A Kid's Guide to African American History: More Than 70 Activities

A Kid's Guide to African American History: More Than 70 Activities

by Nancy I. Sanders

Paperback(Second Edition, Second edition)

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781556526534
Publisher: Chicago Review Press, Incorporated
Publication date: 06/01/2007
Series: A Kid's Guide Series
Edition description: Second Edition, Second edition
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 519,649
Product dimensions: 11.00(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.60(d)
Age Range: 7 - 9 Years

About the Author

Nancy I. Sanders is the author of many books, including 25 Read and Write Mini-Books that Teach Word Families and Old Testament Days.

Read an Excerpt

A Kid's Guide to African American History

More Than 70 Activities

By Nancy I. Sanders

Chicago Review Press Incorporated

Copyright © 2007 Nancy I. Sanders
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-55652-653-4


The Glories of Africa

History is often silent about many things that happened long, long ago. Nobody is living today who can give us firsthand accounts of events many years before we were born. But we have clues that help us discover important things about the past. Special scientists called archaeologists (say it: ark-ee-ALL-uh-gists) use these clues to help us understand what Africa was like hundreds of years ago.

There are pictures on the tombs of Egyptian pharaohs (say it: FAIR-ohs) showing dark-skinned rulers as well as light-skinned ones. Queen Nefertari (say it: nef-fer-TAR-ee), one of the most famous figures known today from Egypt, has been identified as black. There are ancient documents listing important victories and accomplishments by kings from African countries. Stories have been passed down from generation to generation describing the glories and wonders that used to exist. All these clues, and more, paint a picture to help us understand what ancient Africa was really like.

Prior to 800 B.C., the dark-skinned people from Ethiopia (say it: EE-thee-OH-pee-ah) in Africa had important contact with ancient Egypt. They traded goods and materials back and forth. They fought wars with each other. They married each other and had children.

The fact that the color of their skin was different did not seem to matter very much to them.

For many years, Ethiopia had to pay taxes to Egypt and was under Egypt's rule. However, in the eighth century B.C., the Ethiopians went to war against the Egyptians and won. For more than a hundred years, the land was ruled by Ethiopian pharaohs.

Around 400 B.C., people in Africa made important progress and accomplished great achievements. In the years known as the African metal age, Africans worked with metals such as iron, copper, tin, silver, and bronze. They built large cities where crafters developed skills in leather, glass, gold, and weaving. They planted many crops. A huge system of trading developed. It was an age of progress and excitement.

A Sandstone Column

Some of the Ethiopian rulers were known for building beautiful temples and monuments. A sandstone column still stands, carved with many detailed designs, in the ruins of an Ethiopian temple. With this activity, you can make a replica.


Adult supervision required
Wooden spoon

1 cup (200 g) clean sand
½ cup (60 g) cornstarch 1 teaspoon (5 g) cream of
Paper drinking cup of tartar
Old cooking pot
¾ cup (177 ml) hot water
Paper plate

Dump the sand, cornstarch, and cream of tartar into the old pot. Use the wooden spoon to stir the mixture well. Add the hot water and cook over medium heat. Stir well until the mixture of sand is too thick to stir any more. Cool slightly and then spoon the mixture into a cup, tightly packing down the sand. Turn the cup upside down over a paper plate and let the sand mixture dump out to form a column on the plate. (You may need to squeeze the end of the paper cup to get it started.) Smooth the sides of the column with your hands. Use a toothpick to carve designs in your sandstone column like the one pictured here.

Design a Mask

African sculpture is known for its variety of styles, different designs, and great strength portrayed in the characters. Researchers have found African sculpture in many forms, including masks.


Illustrations of mask
Typing paper
1 9 by 11-inch (48 by 28 cm) sheet of black poster board
1 9 by 11-inch (48 by 28 cm) sheet of white poster board
White cotton household string

Use the illustration of the mask as a guide to trace the nose, eyes, and mouth onto typing paper. Cut these out and use them as a pattern to cut the pieces from black poster board. Cut the outline of the face out of white poster board. Glue the nose, eyes, and mouth to the face. Spread glue on the area of the white poster board that isn't covered by the nose, eyes, or mouth. Carefully glue short pieces of string in rows over the white poster board to resemble the original, carved design of the mask.

