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Propaganda, Its History and Techniques, and Its Use by Proslavery and Abolitionist Movements

Author: Lisa Kelly


University City High School

Year: 2010

Seminar: American Literature and American Painting, 1840 to 1940

Grade Level: 11

Keywords: abolitionists, History, proslavery, Slavery

School Subject(s): English, History, Literature

This curriculum unit is intended for the study of American Literature and History, which, in our district is taught during the 11th grade. Covering the entire unit will take 6 to 8 50-minute class periods. The resources I’ve used are all easily available online.

This unit is intended to do several things.

It is designed to familiarize students with methods of persuasion and propaganda. Students will learn or relearn the well-known methods of persuasion such as bandwagon, half-truth, and namecalling, and analyze examples of each. Students will also practice ‘reading’ or analyzing images in the same way that they have analyzed text, searching for similar persuasive methods. I hope that studying persuasion will help students to decipher and resist misleading commercial or political messages. I also hope that as they  become savvier readers and viewers, students will feel more adept at navigating political messages and show more competence and engagement in participatory democracy.

The unit presents a less commonly taught part of the history of slavery; often students are bored with the topic because they have skimmed its surface or covered the same figures several times over the years. These lessons examine how each side of the slavery debate tried to persuade Americans of the rightness of their cause. It includes many images, both because they were a big part of the abolitionist cause, and because images are a powerful tool for understanding.

Download Unit: Kelly-Lisa-unit.pdf

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Full Unit Text
Content Objectives


My curriculum unit asks students to learn the techniques of propaganda and persuasion in writing and images. The use of propaganda is exceedingly commonplace in our society. Since it is so widely used, its methods need to be widely understood. Media literacy is a required topic in our district’s curriculum. With its help, consumers will gain equal footing with the advertisers and politicians who attempt to persuade them. 

Students will learn propaganda’s visual and written techniques and understand how advertisers and public entities use rhetorical, ideological and psychological means of mass persuasion. 

Once practiced in analysis, students will used what they’ve learned to examine a specific topic and how advocates for both sides of the issue used propaganda. They will read texts and study images used on both sides of the American slavery debate, in lessons that I hope will both illuminate and electrify the topic of the “peculiar institution.” Looking in depth at the propaganda used during one political and moral struggle, that of slavery, will reinforce introductory lessons about media literacy and improve students’ chances both to read any texts successfully, and to be educated, canny consumers and citizens. 


Advertising and children 

Over thirty years ago, the National Council of Teachers of English resolved to prepare students in exercising media literacy, which they define as ‘critical abilities in reading, listening, viewing and thinking in order to cope with the persuasive techniques found in political statements, advertising, entertainment and news.” (Dieterich ix.) The need for such abilities has not diminished in the years since. If anything, the increase in types and availability of mediums and the honing of persuasive power on the part of many different interest groups make the need for media awareness and literacy more urgent now than ever. Psychological discoveries of the last fifty years have enabled advertisers to target an audience in a ‘scientific’ way, the sophistication

of which grows constantly. Students benefit from training in the techniques of propaganda and persuasion, ideally gaining some ability to resist manipulation. 

One thing psychology tells advertisers is to catch the consumer early and often. Children are a favorite target of advertisers; a recent focus on the advertising methods of big tobacco and Macdonald’s has revealed their single-minded determination to get the consumers hooked on their product, and advertisers have discovered that catching consumers as children is likely to make them life-long buyers of that product. “‘We have living proof of the long-lasting quality of early brand loyalties in the cradle-to-grave marketing at McDonald’s, and how well it works,’ James McNeal, a well-known children’s marketing guru and the author of Kids As Customers, has said. ‘We start taking children in for their first and second birthdays, and on and on, and eventually they have a great deal of preference for that brand. Children can carry that with them through a lifetime.'” (Spurlock) 

