1 hr
On the beach of the former slave port of Ouidah, Benin, stands the Door of No Return, a memorial arch dedicated to the enslaved Africans taken to the Americas.

Students learn how Mobile, Alabama, connects to Benin in Africa through the voyage of the Clotilda and how the transatlantic slave trade impacted the culture of both places. Students tour the Schomburg Research Center for Black Culture’s virtual museum exhibit and understand the varied perspectives of those impacted by the transatlantic slave trade.


Sunken Slave Ship Unit Driving Question: How do artifacts and their preservation impact communities?

Uncovering the Past Lesson Driving Question: How are artifacts and stories of past lives uncovered?

1. Students analyze the map of the Clotilda’s journey.
  • Display the map from Last American Slave Ship is Discovered in Alabama showing the trade route from Mobile Bay to Benin, and have students share their observations.
  • Ask:
      • What is this map showing?
      • What do you notice about the dates?
      • About how long did each trip take?
      • What do you notice about the routes?
      • Why do you think the routes were different when coming or going?
  • Explain that the transatlantic slave trade impacted large parts of the world in terms of economy, civil war, quality of life, cultural traditions, and more.
  • Explain that it is important to understand the perspectives of all involved to prevent tragedies like these from repeating themselves. The map shows the route that the Clotilda took during the 1860 voyage that brought a 19-year-old Cudjo Lewis to Mobile, Alabama, where he was to begin his life as an enslaved man.

2. Engage students in building their knowledge about the transatlantic slave trade to better understand the context for the Clotilda’s dread journey.

  • Distribute the Benin to Mobile: Understanding Perspective handout to each student.
  • Explain to students that they will be reading one of two articles to identify the multiple perspectives of those who were involved in the transport of enslaved peoples. Explain that with any event, different perspectives tell different stories, and it is important to hear the different perspectives around such a significant part of their history.
  • Divide students into partner pairs, assigning each student in the pair Article 1 or Article 2.
  • Have students read their assigned article.
  • Once students have completed their assigned reading, direct the pairs to come back together. Have students collaboratively share their findings, recording the new, shared ideas on their handouts.

3. Students tell a photostory of the transatlantic slave trade from Africa to the Americas using carefully selected artifacts.

Informal Assessment

Benin to Mobile: Understanding Perspective: Review students' work during the assignment to monitor peer collaboration, and to look for opportunities to clear up any misunderstandings about the impact the slave trade had on Benin or on Mobile, Alabama.

Extending the Learning

Have students view The Transatlantic Slave Trade in Two Minutes to better understand the magnitude of the slave trade in comparison to the one trip on which the unit focuses.

50 mins
A woman presents on the legends of Africatown.

Students explore sources that illustrate the transfer of cultural traditions from the founders of Africatown to its current residents, as well as how Africatown has changed over time. Students chart the rise and fall of Africatown’s economy before considering how a museum exhibit showcasing the Clotilda could impact the community’s pride and economy.


Sunken Slave Ship Unit Driving Question: How do artifacts and their preservation impact communities?

Uncovering the Past Lesson Driving Question: How are artifacts and stories of past lives uncovered?

1. Prompt students to reflect on what they have already learned about Africatown and its development in order to develop a KWL chart.
  • Show students this image of the sign marking Africatown and engage students in a three-minute quick write.
      • Ask: What do we already know about Africatown and its development from previous activities in this unit? What do you want to know?
  • Summarize key student ideas on a KWL chart and post it in a visible location for students to revisit through the remainder of the activity.

2. Prompt students to consider the impact of the Clotilda’s discovery on current citizens of Africatown in order to determine what should become of the Clotilda’s remains.