The Middle Ages

Africa was rich in gold. Traders arrived from the north with large groups, or caravans, of more than 12,000 camels at a time. The camels carried heavy loads of salt, sugar, wheat, fruit, and fabric across the dry Sahara Desert until they reached the kingdoms in West Africa of Ghana (say it: GAH-nah), Mali (say it: ???-lee), and Songhay. Why did the traders travel so far and on such dangerous journeys across the hot desert? What did the traders want? They wanted the gold of Africa.

The kingdoms of Ghana, Mali, and Songhay grew powerful and wealthy by trading their gold and other products to the caravans from the north. By the Middle Ages, they had developed banking systems, school systems, and entire systems of law.

The kings of these kingdoms were unbelievably rich. One ruler of Ghana lived in a splendid castle filled with sculpture and decorated with beautiful windows. This ruler kept an army of 200,000 fighting men. Soldiers in the armies of these rulers often wore chain mail, a type of armor, and rode horses. Troops carried impressive shields and armed themselves with swords and lances.

The City of Timbuktu

By the 15th century, the kingdom of Songhay dominated the area with power. The city of Timbuktu (say it: tim-buck-TOO) in Songhay became an intellectual center where people traveled from far away to experience its dazzling excitement and study with its scholars.

During this time, Timbuktu was home to more than 100,000 people. The towers of two important mosques (say it: mosks) stood high above the other buildings. Flat-roofed buildings spread out across the city.

Moslem youths came to study law, math, and medicine at the University of Sankore in Timbuktu. Scholars came to Timbuktu to study its large collections of manuscripts, which included famous selections from Greek and Arabic literature. Scholars came to write their own books, too. The trading of books brought in more money than almost any other kind of business. The kings paid judges, doctors, and writers a large amount of money to do their jobs. People enjoyed dancing, fencing, gymnastics, and chess. Great respect was paid to learned people in this intellectual center of West Africa.

Potato Stamp Painting

Some artists painted Timbuktu during the Middle Ages to show a city made of square and round buildings. In the center of the pictures, they showed a tall mosque towering over the city. You can make a stamp from a potato to paint a picture of Timbuktu as it might have appeared during the Middle Ages.


Adult supervision required
1 potato, uncooked
Table knife, not sharp
Tempera paint
Shallow tray or bowl
Construction paper
Cotton swab

Use the table knife to cut a potato in half. One half of the potato will be used to stamp pictures of square houses. Cut away the flat side of the potato to form a raised square. Carve a small doorway in the square. The other half will be used to stamp pictures of round houses. Carve a small doorway on the flat part of this potato.

Spread a shallow amount of paint in the tray. Dip the potato halves in the paint, and paint a picture of Timbuktu by stamping round and square buildings in rows across the construction paper. In the center of the picture, paint a large building that represents one of the great mosques in the city. Use the cotton swab to paint the tall, thin tower at the top of the mosque. This is how some artists have painted Timbuktu during the Middle Ages.

A King's Scepter

In great cities such as Timbuktu, many people were well educated and enjoyed a wealthy lifestyle. Kings and rulers were among the wealthiest of all. They dressed in splendid clothes, wore beautiful jewelry, held fancy swords, and sometimes carried scepters made of gold.


Adult supervision required Scissors
2 paper bowls (plastic or Styrofoam do not work as well)
2- or 3-foot (61 or 92-cm) long cardboard tube from gift wrapping paper
Styrofoam ball about 2 inches (5 cm) in diameter
Gold acrylic craft paint

Use the scissors to carefully cut a hole in the bottom center of each bowl. The holes should measure the same size as the diameter of the cardboard tube. Slide the two bowls, rims facing each other, onto one end of the cardboard tube, about ¼-inch down from the edge. Use a small amount of glue to hold them in place. Glue the rims of the bowls together. Allow to dry.

Glue the Styrofoam ball onto the cardboard tube, just above the bowls. Paint the entire scepter gold.

