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Breaking Barriers: The Right to Fight

Lesson Author
Required Time Frame
2 30 minute lessons
Grade Level(s)
Lesson Abstract
To introduce analysis of primary documents to sixth through eighth grade students in preparation for History Fair’s theme, “Breaking Barriers in History”

From the first battles of the Revolutionary War to the present, African-American soldiers took up arms to defend the liberty, equality, and freedom which was so often denied them. In the 1770 confrontation between British troops and Boston citizens, Crispus Attucks, an African-American, became one of the first casualties of the American War for Independence. During the Civil War, African-Americans served bravely despite being segregated. After the war, these units, nicknamed the “Buffalo Soldiers”, continued fighting on the Western frontier where they earned a reputation for courage. The Buffalo Soldiers defended our country in the Spanish American War and World War I. Units such as the Harlem Hellraisers saw some of the longest and fiercest fighting in Europe showing extreme bravery under fire. Each time the Africa-American soldiers returned home, they hoped in vain greater opportunity and equality. With each new conflict, hopes arose that the nation would understand that they wanted the right to fight for their country on equal footing with all other soldiers.

When the United States entered World War II, over 2.5 million African-Americans served in segregated units. The Double V campaign of the war sought to win not only a victory over the Axis powers but also a victory in greater freedom and equality for all U.S. citizens no matter what color. When World War II ended, African-American soldiers returned home with renewed hope that the barriers of discrimination, segregation, and prejudice would lessen.

Rationale (why are you doing this?)

To introduce analysis of primary documents to sixth through eighth grade students in preparation for History Fair’s theme, “Breaking Barriers in History”

Lesson Objectives - the student will

Students will analyze primary documents focusing on Africa-American soldiers in World War II and Executive Order 9981

1. Students will complete an analysis tool worksheet on a document or photograph provided to their group in order to add to their understanding of the context and barriers the African-American soldiers faced during or immediately after World War II.

2. Students will summarize and share details from the document analysis page for the class.

3. Students will utilize a graphic organizer to summarize the background context and barriers blocking African American soldiers from equality in the Armed Services.

4. Students will analyzed President Truman’s Executive Order 9981 and its possible impact as ‘breaking through barriers in history’.

District, state, or national performance and knowledge standards/goals/skills met

Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources.

Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of the source distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.

Identify key steps in a text's description of a process related to history/social studies (e.g., how a bill becomes law, how interest rates are raised or lowered).

Secondary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed

Primary Source Analysis: Breaking Barriers
Breaking Barriers: Right To Fight
Student Rubric

Primary sources needed (document, photograph, artifact, diary or letter, audio or visual recording, etc.) needed

“Army Has No Race Troubles In France, Gen. Davis Says,” Washington Evening Star. 8 August 1944. Washington, D.C. p. 15.

“General Says Service Men Take Prejudice Overseas,” Detroit Tribune. 17 Oct. 1942. Detroit, Michigan. p. 1.

"Seeking to rescue a Marine who was drowning in the surf at Iwo Jima, this sextet of Negro soldiers narrowly missed death themselves when their amphibian truck was swamped by heavy seas. From left to right, back row, they are T/5 L. C. Carter, Jr., Private John Bonner, Jr., Staff Sergeant Charles R. Johnson. Standing, from left to right, are T/5 A. B. Randle, T/5 Homer H. Gaines, and Private Willie Tellie." March 11, 1945. S/Sgt. W. H. Feen. 127-N-114329.”

“Opinions About Negro Infantry Platoons in White Companies of 7 Divisions; 4/3/1945; Negro Platoons in White Companies; Army Files, 1948 - 1950; Records of Temporary Committees, Commissions, and Boards, Record Group 220; Harry S. Truman Library, Independence, MO. [Online Version, companies, July 11, 2019].

“Letter from R. L. Vann to Ernest H. Wilkins; 3/4/1938; V; General Correspondence Files, 1948 - 1950; Records of Temporary Committees, Commissions, and Boards, 1893 - 2008; Harry S. Truman Library, Independence, MO. [Online Version, document/letter-rl-vann-ernest-h-wilkins, July 11, 2019]

Truman, Harry S. Executive Order 9981: Desegregation of the Armed Forces. (1948). armed-forces/

Fully describe the activity or assignment in detail. What will both the teacher and the students do?

Session 1

1. Post and introduce the question: What barriers did African-American soldiers face during and immediately after World War II as they sought the right to fight as equals?

2. Review the background information and vocabulary with the class.

3. Next, explain that the class will analyze primary documents to find some possible answers to this question.

4. Divide class into five small groups. Provide each group copies of Document Set 1 and each student with a Document Analysis Breaking Barriers: Right To Fight and Breaking Barriers: Right to Fight.

5. Assign one of the primary documents in Set 1 to each group. Direct each group to complete the Document Analysis page. Allow ten minutes for analysis. Monitor and assist students’ analysis.

6. Ask groups to orally share the observed and inferred details.

7. Talk about what conclusions you might draw from the details.

8. Next as a class, complete the background section of the Breaking Barriers: Right to Fight worksheet.

9. Brainstorm a list of barriers that the African-American troops during World War II and immediately after might have faced.

10. Finish the session by having each student completing the Document Analysis page and the Breaking Barriers: Right To Fight worksheet based on class discussion adding in their own ideas. Direct students to leave the Breakthrough section blank.

11. Collect the Document Analysis sheet and Breaking Barriers sheet


Session 2: Breaking Barriers: Right To Fight

Session 2 Objective: Students will analyze Executive Order 9981 and based on understanding developed in Session 1, make predictions about what type of impact the executive order might have.


1. Post and introduce the question: What impact might President Harry S. Truman’s Executive Order 9981 have on African- Americans right to fight as equals?

2. Divide class into small groups handing out Document Set 2-Transcription of Executive Order 9981, copies of new Document Analysis page, and return the copies of the Breaking Barriers: Right To Fight page to students.

3. Review the background and main summary from the previous session.

4. Assign each group to read and complete the Document Analysis for Executive