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African American Voices Lesson Plans

Lesson Plan:

The African and Chinese Presence in America Before Columbus


American History, World History


9, 11

CBC Connection:

II.1, II.11 Historical Awareness:

Native American Civilizations prior to The European Age of Exploration (American History), I.1 Geographic Understanding:

Early civilizations in the Americas II.5 Historical Awareness: Native American Civilizations prior to The European Age of Exploration (World History)

prior to The European Age of Exploration (World History) Description/ Abstract of Lesson: The students will

Description/ Abstract of Lesson:

The students will explore the possibilities that the Americas were visited by African peoples and other non-Europeans prior to the age of Columbus. The student will write persuasive letters to history book publishers in relation to becoming more inclusive of other cultures’ stories in relation to world exploration.


The students will accomplish the following:

Develop sensitivity for various perspectives.

Understand historical documents.

Handle “controversial” topics responsibly and fairly.



Multimedia: Internet

Handouts of articles from BBC News (from web site).

Map with European explorers

Images of the Olmec civilization from websites

Testimony from among the Cherokees of Muslim influence before the age of Columbus available from websites


1-2 class periods

Lesson Lead In/ Opening:

1. As students walk into the class, direct them to a map posted on a classroom wall outlining European explorations of the world. (NOTE: If you do not have access to such a map, instead either print out or display on your smart board an on-line map lesson of European explorations available at http://users.rcn.com/farrands/explorers.htm)

2. Ask the students questions such as “What’s wrong with this map?” or

“What’s wrong with the argument that Columbus and other Europeans discovered different parts of America?” Engage in discussion.

3. Emphasize that the indigenous peoples of the Americas were here

many thousands of years before Europeans.

4. Discuss the possibility of other peoples exploring America and

interacting with the indigenous peoples before the age of Columbus. Explain how the history of world explorations by non-Europeans is usually omitted in history textbooks.

Activity 1:

1. Have the students read the BBC articles on the travels of Abubakari II of Mali and Zheng He of China:



2. Discuss the articles with the class. Highlight major details.

3. Read to the class about other accounts of foreign peoples possibly

interacting with Native Americans (i.e. The Egyptians, Vikings, Arabs):

http://www.cwo.com/~lucumi/america.html, http://members.aol.com/carltred/AfricanPresence.htm,




After discussing the accounts, assign the students to write a

persuasive letter to the publishing company of the class text book seeking better coverage of non-European explorations of America (and the world).

5. Have the students share their letters with the rest of the class.

6. After correcting rough drafts of the letters, have the students write

professional versions of the letters to be mailed off to the publisher.


Teacher observation and evaluation of student letters/reports. Check for historical accuracy as an indicator of comprehension.

Higher Order Thinking Questions:

1. If you were to visit a foreign land that you did not know existed and found people living there, have you really discovered that place?

2. Why do you suppose history book publishers omit the possibility that

non-Europeans traveled to America before the age of Columbus?

3. If the Chinese did not create maps corresponding to their travels,

would the argument of them arriving in America before Columbus still seem credible?

4. What peoples do the Olmec statue heads most likely represents?

How can you tell?

Suggested Books In Lesson:

Sertima, I. V. (1976) They Came Before Columbus: The African Presence in Ancient America, Random House.

Sertima, I. V. (1998) Early America Revisited, Transaction Publishers.

Sertima, I. V. (1999) African Presence in Early America, Transaction Publishers

Menzies, G. (2004) 1421: The Year China Discovered America, Harper Perennial

Web Resources:

African Presence in America Before Columbus




Muslim Presence in America Before Columbus



Chinese Presence in America Before Columbus






Viking Presence in America Before Columbus


Maps of European Explorations