Furthermore, advertisers today have unprecedented access to their audience. Children consume an incredible amount of media, and the African American students my school serves are especially vulnerable, according to a recent media use survey commissioned by the Henry Kaiser foundation. “The report found that black and Hispanic youth spend a lot more time consuming media than whites. Hispanics and blacks average about 13 hours of media exposure daily compared to just over eight and half hours among whites.” (Magid) Besides TV, film and the internet, Americans are exposed to print ads in magazines and newspapers, on billboards and by direct mail. Estimates of the daily number of ads we see, although not necessarily notice, range from 500 to 3,000. The amount spent to deliver these ads to the public: $142 billion in 2009. (Advertising Age) 

Politics, Advertising and Citizenship 

It’s not just advertisers that attempt to manipulate our students. Our lives are changed by decisions made by lawmakers, many of whom we elect on the basis of messages delivered to us via the media. To be well-informed participants in the political process, students must be taught not just read, but to interpret those messages. “Although we are bombarded daily with persuasive messages, we have little opportunity to learn about the techniques of persuasion and how they work. Sadly… many Americans become bewildered by… basic decision-making processes.” (Pratkanis 16) Perhaps partly for this reason, many of my students feel alienated from the political system. They might also be frustrated by the discrepancy between messages they get from the media and the reality they see around them. Boiling complicated issues down to twenty-second sound bites eliminates a lot. 

This unit also provides differentiation of English 3 for a wide variety of students. English 3, American Literature, depends on primary source documents for months. Some students struggle with this part of the work because of poor reading skills, lack of background knowledge, or the texts’ antiquated vocabulary and complex sentence structure. Images provide life and realism to the dry bones of history. They can also help poor readers understand points that involve challenging reading. My other tactic, teaching persuasive techniques, is a traditional way to approach text. The techniques students will practice are a constant, useful for interpreting documents from any time or topic. Recognizing persuasion asks readers to consider author’s

purpose and bias, the text’s structure and tone and word choice; that is, it is simply a reading lesson. Therefore, the current messages I will ask students to analyze as I introduce the unit may seem more relevant than will the older texts, but the techniques are tools for navigating any writing or images, including the required documents of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. 

The History of Persuasion 

Understanding political messages was the goal of the earliest systematic explanations of persuasion, set forth by orators like Aristotle and Cicero, and first formally disseminated in Greece, where citizens were expected to be part of the political system. Most of the ideas in this section are from Pratkanis and Aronson book, which is both comprehensive and very easy to use. 

Aristotle identified four necessities of persuasion. First a speaker must establish and work within the confines of the situation. That is, each situation has variables, which in the case of a persuader must be ‘spun’ to best advantage. An orator works around the argument’s weaknesses. Next, the speaker must establish herself as trustworthy and believable. The message does not exist in a vacuum but is colored by the listener’s opinion of the speaker. A third point is that the communicator’s message must be clear and focused; the communication stays on task. Finally, the speaker must appeal to the hearers’ emotions. Contemporary opposition pointed to the likelihood of manipulation. Plato argued that the unscrupulous would use persuasion to influence and confuse others, especially youth. 

Pratkanis and Aronson restate the steps in modern terms as: 

  • pre-persuasion – create a favorable climate for your message (pre-persuasion establishes certain ideas as ‘what everyone knows.’) 
  • source credibility – establish a favorable image for communicator 
  • message – focus on one issue 
  • emotions – arouse an emotion, then offer your solution (Pratkanis 51-2) 

Flash forward, in propaganda’s history, to the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, when the rate of advertising grew after the means of production sped up. Once more items could be produced, people had to be convinced to buy them. The first advertising agency, in Philadelphia, opened in 1843. By the 1890’s, college courses used advertising textbooks to spread the new science of salesmanship. The techniques crossed over to politics before World War I: the country “used the principles of advertising to convince Americans to go to war with Germany.” (Pratkanis 7-10) 

The game has only intensified since then. Lengthy arguments or speeches bore today’s consumers. The sheer number of messages seeking the attention of people today requires that each communication be reduced to soundbites. These brief communications catch the viewer’s attention, but “substitute slogans and images for well-reasoned arguments.” (Pratkanis 15) Today, politicians rely on not just speechwriters, but an array of pollsters, spin doctors and media experts to tweek messages into their briefest, most convincing and most debate-silencing form. Most of the $2.6 billion spent on political races in 2008 went towards local television ads,

the great majority of them 30-second ads. (Seelye) 

Differentiating between and Evaluating Propaganda and Persuasion 

What is the difference between the two forms of communication, propaganda and persuasion? Both are very old and well established. Both deliberately attempt to influence others, and both are used by those with honorable or other intentions. Both use emotion to cloud the clear thinking of the listener. 

