I teach my 5th graders American History and this year my focus has been slavery during the Revolutionary War period. I read Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson to give the students a perspective on the life of a slave girl and boy and background details of life in New York City during the unrest and upheaval in 1776. One of the assignments I gave was to write a diary entry as a slave child. I asked them to write about their chores, their slave masters, and include a metaphor for how they felt about being a slave. What my students wrote were both surprising and beautiful. It is some of their best writing I've seen this year.
Here are some pieces of the slave diaries of my 5th graders:
"When I think of my family I am as sad as the rain when it cries. I am a stump, a broken down train, a torn book, and a fever. I miss my family. I want to go home. How much longer do I have to live in New York City, this place smelling of smoke, the noise, not home?"
"Although I am only 11 years old, they work me as hard as an oxen going through the whistling winds. When I am with them, they treat me like I am the ugly duckling that needs to be slaughtered."
"When I am sad about my parents my eyes are like a rain cloud."
"My name is Casey, a slave in New York, and I have been literally ripped out of the arms of my parents and sold to a nasty owner named Beth. She makes me feel like a sole on a shoe, always being stepped on and scraped with no emotions coming from the person above holding me down, totally careless."
"I feel like a rock. If people want to hit a rock they hit a rock if people want to sell a rock they sell a rock. People treat me like I have no feelings. I hate being a slave. My mistress wants me to go fast but I can't go fast. I'm sad."