In the Classroom: Sarah Margru Kinson and the Amistad

Our classroom theme for the year is immigration. We begin by discussing the children’s own metaphoric migration from a small lower school to our very large middle and high school building. We move out to oral histories — they interview people they know about their own experiences coming to America. Along the way we see movies, go places (Ellis Island, Lower East Side Tenement Museum and Walking Tour, Museum of Chinese in America), read works of historical fiction, and more. (This year, for example, we had a wonderful time with Shaun Tan’s The Arrival.)

We then move back to the time of forced immigration from Africa, the time of slavery in America. Because of my two years in Sierra Leone, I like to do a lot with the African connection. And because the captives were mostly Mende and because they went home to Africa, I love teaching the Amistad story. In fact, I’ve been working on a book for children about Sarah Magru Kinson, one of four children on the ship. Last year I put it on a blog for my students to read; this year I made it available to the other fourth grade classes. It has been wonderful to get their feedback. Here is this year’s introduction for my class. Here, here, here, and here are some of their posts about the story.

After reading and writing about the story, I showed the children a series of poems about enslavement and/or the Amistad.  I then showed them the poem the class wrote last year with Natasha Trethewey and invited them to write their own.  These will be integrated into collages like these from last year and posted on their blogs.   Their poems are wonderful and I can’t wait to see them completed!

I’m also incredibly touched and moved by the emails I’m getting from the children in other classes.  I have to thank Laura Amy Schlitz for making me brave enough to give the story to them. Last year I felt skittish about even letting my own class read it, but now that I know that Laura wrote her plays for students in her school originally I somehow felt much more relaxed about my work being used in my school.



Filed under Amistad, History

10 responses to “In the Classroom: Sarah Margru Kinson and the Amistad

  1. The class’s Magru poem is lovely, Monica. So sad.

    Friends of mine were in Senegal and visited the place where the slave ships sailed from. They said it was a profound experience.


  2. Thanks, Susan! I’ve been to the Ile de Goree too ( I was looking at the photos (there were no labels when I was there in 1976) it made me think of my visit to Auschwitz many years later. Both are necessary memorials to horrible crimes against humanity.

    The Amistad captives most likely were taken to Lomboko, another very notorious slave factory.


  3. HI, Monica, I just read Betsy Bird’s lovely and well earned tribute and came over here. I, too, don’t see how you do all that you do. I don’t know if you remember me, but I enjoyed lunching with you one day at CLNE in Cambridge, MA. I’m so happy you’re sharing more of your original writing through your school. Laura Amy Shlitz is such an inspiration in so many spheres.

    I loved the poems and posts about Amistad and the work your students got to do with Natasha Tretheway. Amazing. I noted your phrase persona poems and thinks that’s some of what I’ve written lately. I read that description here first!


  4. Jeannine,

    I definitely remember you at CLNE. Not only did we do lunch, but we ran into each other at the Schlesinger Library. I was trying to track down a reference to one of Margru’s Oberlin roommates.

    The persona poem idea came from Natasha — I think it is a wonderful phrase too.

    Will you be at CLNE in May?


  5. Hi — well, that would be me, remembering lunch, but forgetting the library. (though I can’t say what I ate.) I did love that library though. Sat in Julia Child’s chair for a while.

    I love Natasha’s collection, so that’s great the phrase came from her. It’s more to the point, and more reflective of some of what she does, I think, than biographical or historical verse. Your students must have loved writing those.

    Unfortunately I won’t be at CLNE this year. My best friend is very ill and I just haven’t felt like making going away plans. Not necessarily the best strategy, but what I’m comfortable with. Good luck with all your amazing projects! I will be checking out your blog from time to time.


  6. katherine day

    I was intrigued by your view that young children should not be taught about the Holocaust, or at least not in a personal way, though you don’t say how then… But then I am bewildered by your entries on teaching about African slavery. Why would that be o.k. given your philosophy of “protecting” young children from the trauma of the Holocaust? I am asking because, as a 3rd grade teacher, I had an intense discussion regarding this issue with a teacher friend who took your point of view regarding the Holocaust and young children, but felt it perfectly fine to teach about slavery to those same kids. I would appreciate hearing from you regarding this apparent contradiction. Thanks.


  7. Hi Katherine,

    I think that slavery is different. Also horrible, but children tend to be aware that it existed. Learning about genocide, particularly the Holocaust, is something else I think. And we don’t get into slavery as much as the idea of forced immigration. I focused on the Amistad story because it is one where captives went home to Africa.


  8. Pingback: Your Margru Post at Edinger House

  9. Pingback: Your Post on Africa is My Home « Edinger House

  10. Pingback: Book Trailer Project: Making My Own First | educating alice

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