Some observers believe that the only difference between propaganda and persuasion lies in the mind of the reader, ‘propaganda’ functioning as persuasion’s evil twin. “As in most uses of the terms, “persuasion” and “propaganda,” the only difference appears to be the values clash between the persons who provides [sic] the label and the persuasion events they observe. If the observers generally support the values…[of a] communication event, then they will label it as “persuasion,” and, of course, if in disagreement with its values, they will call it propaganda.” (Persuasion….or Propaganda?) Randall Marlin’s Propaganda includes a useful summary of a number of definitions of propaganda, negative, neutral and positive, but he concludes that there is no agreement on either propaganda’s definition or its character. 

Frequently noted differences between the two are as follows. Propaganda, more than persuasion, uses symbols, images and slogans, and tries to persuade the hearer that the idea was hers all along. Propaganda seems to be a kind of shortcut, while persuasion presents a better-rounded view of the issues, even if it fully intends to persuade its audience. Propaganda “is the widespread promotion of ideas. More specifically, it’s a well-organized, well-planned attempt to influence the attitudes, perceptions, and actions of a targeted audience.” (Anderson) Generally, propaganda attempts to influence beliefs or emotions, while persuasion targets opinion. 

There is also some evidence that propaganda, if seen as a system of emotion-laden words and symbols, is more powerful with those who lack the ability to reason through a more deliberate and strategic argument, which might be called persuasion. That is, “the effectiveness of an emotionally charged symbol” is strongest with “those least likely or able to prcoess its intellectual content.” (Huddey 748) How vulnerable, then, are children, poor readers and/or those who are not educated to question authority? When it comes to politics, also, emotive symbolism works best with those who know the least about the candidate, cause or argument; they may not have the tools of prior knowledge or logical reasoning necessary to follow a complex debate. (ibid) 

Persuasion more properly describes rhetorical strategies, ways to speak, choices of syntax and diction, metaphor and allusion. However, it is equally deliberate and manipulative in its attempt to present a certain point of view, ignoring or glossing over inconvenient truths or exploiting emotions by associations. 

Can we condemn either? It’s hard to say that emotional tactics, if that indeed is what propaganda is, are wrong, especially in this unit, which looks at how abolitionists’ propaganda moved a nation to free its slaves. However, given the nature of today’s political persuasion, it’s also hard to support the widespread adoption of propagandistic persuasion, which oversimplifies many

complicated topics. Students, after having examined the topic, should consider its morality. We can ask them to debate what Cicero answered, when asked about persuasion’s value: “Wisdom without eloquence has been of little help to the states, but eloquence without wisdom has often been a great obstacle and never an advantage.” (Pratkanis 14) 

Propaganda and Abolition 

The abolitionists were divided into camps, but for the purposes of this discussion the followers of Garrison are the most interesting. Because of their calls for immediate emancipation, they were considered radical and thus needed to frame their message with carefully targeted persuasive methods. While they alienated some with their ‘harshness and vehemence,” they were clever propagandists. 

The abolitionists needed to plan their strategies carefully. Their most promising audience, whites of the North, had never seen slavery and were not free of color prejudice. For example, even within the abolitionist movement, many did not agree with a law against mixed marriage or a law forbidding color discrimination on the railways. (Brooks 313) The Northerners did not want trouble, either, with their Southern neighbors. 