  • Explain to students that the discovery of the Clotilda had an impact on the citizens of Africatown, especially when it came to making decisions about what to do with the Clotilda’s remains. Tell students they will be watching a brief video and reading an article to learn more about the impact on the citizens of Africatown.
  • Distribute a copy of the Africatown: A Changed Community worksheet to each student.
  • As a class, watch from 1:46 to 5:59 of Finding the Last Slave Ship. Direct students to individually respond to questions on the worksheet while watching the video.
  • After watching the video, direct students to read the article Their Ancestors Survived Slavery. Can Their Descendants Save the Town They Built? and continue responding to the questions on the worksheet.
  • After reading and answering the questions, direct students to partner up and review their responses with one another. Guide students to focus on how their personal connections to Africatown compare to one another.

3. Engage students in reflection on how Africatown has changed since it was founded, and brainstorm how the story of Africatown and the Clotilda could be shared with others. 

  • Conduct a class discussion to review the key points of the Africatown: A Changed Community worksheet.
  • Ask the following questions:
      • How could a Clotilda exhibit or memorial aid the community in preserving Africatown and its heritage, in spite of difficulties and hardship?
      • In what ways could an exhibit or memorial in Africatown counter the effects of industrialism and economic downfall?
      • Based on what we’ve seen and read, what values would those from Africatown want this memorial or exhibit to demonstrate? How might the developers go about ensuring it would meet those goals?
      • How can knowing the story of their ancestors’ past be important to their present?
      • What is the most important thing you would want visitors to the museum or exhibit to know about Africatown by the time they left?
  • Wrap up the activity by adding students’ new learning to the last column of the KWL chart (from Step 1) by adding what they have learned.

Informal Assessment

Africatown: A Changed Community: Monitor students' work to make sure they understand the impact of industry on a small, local economy and how community-based institutions, such as churches and schools, support a sustainable community. If necessary, assist students in making connections between their own communities and Africatown.

Extending the Learning

Photo Essay Anthropological Extension: Have students investigate the ethnography of their communities, either within the school or the community at large. They get to know some of the members of the community that represent an intentional sample group of the population. Students attend a community event and become an active part of the community. Then, through interviews, surveys, photographs, and the anthropological lens of “do no harm,” students summarize their findings and bring all research elements together to create a video, slideshow, or otherwise tech-supported presentation that tells the story of their community.  

50 mins
Renee Anderson, head of collections at the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC), cautiously sets the Bible of a Buffalo Soldier from 1913 and a pamphlet for the Black Panther Party from 1966 on a table. These artifacts were selected for exhibits in NMAAHC.

Students explore the National Museum of African American History and Culture and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice’s Legacy Museum. Students learn about Standards for Museum Exhibits Dealing with Historical Subjects and design a mini-exhibit on slavery in preparation for a proposed design for a Clotilda exhibit.


Sunken Slave Ship Unit Driving Question: How do artifacts and their preservation impact communities?

Uncovering the Past Lesson Driving Question: How are artifacts and stories of past lives uncovered?

1. Engage students in learning about the standards for creating historical museum exhibits and explore how exhibits are created to tell a story.
  • Explain to students that they will be working toward creating a museum exhibit.
  • Ask students:
      • How many of you have been to a museum before?
      • What kind of museum was it?
      • How was the museum organized?
      • What kind of exhibits did you see?
      • What do you think goes into planning for a museum display or exhibit?
  • Tell students that there is a great deal of planning and consideration that goes into preparing a museum exhibit, especially when handling historical or fragile artifacts and objects. For example, when archaeologists excavated the wreck of a French explorer’s ship, the La Belle, off the coast of Texas, the project took several years and millions of dollars. The wreck’s remains were raised piece by piece and were taken to a lab to preserve those pieces. Museum technicians and archaeologists put the wreck back together at a museum, but the final product was too fragile to travel. However, particular pieces were preserved and were able to travel to other museums on loan and displayed as part of exhibitions.
  • Have students read, individually or as a class, this article on Standards for Museum Exhibits Dealing with Historical Subjects. If reading as a class, pause when encountering difficult language to support understanding and to make relevant connections.
  • Ask: Why is it important that historical exhibits have standards they must meet?
  • As a class, discuss how museums tend to group artifacts and exhibits by a theme, and even sub-themes within larger themes as an organizational tool and to tell a story through the collection.
  • Provide students with an example by displaying an image of a museum map to the class, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art Map, noting how within each major area, such as Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas, there are separate rooms that help to organize the art exhibits even more.

