Teachers looking for a history and civics curriculum that focuses on America’s promise of securing liberty for all have a new resource: the 1776 Unites curriculum. A creation of 1776 Unites, an initiative of the Woodson Center focused on reviving American education and culture, the curriculum embraces the “ideas of family, faith, and entrepreneurship that have enabled all Americans – including black Americans – throughout history to move from persecution to prosperity.”
As 1776 Unites members wrote in an open letter to the National School Boards Association and local school boards, the curriculum “offers authentic, motivating stories from American history that show what is best in our national character and what our freedom makes possible even in the most difficult circumstances.”
According to entrepreneur and civil rights leader Bob Woodson, it tells stories of “black Americans who seized their own destinies and flourished despite the harsh restrictions imposed by true institutional racism in the form of slavery and Jim Crow.”
The curriculum currently features 15 units for high school students on black entrepreneurs and philanthropists such as Biddy Mason, Elijah McCoy, and Paul Cuffe; athletes such as Jesse Owens and Alice Coachman; and important events from American history such as the Tulsa race massacre. Woodson says that the units released so far have purposefully “covered multiple lesser-known stories of black excellence and resilience from history.”
Access to the curriculum, which has already been downloaded over 20,000 times, is free with registration at the 1776 Unites website. Each unit contains a wealth of resources including lesson plans, primary sources, questions for classroom discussion, a Power Point presentation, multiple-choice questions, learning standards, and more. A curriculum for K-8 students will be released soon.
Woodson notes that most school curricula have been traditionally “short on inspiring stories of black achievement.” Instead, as seen with the New York Times’s 1619 Project, “the narrative of racial grievance has been corrupting the instruction of American history and the humanities for many decades – and has accelerated dangerously over the past year.” Woodson continues: “The most damaging effects of such instruction fall on lower income minority children, who are implicitly told that they are helpless victims with no power or agency to shape their own futures.”
For this reason, the 1776 Unites curriculum “maintains a special focus on stories that celebrate black excellence, reject victimhood culture, and showcase African-Americans who have prospered by embracing America’s founding ideals.”
One unit focuses on the heroes of the 54th Massachusetts regiment who, led by Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, were only the second black force to fight for the Union during the Civil War. In this unit, students are asked to think about and discuss crucial questions such as what prompted Abraham Lincoln to let black soldiers fight for the Union cause, and why black soldiers chose to fight even knowing that they faced a death sentence if captured, as Confederate president Jefferson Davis had mandated.
This unit’s primary-source materials include letters written by James Henry Gooding, a sailor who enlisted in the Massachusetts 54th early in 1863. In a letter to Lincoln, Gooding grounded his argument for equal pay for black soldiers in the truth that blacks are “American SOLDIERS,” not “menial hierlings.”
“We are content, our Patriotism, our enthusiasm will have a new impetus, to exert our energy more and more to aid Our Country,” Gooding continued. “Not that our hearts ever flagged, in Devotion, spite the evident apathy displayed in our behalf, but We feel as though, our Country spurned us, now we are sworn to serve her.”
Woodson reports that 1776 Unites is launching a series of new lessons, focusing on modern figures who have carried on the legacy of black achievement and success, such as Walter Williams, Thomas Sowell, and Glenn Loury (a unit highlighting Williams’s life and work was just released this week). “These contemporary voices should be standard components in any modern U.S. history or economics course,” Woodson argues. He looks “forward to building this library of current thought to complement the historical figures we cover.”
“Our materials both address the terrible chapters of our history,” Woodson notes, “and show what is best in our national character and what our freedom makes possible even in the most difficult circumstances.” The 1776 Unites curriculum, he says, offers “lessons that empower children from all backgrounds to see what is possible in their own lives.”
Mike Sabo is the editor of RealClear’s American Civics portal.