“In order to organize Northern public opinion against slavery in the South the abolitionists worked out a thoroughgoing system of propaganda. Their tools included highly orchestrated appearances and carefully edited texts by former slaves. They used literature as a weapon…. At meetings, escaped fugitive slaves were present to give addresses on their experiences of slavery. These experiences were usually put in written form…and circulated.” (Brooks 315) 

[T]o reassure potential converts that immediate emancipation did not necessitate violent upheavals, Garrison carefully redefined his objectives and methods. Even though it went against his own beliefs, he declared that “Immediate abolition does not mean that the slave shall immediately exercise the right of suffrage, or be eligible to any office, or be emancipated by law, or be free from the benevolent restraints of guardianship.” (Zorn 161) Clearly, even those opposed to slavery wanted to know that emancipated blacks would remain second-class citizens, perhaps indefinitely. 

In the same calculated way, the abolitionists carefully choose and prepared the former slaves who travelled the North, speaking for the abolitionist cause. Actual witnesses to and victims of the brutalities of slavery elicited sympathy in unexpected places. “A fugitive was a human being in distress, and few were so horny-hearted as to disregard his plea.” (Gara 196) 

Abolitionists also needed to humanize black people, as many Americans still viewed black slaves along the lines of cattle or other livestock. Owing to the nature of their plight, many of the escaped bondspeople were both illiterate and inarticulate. The abolitionists wanted speakers to be “living refutation[s] of the doctrine of racial inferiority.” Furthermore, the speakers needed to win over an audience. Certain speakers were favored for their entertainment value: Henry Bibb for his humor, Henry “Box” Brown for the dramatic method of escape memorialized by his nickname, and Frederick Douglass for his erudition, but all were considered fine speakers. Another tactic involved using light-skinned women such as Ellen Craft, who both raised the

sympathy of the audience because of their resemblance to many of the whites in the audience, and, apparently, titillated the listeners because of the picture they inevitably summoned of master-slave sexual relationships. 

Abolitionists frequently relied upon images of slaves bound and tortured. A notorious example is a photograph of an older black man, seated, facing away from the camera. His back is a torturous web of scars, clearly the legacy of repeated and brutal whippings. The man’s hair is dissheveled and his pants ragged. His back is slightly bent and his arm akimbo. His position suggests dignity and resignation. What isn’t in the photograph, although one might expect it, is any kind of anger. It’s almost as if the man is displaying an advertising symbol upon his back, for all the connection to it one finds in his expression. A viewer must assume the man has never considered violent retribution. 


The first purpose of the unit is to familiarize students with the techniques and uses of propaganda and persuasion. After learning common persuasive techniques, students will easily point to examples of each method in advertising. Students will recognize specious arguments whether they come from friends, ads or politicians. Pennsylvania’s academic standard 1.2.10.C states that students should “distinguish between essential and nonessential information across a variety of texts and sources from all academic content areas, identifying bias or propaganda where present.” The implication is that an expert reader can spot manipulation. Learning techniques of persuasion also strengthens students’ own persuasive or argument writing. 

Secondly, after examining advertisements and speeches to identify common persuasion methods, we will turn to a specific use of propaganda; that is, how it was employed by both sides of the slavery debate. The goal is to deepen a often-shallow discussion. We will look at images and relate them to what was learned about verbal technique. Students will discuss the problems the limited view created, especially the emotional appeals the abolitionists used. At this point, the class should debate whether persuasion is always unforgivably manipulative, or whether propaganda’s intent can excuse its use. These lessons require reading, writing and talking. 

Finally, students will create their own examples of persuasion, which could consist of a short film, a speech, or a print advertisement. This demonstration of enduring understanding (Standard 1.1.10.D) will also help students internalize the lessons of the unit. 

Teaching Strategies

The entire curriculum unit will last six – ten days. I am using it for 11th grade American Literature, but it could be adapted for any class studying slavery or the use of propaganda. 

As a introduction, students will make a list of what kinds of persuasion they encounter, and which of them they find acceptable. How do parents, school, friends or society try to influence them? Are there any subjects that shouldn’t be addressed? For instance, what if you are a firm believer in a certain religion? When representatives of other faiths proselytize, are they implying you have chosen wrongly? People knocking at your door on Saturday afternoon aren’t likely to 

sway you, but what about the religions that offer food to the hungry but require them to listen to a sermon in exchange? At what point does persuasion become offensive? 

