Teaching Activity. By Bill Bigelow. 10 pages. Role play on the Cherokee-Seminole removal or Trail of Tears.
In her book A Century of Dishonor, published in 1881, Helen Hunt Jackson wrote, “There will come a time in the remote future when, to the student of American history [the Cherokee removal] will seem well-nigh incredible.”
The events leading up to the infamous Trail of Tears, when U.S. soldiers marched Cherokee Indians at bayonet-point almost a thousand miles from Georgia to Oklahoma, offer a window into the nature of U.S. expansion—in the early 19th century, but also throughout this country’s history.
The Cherokees were not the only indigenous people affected by the Indian Removal law and the decade of dispossession that followed. The Seminoles, living in Florida, were another group targeted for resettlement. For years, they had lived side by side with people of African ancestry, most of whom were escaped slaves or descendants of escaped slaves. Indeed, the Seminoles and Africans living with each other were not two distinct peoples. Their inclusion in this role play allows students to explore further causes for Indian removal, to see ways in which slavery was an important consideration motivating the U.S. government’s hoped-for final solution to the supposed Indian problem. The role play encourages students to explore these dynamics from the inside. As they portray individuals in some of the groups that shaped these historical episodes, the aim is for them to see not only what happened, but why it happened—and perhaps to wonder whether there were alternatives.
Published by Teaching for Change in Beyond Heroes and Holidays: A Practical Guide to K-12 Multicultural, Anti-Racist Education and Staff Development. Beyond Heroes and Holidays offers essays, articles, analysis, interviews, primary documents and interdisciplinary lessons. Edited by Enid Lee, Deborah Menkart, and Margo Okazawa-Rey.