2. Students create their own mini-exhibit based on artifacts from the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
  • Distribute the Slavery Exhibit Planner to each student.
  • Display the NMAAHC Collections artifact gallery.
  • Have students browse the Slavery and Freedom Exhibit of the National Museum of African American History and Culture and select three artifacts that they feel would be grouped together under a particular theme for a mini-exhibit on slavery. 
  • If students need other artifacts, demonstrate how to browse the site by using the search feature and typing in “slavery” or selecting different topics within the filters. Click on a displayed artifact to show students how more information is revealed by selecting “view object.”
  • Have students complete their Slavery Exhibit Planner based on the artifacts they have selected.

3. Direct students to use a rubric to self-evaluate their mini-exhibit to assess how it meets the American Historical Association's museum standards.
  • Have students use the self-evaluation rubric on the Slavery Exhibit Planner worksheet to evaluate how their chosen artifacts work together to create a cohesive exhibit that meets the standards.

4. As a class, have students define an official standard to add to their culminating project rubric.


Slavery Exhibit Planner: When reviewing student selections for the slavery exhibit, take note of whether or not the student has included evidence that they’ve met the achievable standards. For instance, is there evidence that the student has identified the artifact as an object, written documentation, oral history, image, work of art, music, or folklore? Also, take note of whether or not the student presents multiple competing points of view in their selection and description of the artifacts and any connections to how the selected artifacts would represent the diversity within their own community. If there does not seem to be a connection among the selected artifacts or if the exhibit is not addressing any of the standards in an identifiable way, support the student in better understanding how they can demonstrate the requirements.

Extending the Learning

Students read The Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration and watch EJI’s New Legacy Museum about the National Memorial for Peace and Justice’s Legacy Museum. Provide vocabulary explanation for the following terms: lynching, segregation, and genocide. Ask the following questions:

    • Where have we seen or heard about segregation and genocide in history or our own lifetimes?
    • Why would people want to immortalize these topics in a museum?
    • Does the location of this museum matter? Why or why not?
    • How might memorials, such as this one, prevent history from repeating itself?

Subjects & Disciplines


Students will:

  • Evaluate and gather relevant information from sources to convey an idea with evidence and reasoning.
  • Identify and clearly explain the theme and purpose of their mini-exhibit in written form.
  • Evaluate and apply their understanding of the museum standards to create a cohesive mini-exhibit on slavery.
  • Determine the possible impact of a Clotilda exhibit for the people of Africatown.
  • Make connections between the experience of Africatown and their own communities.
  • Identify causes and effects of the changes in Africatown from when it was first founded to now.
  • Engage in collaborative discussions to understand the perspectives and interpretations of multiple texts.
  • Draw evidence from and evaluate informational texts and images to explain how it contributes to the transatlantic slave trade.
  • Read to understand and explain multiple perspectives and the long-term impacts affecting slave-holding communities in terms of laws, social mores, economics, and education.

Teaching Approach

  • Project-based learning

Teaching Methods

  • Cooperative learning
  • Discussions
  • Guided listening
  • Information organization
  • Multimedia instruction
  • Reading
  • Research
  • Writing