After discussing where they find persuasion, students will begin to trace its history and methods. Aristotle first posited a theory of persuasion. (Fratkanis, 54) He functioned as a kind of self-help guru for orators, as did Cicero, later. We will briefly cover the history and the main theories, using examples for each idea. 

Some students claim that they are not influenced by advertising. To counter this, it might work to display images of various versions of a common product; soda, for example. Generally students will express a preference for the nationally advertised bramnd. If they have never tried the brands they think are inferior, then how did they decide that they were inferior? This discussion might lead to an acknowledgement that advertising does, indeed work. 

To discuss the power of images, Daniel J. Tutolo offers a lesson plan called “Classroom Techniques to Evaluate Advertising in Magazines,” in Teaching about Doublespeak. It first shows students how research has explained the effectiveness of advertisements. Let M stand for the message, A for the appeal, P for the pre-disposition or bias of the reader, and E for the effectiveness. The theory goes that (M x A) P = E. Tutolo suggests using the short scale replicated below. An adapted scale can be used as a basis to evaluate any type of photo or image. 

1 2 3 4 5 

attactive __ __ __ __ __ unattractive 

appealing __ __ __ __ __ unappealing 

convincing __ __ __ __ __ unconvincing 

honest __ __ __ __ __ dishonest 

new, different __ __ __ __ __ common, ordinary 

Once students understand the background and basic techniques of the topic, they will connect what they’ve learned to slavery. The justifications of American slavery are fascinating reading and excellent examples of the various kinds of propaganda we will have covered earlier; for instance, students can explain how biblical justification of slavery functions as either ‘weak reference’ or ‘appeal to authority.’ Standard 1.2.10.E asks students to identify and analyze the structure and format of various informational documents and explain how authors use the features to achieve their purposes. 

There are many images available to show clearly propagandistic methods used on both sides of the slavery debate. The proslavery side portrayed slaves as happy, safe and productive, as a part of the family or at least of the Southern culture (Images advertising for runaway slaves are a very different matter; in these cases, the runaway is a subnormal ingrate.) The antislavery side relied on images of shackled, helpless and half-naked human beings, to emphasize how degraded was their treatment at the hands of fellow human beings. 

In fact, “almost all the images of slavery with which we are familiar are in fact abolitionist images,” writes Peiterse. (Pieterse 58) The images frequently invoked Christianity, showing 

black men and women in pious attitudes, hands clasped and beseeching eyes looking heaven-ward. The “clear message” was that emancipation was “on condition of docility and meekness, on condition of being on one’s knees.” (ibid 60) To repeat an earlier point, “the abolition of slavery was not the same as black emancipation.” (ibid) Abolitionists presented the kind of images they did for a reason; they wished to persuade people that black slaves, once free, would either return to Africa or be docile and grateful citizens. 

The following are more specific lesson plans. I have not included any on the basic tenets of propaganda in either text or images because excellent lessons are easy to find in each. 

Classroom Activities

Lesson Plan # 1 
Writing with Bias 

Supplies Needed 

For each group, a worksheet, description of assignments and a thesaurus 

The objective of the lesson is for students to understand that a reader of the news or viewer of television can be influenced by the slant or bias put on a story by the way it is written. 

The lesson is adaptable to various topics or subjects. In any version, students write descriptions of an event from three different viewpoints. In groups of three, one student records, one uses the thesaurus and the third functions as timekeeper and manager. 


During her campaign for mayor, Freda Johnson promised to solve the problem of homelessness in Preston. Homeless citizens crowded corners of the subway stations and occupied every park bench. Before she was elected, Ms. Johnson did not specify HOW she would achieve her goal. 

Most voters wanted the issue of homelessness resolved. Some people saw the homeless as a menace, a danger to publich health and a blight on the city’s landscape. Other people said the presence of the homeless showed inhumanity and that society owed every citizen safe shelter. 