Life in Africa

The Continent

Africa is a vast land with a variety of climates — jungles, deserts, rain forests, mountains, and lakes. The Nile River flows in the northeast. The Congo River crosses the equator twice. Grasslands are found in the west. Animals such as elephants, lions, and giraffes live there.

There were many wild and untamed areas in ancient Africa, but research has shown us that there were also many places of progress and culture. In the Nile Valley, archaeological discoveries tell us that Stone Age Africans made pottery and greatly influenced the success of ancient Egypt. Classical writers, such as Homer and Herodotus from Greece, tell of the glorious empires found in northern and central Africa. People traveled from far away to come to Africa's kingdoms, where elaborate networks of trade were built because of the abundance of gold, silver, and salt.

Family Life

The family was very important. Often, family lines of heritage were traced down through the mother, known as a matrilineal (say it: mat-rih-LIN-ih-al) line of descent. In many societies, a husband would leave his own home and join the family of his wife when they married. This was because in a matrilineal society, all the wealth, property, and possessions were passed on through the mother.

Family members who died were held in great honor because death was considered the beginning of a new life. Gifts were placed on graves to show respect and love for the ancestors.

Faith meant a lot to each individual. Religion was an important part of everyday life. Nature was treated with great respect. People took special care of natural resources such as water and trees.

Call-and-Response Game

Music was everywhere. Complicated and beautiful dances were developed. Two basic types of music could be found. One used a variety of drums and percussion instruments. The second type used a call-and-response pattern where the song leader called out and then a chorus of people responded, sounding like a chant.

Here is a children's game you can play with your friends. It's based on the call-and-response pattern, and it is still played in Africa today.

The song leader begins by asking, "What is big?" The other children respond in a chanting chorus saying, "Elephant is big." As the song continues, the song leader chooses other animals to ask about, listing large animals such as a giraffe or rhinoceros. (The song leader can repeat the names of animals during the song.) The children chant back their answer each time. However, if the song leader calls out the name of a small animal such as a bird or a mouse, children should not respond! Those who accidentally respond are out of the game. The song continues until there is only one player left in the game. This player becomes the new song leader.

What Is Big?

Leader: What is big?

Chorus: Elephant is big.

Leader: What is big?

Chorus: Elephant is big

Among all the animals of the world.

There is none larger.

Continue playing the game in this manner. Be sure not to say anything if the suggested animal isn't actually big, or you'll be out of the game.

Here are examples of other verses you can create.

Leader: Giraffe is big?

Chorus: Giraffe is big.

Leader: Giraffe is big?

Chorus: Giraffe is big

Among all the animals of the world

There is none larger.

Leader: Bird is big?


Communities and Nations

Many communities in Africa were agrarian. Different farming skills and techniques developed depending on which part of Africa a group lived in, or the climate and land formations present. Some communities in areas along the midwestern coastline knew how to cultivate rice, and others specialized in growing corn, cotton, or other crops. An important trade system developed between these communities and other areas of the world.

Some nations grew very advanced in their weaving skills. Other nations developed better ways of working with metal. Most nations, however, had a system of money that was based on the use of cowrie shells, a small seashell. (Say it: COW-ree.) Before the Europeans arrived and built up the slave trade that changed the way of life for thousands of people, life in Africa was based on family heritage, cultural developments, and national pride.


Colonial America

In 1492, Christopher Columbus set sail across the Atlantic Ocean and discovered what became known as the "New World." Today, we understand that many different native peoples were already living on the continents of North and South America, but to the citizens living in countries such as Spain, France, and Portugal, this "New World" was a place to be explored and conquered in the name of their kings or queens. The race to colonize the Americas began.

For about 100 years, Spain dominated the attempts to colonize, or settle, North and South America. Gold was discovered, silver mines were dug, and cities were conquered. Black and white conquistadors (say it: con-KEY-sta-doors), Spanish soldiers, fought side by side, even though most soldiers of African descent were enslaved. It was a dangerous time, and few names were recorded on expeditions where even well-known heroes such as Columbus or Balboa could be arrested or put in chains if they didn't find enough gold and other riches to satisfy the king or queen. Some names were written down, however. We know of heroic men such as Juan Valiente, black conquistador of Chile, and Juan Garcia and Miguel Ruiz, black conquistadors of Peru. Sometimes the king of Spain rewarded their service with a salary or allotment of land.