Connections to National Standards, Principles, and Practices

Energy Literacy Essential Principles and Fundamental Concepts D2.Civ.10.6-8: Explain the relevance of personal interests and perspectives, civic virtues, and democratic principles when people address issues and problems in government and civil society.Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6.1: Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on Grade 6 topics, texts, and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly. CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6.2: Interpret information presented in diverse media and formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) and explain how it contributes to a topic, text, or issue under study. CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.8: Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, using search terms effectively; assess the credibility and accuracy of each source; and quote or paraphrase the data and conclusions of others while avoiding plagiarism and following a standard format for citation. CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.9: Draw evidence from informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.  WHST.6-8.2: Write informative/explanatory texts, including the narration of historical events, scientific procedures/experiments, or technical processes. WHST.6-8.4: Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.The College, Career & Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards D1.5.3-5.: Determine the kinds of sources that will be helpful in answering compelling and supporting questions, taking into consideration the different opinions people have about how to answer the questions. D2.Civ.7.6-8: Apply civic virtues and democratic principles in school and community settings. D2.Eco.1.6-8: Explain how economic decisions affect the well-being of individuals, businesses, and society. D2.Geo.4.6-8: Explain how cultural patterns and economic decisions influence environments and the daily lives of people in both nearby and distant places. D2.Geo.6.6-8: Explain how the physical and human characteristics of places and regions are connected to human identities and cultures. D2.His.13.6-8: Evaluate the relevance and utility of a historical source based on information such as maker, date, place of origin, intended audience, and purpose. D2.His.1.6-8: Analyze connections among events and developments in broader historical contexts. D2.His.6.6-8: Analyze how people’s perspectives influenced what information is available in the historical sources they created. D3.1.6-8: Gather relevant information from multiple sources while using the origin, authority, structure, context, and corroborative value of the sources to guide the selection.

What You’ll Need

Required Technology

  • Internet Access: Required
  • Internet access: Required
  • Tech Setup: 1 computer per classroom, 1 computer per learner, 1 computer per pair, Color printer, Mobile data device (smartphone or tablet), Monitor/screen, Printer, Projector, Speakers, Word processing software

Physical Space

  • Classroom
  • Computer lab


  • None


  • Heterogeneous grouping
  • Large-group instruction
  • Large-group learning
  • Small-group instruction
  • Small-group learning
  • Small-group work

Accessibility Notes

  • None

Background Information

Benin, a West African nation, was the location of Ouidah, the port and the last stop for many kidnapped Africans before boarding ships headed for Europe and the Americas. In the United States, one port was located in Mobile, Alabama. After 1813, it provided slave ships with access to an area whose agriculture-based economy benefited greatly from slave labor even though at this time the Slave Trade Act in 1807 had already made the importation of enslaved people illegal.


Survivors and descendants of the enslaved African brought of the Clotilda developed a community in Mobile called Africatown.  Over time, the once self-sustaining community fell victim to industrialization, but the discovery of the Clotilda is giving hope to the restoration of this once great community that wants to thrive and represent its strong heritage once again.

Prior Knowledge

  • When considering what should become of the remains of the Clotilda, one factor to consider is the condition of the wreck and what can be raised. That entails more than just technical help and funding, but what is required to preserve the wreck once it comes out of the water. That is a complex question involving chemistry and conservation science.

Recommended Prior Lessons



ending or wiping out of something, usually referring to the ending of slavery.


small community located about three miles north of Mobile, Alabama, that was founded by previously enslaved people, many of whom were originally brought to the United States on the Clotilda, the last-known slave ship, after the prohibition of the import of enslaved people.


material remains of a culture, such as tools, clothing, or food.


unified or sticking together.


social group whose members share common heritage, interests, or culture.

constructive feedback

tool to enhance the teaching and learning process; highlighting strengths and achievements as well as areas for improvement.


learned behavior of people, including their languages, belief systems, social structures, institutions, and material goods.


difference or inequality.


scientific study of individual cultures and customs, often associated with anthropology.


display, often in a museum.


good or service traded to another area.


area used to display groups of material organized by type.


cultural or family background.


good traded from another area.


growth of machine production and factories.


material, ideas, or history passed down or communicated by a person or community from the past.


moral characteristics and customs of a community.


point of view or way of looking at a situation.


status of having very little money or material goods.


to maintain and keep safe from damage.


able to support all of one's basic needs without assistance.


buying, selling, or exchanging of goods and services.