Now that she has been elected, Mayor Johnson plans to institute a new tax on real estate. The purpose of the tax is to build housing for the large number of homeless people in her city. Everyone who owns a home will pay about 10% more a year. 


Group 1: Your job is to present Mayor Johnson’s plan as negative. 

Find an argument or arguments against it. 

Use the thesaurus to find negative words that could reasonably describe her decision. 

Include loaded words. 

Use at least two quotes from people who are for the plan. 

Group 2: Your job is to present Mayor Johnson’s plan as positive. 

Find an argument or arguments in favor of it. 

Use the thesaurus to find positive words that could reasonably describe her decision. 

Include loaded words. 

Use at least two quotes from people who are for the plan. 

Group 3: Your job is to present Mayor Johnson’s plan in a neutral way. 

Find an argument or arguments against it and find an argument or arguments for it. 

Avoid loaded words. 

Use quotes from both sides equally; people who are against the plan and people who are for it. 

Try to be as balanced as possible. 

To jumpstart this activity, provide students with lists of adjectives, instead of adding practice with the thesaurus to your objectives. 


strong / empathetic / peace-making / dynamic / productive / righteous / responsible 

wise / zealous / forward-thinking / tough / honorable / sensitive 


insensitive / callous / arrogant / selfish / ruthless / dangerous / foolish 

deluded / deceitful / malicious / domineering / unrealistic / dishonest 

Quotes from Preston’s Citizens 

Lonnie Williams 

“I’m a Vietnam vet, and I haven’t been able to hold down a job since I came home. My head aches all day from injuries I got in the war. Thank God Mayor Johnson wants to give people like me a place to live.” 

Theresa Langdon 

“I can’t even pay my taxes now, without sacrificing something, either my medicine or eating. I will lose my home if the mayor puts through this plan.” 

John P. Holbrook III 

“The mayor is probably pandering to the construction trade. She wants to keep those union votes by creating lots of new building work. It’s not about the homeless, it’s about her making jobs that pay taxes, add to her popularity and keep people in the city.” 

Frangela Rodriguez 

“I’ll be so happy if the city gets those bums off my block. I don’t care how or where they go, as long as they stop bringing my property value down.” 

Boris Truacivic 

“Why should they get new houses built with my money? My house isn’t new.” 

Reverend Suzanne Franklin 

“Every human being deserves to live with dignity.”

Lesson Plan # 2 
Webquest: Pro-Slavery and Anti-Slavery Writings: How Each Attempted to Persuade 

Supplies Needed 

For each group, an assignment sheet, definition of propaganda, laptops 

Because there is so much relevant material available online, one way to expose the classroom to more than they could cover as a whole is to assign pairs or individuals to various webquests. The groups can report their findings to the class. 

Each of the webquests below asks students to look at text and images, both slavery and antislavery materials. 

QUEST # 1 

1. Visit 

Poet John Greenleaf Whittier praised NH for its abolitionist stand in 1846. 

But did we deserve it? 

Find the answers to the following questions on this page. 

a. “New Hampshire thunders an indignant No!” 

What was the “No!” about? 

Describe the poem’s tone. List at least three words that help create that tone. 

b. What is the truth about New Hampshire and slavery, according to this website? 

c. Would you call this poem an example of propaganda? 

Explain why or why not. See our definition for help. 

2. Visit 

The Anti-Slavery Record 

Published for the American Anti-Slavery Society 

By R. G. Williams 

New York and Boston, 1835-1837. 

For the first half of its three year run, this 12-page monthly regularly published a picture on its first page. Most of the images dramatized the evils of slavery, from the desperate mother who killed her infants rather than lose them down the river to the slave shot by his master to recurring scenes of whipping. [T]hese depictions of slavery are referred to (quoting a pro-slavery critic of the tactic) as “Incendiary Pictures.” Other images portray “Africo-Americans” in admirable ways. 

a. Look carefully at the first illustration, ‘How Slavery Honors Our Flag.’ 

How is the picture ‘incendiary?” 

What emotions would it evoke? 

What symbol does it use and how? 

b. Would you call this poem an example of propaganda? 

