Teaching Guide: Exploring the Fifteenth Amendment

This teaching guide helps instructors use a specific primary source set, The Fifteenth Amendment, in the classroom. It offers discussion questions, classroom activities, and primary source analysis tools. It is intended to spark pedagogical creativity by giving a sample approach to the material. Please feel free to share, reuse, and adapt the resources in this guide for your teaching purposes.

Discussion questions

  1. Based on a close reading of imagery in the two commemorative prints from 1870, describe how the artists believed the Fifteenth Amendment would impact African Americans’ lives in addition to allowing them the power to vote?
  2. In what ways do the lyrics in Joshua McCarter Simpson’s song reflect the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments in addition to the Fifteenth Amendment? How do Simpson’s song lyrics compare to the imagery in the commemorative prints?
  3. What do the case of Octavius Catto, the broadside from Connecticut, and Samuel May’s letter reveal about Northern attitudes toward the Fifteenth Amendment and the idea of black political power?
  4. Black leaders Henry McNeal Turner and Archibald Grimké wrote about the significance and impact of the Fifteenth Amendment approximately thirty-five years apart. Using Turner’s speech and Grimké’s essay, compare and contrast their perspectives. Based on Grimké’s analysis, describe what had changed between the adoption of the Fifteenth Amendment and 1905.
  5. Compare the analysis in Grimké’s essay with that of the Memphis World article in 1960. How had strategies for securing the vote changed between 1905 and the start of the civil rights movement?

Classroom activities

  1. Have students stage a mock meeting of the American Negro Academy based on essays in The Negro and the Elective Franchise. Students can select specific members of the academy and research their lives and perspectives. At the mock meeting, students can discuss and debate strategies and ideas for securing the full promises of the Fifteenth Amendment.
  2. Have students create collages inspired by the commemorative prints at the beginning of the set. What would the scenes and imagery for a “Fifteenth Amendment” print have looked like in 1905? What about in 1965? Students can research historical images from DPLA and other sources to complete their “vignette” collages.

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