Introductory Approaches

  1. Drawing A Family Tree and Community Timeline
  2. Creating a Local Monument Inventory
  3. Defining "Public Art"
  4. Introductory Video
  5. Sample Agenda for an North Carolina Freedom Park "Town Meeting"

Drawing a Family Tree and Community Timeline

As a preface to the classroom exercises and lessons in The African American Experience, teachers may wish to assign students to interview older family members or neighbors to learn about their family and community history and to draw their family trees based on data collected from elders.

Students might then pool this information into a Community Timeline, illustrating their family roots in the region or when their families arrived in the area along with any notable accomplishments of relatives along this timeline.

Creating a Local Monument Inventory

It may also be useful to have students make an inventory of the historical monuments in your community and what historical events and persons are represented by these monuments. These monuments might be placed on a posted map of your town or county, and students may be invited to discuss their findings:

  • Where are these monuments located?
  • What kinds of people and events are memorialized?
  • Who is missing?
  • Are there significant times in your community's history that are not honored by these monuments?
  • Why do you think these particular events or people are commemorated?

Defining "Public Art"

It will also be important for students to understand the concept of public art. As defined by the North Carolina Arts Council: "Public art is creative work that everyone can enjoy, even if they don't get to a museum very often. Public Art includes statues, murals, sculpture, as well as commissioned works." Between 1989 and 1995, North Carolina state government reserved a portion of the construction budget for every new state building so that an artist could be commissioned to create a work of art to enhance the building and grounds. Today the NC Arts Council administers this 63-piece "Artworks for State Buildings" collection. (Students may visit to find the locations of these works of art. Some may be in your local community.) Students who have been to Raleigh on a school trip may be familiar with "The Education Wall" on the legislative mall side of the State Department of Public Instruction building. This granite mural is one of the early pieces created in the Artworks for State Buildings initiative and is referenced in some of the lessons here.

As students consider their best ideas for the design elements in a North Carolina Freedom Monument, they may also want to do some internet research on public art projects around the nation and world to enhance brainstorming activities.

Introductory Video

More specifically, to introduce the scope and vision of the founders of the statewide Freedom Monument Project, the North Carolina Freedom Park will provide a free, 19-minute video, "Sharing the Vision: The North Carolina Freedom Monument Project." It can be obtained by calling (919) 968-1655, e-mailing [email protected], or viewed online at Vimeo. You can also download the video as an .mp4 file from Vimeo. The video is an excellent beginning point for a discussion of the role and meaning of art in public places and what kinds of symbols might be used to represent the African American experience and contributions in North Carolina.

Sample Agenda for North Carolina Freedom Park "Town Meeting"(Adaptable to a classroom setting)

Students and teachers can play a critical role in the Freedom Monument Project. The heart of the program has been an ongoing series of town meetings designed to promote dialogue about our state's African American history and race relations. The same process used in the town meetings can be a valuable classroom activity. If the monument is to be the legacy for future generations, it is critical to include the viewpoints of today's youth. Classroom discussion can be conducted using a structure similar to the agenda used for community meetings:

I. Screening of North Carolina Freedom Monument Video
This 19-minute video gives viewers an overview of the project and a look at existing memorials in some other states and countries.

II. Explanation of History Timeline 
In each meeting, North Carolina Freedom Park has posted a timeline that covers almost 400 years of North Carolina history. Meeting participants are asked to place themselves or their families somewhere on the timeline by sharing a story, event, date or other occasion that relates to North Carolina history, particularly its history of race relations. (See examples on video.) People share family lore about escaping slavery, dates when they or their families arrived in the state, their personal involvement with the Civil Rights Movement. Younger people who may not be as knowledgeable about history sometimes share stories about their first encounters with racism or the results of their work on their family trees. (See Drawing a Family Tree and Community Timeline above.) The goal of this exercise is to humanize history, to make the point that history is about all of us, not about other people long ago.

III. Breakout discussions 
For this part of the meeting, break up into small groups to discuss the following questions:


  • What would you suggest to an artist attempting to create a work of art honoring the African American experience in North Carolina?
  • What ideas (themes, values, characteristics, images, events, people . . .) would best exemplify that experience in a work of public art?
  • What do we, in the present, want to say about the African American experience in our state to those who will live here in the future?
  • What do we want North Carolina school children of tomorrow to feel when they see this work?

IV. Summary of group discussions
After a predetermined period of time, ask each small group to report back to the whole body. This report can take the form of straightforward answers to the questions, but it can also be a drawing, a poem, a design concept - whatever the collective imaginations of the group can come up with. The idea is for students of differing backgrounds to work together to generate a creative response to the challenge of developing a monument.

V. Evaluation
Ask students to answer any or all of the questions below. It will help them to critique the discussion process and possibly suggest other ways of generating discussion about the Monument and African-American history in general.

(1) Do you support the Freedom Monument Project? Please state what parts of the discussion were the most important to you in reaching this opinion.

(2) Do you feel that today's meeting helped to increase understanding between students of different ethnic and social backgrounds? Please explain.

(3) Were you yourself able to learn something from, or tell something significant to, the other participants in a way that seemed to increase understanding? Please explain.

(4) How would you improve the format of today's meeting? What seemed to work particularly well? What didn't work for you? What was missing?

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