Explain why or why not. See our definition for help. 

3 Visit 

From the ‘Gallery of Images,’ please choose Aunt Phyllis’ Cabin and, on Aunt Phyllis page, examine the first three images on the left of the page. 

a. From these illustrations, how would you describe life for slaves in the American South? 

Give details from each of the images. 

b. Now, ask yourself what does not appear. 

Has any reality of life as a slave been omitted from the images? 

Explain what. 

c. Would you call the illustrations for this book an example of propaganda? 

Explain why or why not. 

QUEST # 2 

1. Visit 

A Poem To William Lloyd Garrison, by John Greenleaf Whittier 

Find the answers to the following questions on this page. 

a. Find three examples of ‘glittering generalities’ in this poem. 

b. How is the author characterizing Garrison? 

c. Is the poem an example of propaganda? Explain your answer. See our definition for help. 

2. Visit The Antislavery Literature Project at 

Choose “Proslavery Literature” from the menu to page right. 

From there, choose “The Cabin and the Parlor” link ‘Read more….” 

Download the PDF version of the novel. 

Examine the image on the title page. 

a. Explain the image in detail. 

What does it imply about the people pictured? 

b. From this image, what do you expect to find in this book? 

c. Is this an example of propaganda? 

Explain why or why not. See our definition for help. 

3. Visit Colonial Williamsburg. 

a. Paragraph three begins, “Any political movement needs a symbol and a motto.” 

Describe the symbol and the motto of the Anti-slavery movement. 

b. Use your knowledge of persuasion and of the American feeling of the time. 

Why did the antislavery movement choose this symbol and this motto? 

c. Is this an example of propaganda? 

Explain why or why not. 

Lesson Plan # 3 
Memorials, History and Propaganda 

In the past decade or so, the U.S. has seen new memorials dedicated to dead astronauts and executed witches in Florida and Massachusetts; to the “greatest generation” in Virginia and Washington, D.C.; and to victims of terrorism in Oklahoma City, Boston and elsewhere. Recently, groups have also erected monuments that pay tribute to civil rights (in Alabama) and cancer survivors (Missouri), to Rosie the Riveter and the female defense industry workers of World War II (California) and to the Indian victors of the Battle of Little Bighorn (Montana). 

Collectively, they represent a phenomenon I call “memorial mania,” a national obsession with issues of memory and history and an urgent, excessive desire to claim—and secure—those issues in public culture. Controversies over construction of memorials reveal levels of anxiety about who and what should be remembered in America. The growing number of these memorials represents efforts to anchor, and resolve, those anxieties. (Doss) 

a. After reading the above, students will discuss it, with special attention to Doss’ claim that we are obsessed with issues of memory and history. 

Students will create a list of issues in American history that seem still unresolved (for example, what about those listed by Doss?) and then ask themselves, why might Americans still want to discuss those issues? Is slavery one of those issues? 

This lesson studies memorials and asks students to think carefully about these civic markers. The lesson provides a way to think about America’s slave legacy, as Doss says, “who and what should be remembered,” and, of course, how. 

In earlier lessons, students looked at drawings, paintings and medallions depicting images of slavery. Most of what we viewed was created during the time of slavery. Memorials, on the other hand, are created later, and may contain greater potential for rewriting or forgetting history. 


Field trip to look at local memorials 

Examine images of first, the Freedman’s Memorial, then other memorials to slavery. 

Read about reactions to Freedman’s Memorial, by Frederick Douglass and others. 

Examine a complete list of local memorials. Decide what is most commonly memorialized and why; try to find out who decides about subject, funding and placement of memorials. 


Anderson, Chris. Brandweek; 01/18/99, Vol. 40 Issue 3, p24, 2p 

Brooks, Elaine. Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society. The Journal of Negro History, Vol. 30, No. 3 (Jul., 1945), pp. 311-330. 

Stable URL: HYPERLINK “” \t “_blank” 

Accessed: 29/03/2010 17:26 

Dieterich, Daniel, editor. Teaching about Doublespeak. 