Soon other sailors, explorers, settlers, and slaves arrived by the boatload from various ports along the coast of Europe and Africa. In the 1550s, Portugal began building huge plantations of sugarcane in Brazil to satisfy the sweet tooth of wealthy Europeans. By the mid-1600s, France established colonies in places such as Haiti. England joined in the race and sent boatloads of men, women, and children to settle in colonies along the shores of North America.

Early Explorers

Since the earliest explorers arrived on the shores of the New World, blacks have had an important part in the exploration and development of North and South America. Archaeological finds from early Mexico of carved African images, as well as signs of African customs and ceremonies, suggest that fleets of Africans traveled across the Atlantic Ocean to trade and explore as early as 1400 B.C.

Gigantic stone heads, each weighing up to 40 tons and some standing nine feet tall have been found in an area of Central America where a group of people known as the Olmecs once lived. The faces on these statues, dating from around 800 B.C., appear to be African. Graveyards have also been found nearby with skeletons which are thought to be of people from Africa long, long ago.

The famous king of Mali, Abubakari (say it: uh-byoo-buh-CAR-ee; also known as Mansa Musa II) ruled over his wealthy African kingdom in the early 1300s. He organized two fantastic voyages to explore the Atlantic Ocean and beyond. According to tradition, the king himself led the second expedition where more than 2,000 ships sailed across the sea. He was never heard from again in his own country. But when Columbus, Balboa, and other European explorers arrived in the Americas nearly 200 years later, their journals, letters, and records show that they found small pockets of African communities, suggesting that Abubakari's expeditions were a success.

When Christopher Columbus sailed across the ocean in 1492, it's believed that at least one of the men aboard ship was of African heritage. His name was Pedro Alonzo Niño. His work was to pilot and help navigate, or keep the ship on course.

Three hundred Africans were with Hernando Cortés when the famed Aztecs of Mexico were defeated. Black conquistador, freeman, and explorer Juan Garrido served the Spanish Crown for 30 years in its conquest of Mexico and the Aztec empire. Garrido fought with Cortés to take over what is now known as Mexico City. After one key battle, Garrido built a small chapel to honor the soldiers from Spain who had died in the fight. He is also famous for being the first person to plant and harvest wheat in the Americas. Garrido planted seeds brought over from Spain.

Nuflo de Olano, an enslaved conquistador and explorer, joined the men on Balboa's daring expedition that hacked its way through steaming jungle to cross the Isthmus of Panama. Along with 30 Africans, 190 Spaniards, and 1,000 Native Americans, de Olano was with Balboa in 1513 when they first saw the Pacific Ocean.

Africans were with Pizarro in Peru and Ponce de Leon in Florida. Many other explorers also had Africans in their expeditions as officers, sailors, freemen, servants, and slaves. These daring men came to the New World and explored its vast, unknown lands.


Excerpted from A Kid's Guide to African American History by Nancy I. Sanders. Copyright © 2007 Nancy I. Sanders. Excerpted by permission of Chicago Review Press Incorporated.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Time Line,
1 The Glories of Africa,
2 Colonial America,
3 Life on a Plantation,
4 Free African Americans and Abolitionists,
5 Civil War and the Road to Freedom,
6 The Turn of the Century,
7 The Civil Rights Movement,
8 Hope For Today and a Better Tomorrow,
Suggested Reading List for Kids,
Teacher Resources,
Selected Bibliography,

What People are Saying About This

Julius Lester

I found a Kid's Guide to African American History to be very useful and inspiring. I wish it had been around when I was a child.
— (Julius Lester, author of To Be a Slave)

Carolyn Phelan

This large-format paperback introduces many aspects of African American history, from Africa to colonial America; from plantations to emancipation...A useful resource for library collections.

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