historical context, students can develop primary source literacy. Historian Cynthia Lynn Lyerly outlines unique insights these texts can add to your curriculum.

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Episode 10: Groundwork for Teaching Indigenous Enslavement

To better understand the United States’ past and present, we need to better understand Indigenous identities—and classrooms play a huge role. This starts with examining what’s missing from our social studies, history, civics and government curricula. Throughout this episode, we reference the K-5 Framework for Teaching Hard History as we shed light on key topics like sovereignty, land and erasure.

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Episode 9: Mid-season Recap: Key Lessons on Indigenous Enslavement

Educators can no longer ignore our country’s history of Indigenous enslavement. Our students need a fuller understanding of the pivotal history of slavery to comprehend the present and develop a vision for our nation’s future. In this mid-season recap, we highlight key lessons about this consequential part of American history—along with teaching strategies and resources—through the voices of leading scholars and educators featured so far.

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Episode 8: Silver, Resistance and the Evolution of Slavery in the West

Throughout the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, the forced labor and bondage of Indigenous peoples was integral to the economic and political history of what became the Southwestern United States. Historian and author Andrés Reséndez outlines the significance of silver mining, Indigenous enslavement and resistance in the history of New Mexico and Latin America. We examine how, as white settlers moved west, so-called “free soil” states like California continued to institutionalize coerced labor.
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Episode 7: The Other Slavery

A hundred years before the first ship carrying enslaved Africans arrived in Virginia, Europeans introduced the commercial practice of enslavement in “The New World.” And for the next 400 years, millions of Indigenous people throughout the Americas were enslaved through several forms of forced labor and bondage. Historian and author Andrés Reséndez calls this “The Other Slavery,” and his work is changing our understanding of the transatlantic slave trade.
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Coming Soon: Conversations with Andrés Reséndez

Andrés Reséndez is the author of The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America. His work has changed conventional wisdom about the institution of slavery in the Atlantic world. Over the next two episodes, host Hasan Kwame Jeffries and Reséndez will discuss key turning points in this history—exploring how it expands our understanding of the transatlantic slave trade and the lasting legacy of colonialism, which continues to reverberate in our communities. Be sure to join us.
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Episode 6: Teaching Slavery through Children's Literature, Part 2

Each autumn, Thanksgiving brings a disturbing amount of inaccurate information and troubling myths into classrooms across the United States. Most students don’t learn much about the history of Native nations—and even less about Indigenous peoples today. Dr. Debbie Reese explains what to look for and what to avoid (or teach with a critical lens) when selecting children’s books by and about Indigenous people. She also recommends specific books to counter common misconceptions in your classroom.
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Episode 5: Teaching Slavery through Children's Literature, Part 1

Children’s books are often the primary way young students are exposed to the history of American slavery. But many books about slavery sugarcoat oppression. Professor Ebony Elizabeth Thomas examines what we should consider when it comes to how children’s books portray African Americans and Indigenous people, their cultures and the effects of enslavement. She also explains why it’s crucial to create “a balance of narratives” when selecting books about marginalized and underrepresented communities.
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Episode 4: In the Elementary Classroom

For elementary teachers approaching the topic of slavery, it can be tempting to focus only on heroes and avoid explaining oppression. But teachers’ omissions speak as loudly as what they choose to include. And what children learn in the early grades has broad consequences for the rest of their education. Dr. Kate Shuster guides us through the new Teaching Hard History K–5 framework from Teaching Tolerance. We also learn how four elementary teachers are beginning to use it in their classrooms.
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Episode 3: Indigenous Enslavement: Part 2

Understanding Indigenous enslavement expands our conception of slavery in what is now the United States. It spread across the entire continent and affected millions of people of different backgrounds. If we define slavery too narrowly, we can fail to see its persistence over time and even its modern-day permutations. Historian Christina Snyder examines the Civil War, Lincoln and emancipation with Indigenous people in mind.
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Episode 2: Indigenous Enslavement: Part 1

Millions of Indigenous people lived in North America before European colonial powers invaded. Along with an insatiable desire for free labor, Europeans brought a system of slavery that significantly differed from the historical practices of enslavement among Native nations. Historian Christina Snyder tells the story of what happened when these worlds collided. European concepts of bondage transformed the way Native nations interacted with each other, resulted in the enslavement and death of millions of Indigenous people, and sparked widespread resistance by Native nations.
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Episode 1: The Hidden History of American Slavery

The Smithsonian’s Eduardo Díaz and Renée Gokey discuss the importance of learning about Indigenous enslavement. And Teaching Tolerance Director Maureen Costello explains all of the program’s classroom resources available for teaching this history, including a first-of-its-kind K-5 framework.
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Coming Soon: Season 2 of Teaching Hard History

