The African Slave Trade

Author: Heather Wood

Grade level: Early Elementary

Background Information:

Between 1450 to 1850, Africans were transported across the Atlantic Ocean to the Western Hemisphere. Nearly twelve million Africans were exported from their native homeland, taken as prisoners of war, kidnapped, used as a form of tribute, or enslaved through various governmental systems. Taken mainly from a 3000 mile stretch along the west coast of Africa, most slaves were captured by fellow Africans and then sold to Europeans and Americans. The slaves were exported to the Americas via ship, crammed like sardines onto small shelves, sometimes only 18 inches high. Primarily these Africans were used on the American plantations or in mines. Following the invention of the cotton gin and with the growth of the sugar economy in the West Indies, African slaves became a vital part of the economy.


Author unknown. The slave trade. Aboard the underground railroad. Available:

Bennett, C.L. Slavery in the United States. Black resistance. Available:

L.D. & C.L. The African slave ship: Hell on earth. Available:

Francis, A. The economics of the African slave trade. Available:

Reynolds, L. The trans-Atlantic slave trade. Available:


The students will share their feelings about the enslavement of Africans as they write journal entries discussing the lesson's activities.

Materials needed:

Now Let Me Fly by Dolores Johnson

butcher paper, tape, 2 yardsticks

Prior teacher preparation:

Tape off a corner of the room that you deem would be sufficient for the number of students in your class that will probably want to participate. Tape the butcher paper to each edge of the walls at 18 inches high. Attach the butcher paper to the rulers at 18 inches height also and ask two student to hold each of the yardsticks during the demonstration.


Anticipatory set: With the prior teacher preparation done, tell the children that we are going to try to see how many people we can fit under the butcher paper. (Let the students know that they can participate if they would like to, but no one is required to participate.) After a sufficient number of children have crawled under the butcher paper, to make it slightly cramped, but not unbearable, ask them to describe what they are feeling, being so close together. The children will probably complain about not having enough room to move around or feeling closed in. Allow the children to take their seats. Explain that this is how Africans who were brought to the Americas between 1450 to 1850 traveled by slave ship.

Tell the students:

  • Africans were often kidnapped by other African people and sold to the slave ship owners.
  • Only the healthiest Africans were taken on the ships because the trip was so hazardous. On some slave ships, half of the slaves died before reaching America.
  • The trip from Africa to the Americas took several months and the Africans were given little to eat and forced to stay tightly packed together, like the students' experience under the butcher paper.
  • When the slaves arrived in America, they were often separated from any friends or family they had.

Tell the students that you will now read them a story about one woman's journey, to America, as a slave. (Now Let Me Fly)

Ask the following questions along the way:

  • Following reading about the kidnapping of the young girl, ask "How would you feel to be taken so far away from the people you love, knowing you might never see them again?"
  • After the words "plantation" and "Master Clemmons" are used, explain that a plantation was a huge farm where mainly cotton, sugar, and tobacco were grown. Explain that the owner of a plantation was called "Master" and that, during that time period, he legally owned his slaves.
  • Following reading about the sale of the woman's husband, ask the students what they would do in the same situation.
  • Following the sale of the first son, ask the students how much money they think it would take to buy a family's freedom. Do you think that he could ever make that much?
  • After the daughter escapes to Pennsylvania, ask the students why they think that her mother was probably happy and sad.
  • When the book is finished, ask the students what they think was the hardest thing the woman had to go through.


Ask the students to reflect on this lesson in their writing journals. If they were under the butcher paper, what did it feel like? To those who watched, what did you feel for your classmates under the butcher paper? What do you think about the treatment of the African slave family in Now Let Me Fly?


Return to Africa Table of Contents