Monday, February 13, 2017

Answering the Cry for Freedom: Stories of African Americans and the American Revolution, by Gretchen Woelfle (ages 9-13)

The complex story of slavery and freedom is difficult yet essential to talk about with our children because it rests at the core of our nation’s shared history. The National Museum of African American History states that its main messages about slavery and freedom are:
  • Slavery is a shared story resting at the heart of American political, economic, and cultural life.
  • African Americans constantly and consistently created new visions of freedom that have benefited all Americans.
  • African American identity has many roots and many expressions that reach far back into our past.
Our 5th graders are studying the American Colonies and the road to the American Revolution. Many wonder why the founding fathers could not address the fundamental contradictions between slavery and the freedom that the patriots sought.

Gretchen Woelfle's new book, Answering the Cry for Freedom, is an excellent resource examining the way thirteen African Americans took up their own fight for freedom during the Revolutionary War and the establishment of our country--by joining the British and American armies; preaching, speaking out, and writing about the evils of slavery; and establishing settlements in Nova Scotia and Africa. I highly recommend this both as classroom resource and for students' independent reading.
Answering the Cry for Freedom: Stories of African Americans and the American Revolution
by Gretchen Woelfle
illustrated by R. Gregory Christie
Calkins Creek / Boyds Mill Press, 2016
Google Books preview
Your local library / Amazon
ages 9-13
In the late 1700s, as the American colonists began to protest the tyranny of British rule, slavery existed in every one of the thirteen colonies. African Americans--both free and enslaved--listened as talk of freedom and the natural rights of men grew. How did they react? What did they say and do? As Woelfle writes, this collection of short biographies tells a "hidden chapter of the American Revolution."

In short, well-organized chapters, she helps readers understand the complexities of their choices and they way these courageous men and women resisted the tyrannical customs and laws that kept slavery part of our nation for much too long. Striking silhouette illustrations by R. Gregory Christie draw readers in and provide a visual hook.
The first installment tells about Boston King who grew up enslaved on a rice plantation in South Carolina, and joined the British Army in 1780 when they offered his freedom. When the British withdrew from Charleston, he traveled with them to New York and started life as a free man. Soon, he was then recaptured by a crew of an American ship who sold him to a man in New Jersey. He escaped again, rowing across the New York Harbor.

Woelfe represents a range of voices of African Americans from the late 1700s: men and women, educated and not, Northerners and the Southerners. Three people I found particularly inspiring are James Armistead Lafayette, Elizabeth "Mumbet" Freeman, and Ona Judge.

James Armistead Lafayette served the Marquis de Lafayette, acting as a spy as he served the British General Cornwallis. Students will be amazed that Lafayette was denied his freedom after the war because he was not enlisted as a soldier, but rather worked as an undercover spy. Woelfle combines clear description with many quotes from primary sources, documenting them clearly in her appendix.

Elizabeth "Mumbet" Freeman sued for and won her freedom from slavery in 1781 Massachusetts--paving the way for the abolition of slavery in this state. Ona Judge was the slave and personal maid of Martha Washington, President George Washington's wife, who escaped to New Hampshire from Philadelphia--and resisted several attempts from Washington to bring her back.

I heartily agree with Gary B. Nash, director emeritus, National Center for History in the Schools and distinguished research professor, Department of History, UCLA:
This engaging book provides a chance for young readers to learn about the death-defying attempts of black Americans to gain the inalienable rights promised in the Declaration of Independence...readers can appreciate how the American Revolution rattled the chains of slavery and expanded the boundaries of freedom beyond the Founding Fathers’ intentions. This book belongs in the library of every elementary and middle school.
Read short chapters aloud with 4th graders, share chapters with groups of 5th graders, or encourage older students to read this fascinating book independently. The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Calkins Creek / Boyds Mills Press. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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