We’re turning our attention to the enslavement of Indigenous people, spending more time with teachers in the classroom and adding support for K–5 educators. Tune in next week for more advice about teaching the history and long legacy of American slavery.
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Season 1: American Slavery

Episode 18: Wrap up: Questions from the Classroom

Historian Bethany Jay returns – answering questions from educators across the country. Host Hasan Kwame Jeffries and the co-editor of Understanding and Teaching American Slavery confront teacher anxieties and counter misconceptions in our season finale.
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Episode 17: Young Adult Trade Books

From elementary to high school, YA literature can introduce fundamental themes and information about slavery, especially when paired with primary sources. John H. Bickford shows how to capitalize on the strengths and weaknesses of trade books about slavery.
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Episode 16: Sample Lessons

Using the present to explore the past. Tamara Spears and Jordan Lanfair suggest a Social Studies unit about Resistance & Kanye West, and a set of English Language Arts lessons examining holidays to understand the legacy of American slavery.
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Episode 15: Classroom Experiences

How it’s done. Tamara Spears teaches middle school Social Studies in New York and Jordan Lanfair is a high school English Language Arts teacher in Chicago. Each has been developing additional lessons about slavery for years. They share their experiences.
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Coming Soon: Stories From the Classroom (and More)

Over the next few episodes, we're bringing Season One to a close. Tune in for stories from the classroom, guidance for elementary teachers and language arts classes. And answers to questions from listeners like you.
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Episode 14: Slavery Today

Enslavement didn’t end with Emancipation. Historian James Brewer Stewart discusses modern-day slavery happening across the world—and right here in the U.S.—showing educators how to connect the past with the present.
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Episode 13: Drop Us A Line – Your Questions. Your Stories. Your Episode!

A listener’s question leads to a meaningful moment. And now we want more! Take a listen, then email podcast@tolerance.org to tell us your story about teaching hard history for an upcoming, special episode.
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Episode 12: Confronting Hard History at Montpelier

At James Madison’s Montpelier, the legacy of enslaved people isn’t silenced—and their descendants have a voice. Christian Cotz, Price Thomas and Dr. Patrice Preston Grimes explain how that happened, and why it’s important.
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Episode 11: Slavery in the Supreme Court

In the United States, justice was never blind. Historian Paul Finkelman goes beyond legal jargon to illustrate how slavery was entangled with the opinions of the Court—and encoded into the Constitution itself.
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Episode 10: Slavery in the Constitution

Constitutional historian Paul Finkelman explains the deeply racist bargains the founding fathers struck in order to unify the country under one document and discusses what students need to know about how slavery defined America after the Revolution.
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Episode 9: (Bonus) Ten More … Film and the History of Slavery

Film historian Ron Briley returns with more documentary, feature film and miniseries suggestions for history and English instructors. From Ken Burns to Black Panther, this episode offers background and strategies for incorporating pop culture into classroom lessons.
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Episode 8: Film and the History of Slavery

Film has long shaped our nation's historical memory, for good and bad. Film historian Ron Briley offers ways to responsibly use films in the classroom to reframe the typical narrative of American slavery and Reconstruction.
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Episode 7: Diverse Experience of the Enslaved

Most students leave school thinking enslaved people lived like characters in Gone With the Wind. Dr. Deirdre Cooper Owens reveals the remarkable diversity of lived experiences within slavery and explains the gap between what scholars and students know.
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Episode 6: Resistance Means More Than Rebellion

To see a more complete picture of the experience of enslaved people, you have to redefine resistance. Dr. Kenneth S. Greenberg offers teachers a lens to help students see the ways in which enslaved people fought back against the brutality of slavery.
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Episode 5: In the Footsteps of Others: Process Drama

Students learning about slavery often ask, “Why didn’t enslaved people just run away or revolt?” Lindsay Anne Randall offers a lesson in “Process Drama”—a method teachers can use to answer this question, build empathy and offer perspective.
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Episode 4: Dealing With Things As They Are: Creating a Classroom Environment

In many ways, the U.S. has fallen short of its ideals. How can we explain this to students—particularly in the context of discussing slavery? Professor Steven Thurston Oliver has this advice for teachers: Face your fears.
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Episode 3: Slavery & the Northern Economy

Follow the money. Dr. Christy Clark-Pujara explains why American slavery couldn't have existed without a national commercial infrastructure that supported and benefited from the labor of enslaved people.
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Episode 2: Slavery & the Civil War, Part 2

Dr. Bethany Jay is back to talk about teaching the end of the Civil War, and how enslaved people’s participation in the war helped subvert the institution of slavery.
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Episode 1: Slavery & the Civil War, Part 1

What really caused the Civil War? In this episode, Salem State University Professor Bethany Jay offers tips for teaching lesser-known history that clarifies this question and cuts through our cloudy national understanding of the Confederacy.
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