Gara, Larry. The Professional Fugitive in the Abolition Movement. The Wisconsin Magazine of History, Vol. 48, No. 3 (Spring, 1965), pp. 196-204. 

Stable URL: HYPERLINK “” \t “_blank” Accessed: 29/03/2010 16:36 

Handler, Jerome S. and Tuite, Michael L. Jr. The Atlantic Slave Trade and Slave Life in the Americas: A Visual Record 

HYPERLINK “” \t “_blank” Accessed 2/28/10 

Healthy Influence Blog. Persuasion…or Propaganda? June 30, 2009. HYPERLINK “” \t “_blank” Accessed 2/28/10 

Huddy, Leonie, and Anna H. Gunnthorsdottir. The Persuasive Effects of Emotive Visual Imagery: Superficial Manipulation or the Product of Passion. 

Leonie Huddy and Anna H. Gunnthorsdottir 

Political Psychology, Vol. 21, No. 4 (Dec., 2000), pp. 745-778 

Library of Congress. Images of African-American Slavery and Freedom From the Collections of the Library of Congress. HYPERLINK “” \t “_blank” Accessed 2/28/10 

From the Collections of the Library of Congress 

National Archives. Lesson Plan: Slavery: How did the Abolition Acts of 1807 and 1833 affect the slave trade? HYPERLINK “” \t “_blank” (address at bottom of lesson – The National Archives, Kew, Richmond, Surrey.) 

Pieterse, Jan Nederveen. White on black: images of Africa and Blacks in Western popular culture. New Haven : Yale University Press, 1992. 

Scholarly, full of images, this book was hard to come by but contains many images I didn’t see elsewhere. 

Pratkanis, Anthony R. and Aronson, Elliot. Age of Propaganda: The Everyday Use and Abuse of Persuasion. W.H. Freeman and Company, NY. 2001 

This is a standard textbook and it is comprehensive and well written. Good source for teachers, possible resource for older students. 

Railton, Stephen & The University of Virginia. Uncle Tom’s Cabin and American Culture. HYPERLINK “” \t “_blank” 

Reactions to Harriet Beecher Stowe’s best-selling novel. Includes a section of proslavery images, illustrations from books known as “anti-Tom novels,” written by Southern advocates of slavery, in response to Uncle Tom’s Cabin. 

Seelye, Katherine Q. About $2.6 Billion Spent on Political Ads in 2008. December 2, 2008. The Caucus: The Politics and Governement Blog of the New York Times. ttp:// Accessed 4/4/2010. 

Slavery Pictures. HYPERLINK “” \t “_blank” @ The Slave Heritage Resource Center. HYPERLINK “” \t “_blank” Accessed 2/28/10. 

Spurlock, Morgan. The truth about McDonald’s and children. 

HYPERLINK “” \t “_blank” 

Common Originally published Sunday, May 22, 2005 by the Independent / UK. Accessed 2/28/10 

Advertising Age. June 22, 2009. U.S. Spend Trends. HYPERLINK “” \t “_blank” Accessed March 21, 2010. 

The History Project. Images of Abolition. HYPERLINK “” \t “_blank” University of California, Davis. Accessed April 3, 2010 


Pennsylvania Department of Education Standards Aligned System 

1.1.10.D: Demonstrate comprehension / understanding before reading, during reading, and after reading on a variety of literary works through strategies such as comparing and contrasting text elements, assessing validity of text based upon content, and evaluating author’s strategies. 

1.2.10.C: Distinguish between essential and nonessential information across a variety of texts and sources from all academic content areas, identifying bias or propaganda where present. 

1.2.10.D: Analyze inferences and draw conclusions, citing textual support, based on an author’s explicit assumptions and beliefs about a subject. 

1.2.10.E: Identify and analyze the structure and format of various informational documents and explain how authors use the features to achieve their purposes. 

1.5.10.E: Write with a sharp, distinct focus. 

  • Identify topic, task and audience.
  • Establish and maintain a single point of view. 

1.9.10.B: Evaluate how the techniques used in media influence society.