Free Black People in Antebellum Mississippi Lesson Plan


With the exception of a brief mention and reference to William Johnson, the free barber of Natchez, very little attention is given by Social Studies texts to free Black people in pre-Civil War Mississippi. In this lesson, students will become acquainted with the free Black population of Mississippi, the prevailing attitudes of slaveholders toward this class, and the efforts of the American and Mississippi Colonization Societies to resettle the free individuals in Africa.

Students will be expected to answer these questions:

  • What was the size of Mississippi's free Black population before the Civil War?
  • Why were many Mississippians determined to eliminate the entire class of free Black people?
  • How did the Mississippi Colonization Society contribute to this undertaking?


US History: Exploration to 1877

  • US.8.8.2 - Trace the origins and development of slavery and its impact on the nation’s political, social, religious, economic, and cultural development. 

Mississippi Studies

  • MS.5.1 - Trace the evolution of slavery in Mississippi. 
  • MS.5.3 - Contrast the culture and social structure that developed in Mississippi during the antebellum period. 


Grades 7 through 12



Students will:

  • construct a graph showing the free Black population of Mississippi, 1810 – 1860
  • analyze the graph statistics, offer reasons for the growth and decline of the free Black population, and predict what might have happened to Mississippi's free Black population if the Civil War had not intervened.
  • explain changing attitudes in Mississippi toward the free Black population.
  • compare/contrast the missions of the Mississippi Colonization Society and the American Colonization Society.
  • map the journey of free Black people from Mississippi to Africa.


Write the words "abolition" and "colonization" on the board or on a projector. Ask students to suggest differences in the meanings of these words with regards to slavery. After definitions are worked out, lead students to realize that, in pre-Civil War Mississippi, as attitudes toward free Black people changed, colonization became the only avenue to real freedom.


  1. Teacher will read aloud, or display on a projector or Smartboard, the questions in the Overview section. Students will write the questions in their notes and will write down what they perceive to be realistic responses. (The size of the free Black population will be a guess.) Have students put their responses aside to evaluate after the lesson.
  2. Using statistics printed at the end of the lesson, students will construct a graph (bar or line) showing Mississippi's free Black population prior to the Civil War.
  3. With a partner, or in small groups, students will discuss the significance of the population statistics. Teacher will lead them to make "educated guesses" to account for the peak and decline of the free Black population. Students will also predict the size of the free Black population in 1870 had the Civil War not intervened. Students may want to add these "guesses" to their original notes.
  4. Students will study the Mississippi History Now article and other resources to find an answer to the question: Why were many Mississippians determined to eliminate the class of free Black people in pre-Civil War Mississippi? Students should pay particular attention to a law regarding "adult free negroes" passed by the Mississippi Legislature in 1831.
  5. Teacher will lead a class discussion, allowing the students to share their findings. They should discuss the intentions and impact of the 1831 law. At this point, students should go to notes and adjust any prior answers they have written.


  1. By now, students will know that a significant number of free Black people who left Mississippi went to Liberia in Africa. Distribute a world map to each student and have them trace the route taken by free Black people from Mississippi (primarily the southwestern corner) to New Orleans to Liberia. (Note: The area settled in Liberia was called "Mississippi in Africa." Its capital was Greenville, located at the mouth of the Sinoe River, approximately 130 miles southeast of Monrovia.)
  2. Students will revisit their original answers to the questions in the overview and their modifications to those answers. In a "TALK IT OUT" exercise, each will share with a neighbor what has been learned. (See note at end of lesson for instructions on exercise.)


  1. Population Statistics Graph
  2. Observations; Class Participation
  3. Position Paper
  4. Mapping Exercise
  5. Additional teacher-made evaluation, if desired


  1. Students will read the description of "Mississippi in Africa" printed at the end of the lesson plan. They will find descriptors that indicate a connection to Mississippi.
  2. Approximately $100,000 was contributed by Mississippi slaveholders to the Mississippi Colonization Society. About 571 free Black people actually went to Liberia from Mississippi. How much financial assistance would each receive if the funds were divided equally? NOTE: Some of this money was used to purchase the Liberian property and to provide an annual amount for its upkeep; some was loaned to the American Colonization Society. Sums provided for each person moving to Liberia varied substantially, anywhere from $700 to $3,000. (Source: Slavery in Mississippi by Sydnor.)
  3. Determine why the capital of "Mississippi in Africa" was called Greenville.
  4. Research the story of Gloster Simpson and Archy Moore, free men who visited Liberia in 1832 and returned to Mississippi to report on conditions in the colony.


  1. A History of Mississippi, volume one, R.A. McLemore, editor, University and College Press of Mississippi, 1973.
  2. Ethnic Heritage in Mississippi, Barbara Carpenter, editor, for the Mississippi Humanities Council, The University Press, 1992.
  3. Mississippi, An Illustrated History, by Edward N. Akin, Windsor Publications, Inc., 1997.
  4. Slavery in Mississippi, by Charles Sydnor, The American Historical Association, 1933.


(Note: Statistics derived from Akin, Sydnor, and Carpenter.)













(the fewest of any southern state)


TALK IT OUT EXERCISE: Have two students turn their desks facing each other. Designate one as Partner A and one as Partner B. Start with Partner A. Tell them they must speak, without stopping until time is called, to their partner regarding everything they have learned. Then, it is Partner B's turn. I use a kitchen timer for this exercise. Monitor: they must NOT stop talking.


     "The Sinou, a small but placid river, was selected about eighteen years ago by colonists from Mississippi and Louisiana, with a few from South Carolina, who, after acclimating at Monrovia, founded the town of Greenville on the right bank, just above the river's mouth.
     "From the sea this settlement presents an attractive appearance...Greenville faces the sea, and the river flows behind it. It is regularly laid out, and Mississippi Avenue with a row of dwellings on one side and open to the sea on the other, is a delightful promenade. The houses I considered by far the neatest I had seen--two of them were quite handsome two-story ones; and the gardens were in better condition than those of Monrovia. There are about sixty houses and between three and four hundred inhabitants in the settlement. The churches are the least reputable features of the place; but although unprepossessing in their exterior, their congregations were creditable in costume and deportment. My visit was at the time of the annual Baptist association, and the members of that persuasion thronging the settlement gave it quite a lively appearance.
     "There are a number of mechanics in Greenville, particularly carpenters, and in the outskirts of the town I saw a steam saw-mill, to which lumber was rafted from the river by an artificial canal...
     "Above Greenville were founded the settlements of Rossville and Readville (Reedville was the proper spelling); but the country around them, although slightly rolling, is subject to inundation. Other nearby towns were Lexington and Louisiana."

Taken from the Report of Commander W.F. Lynch to the Secretary of the Navy, September 5, 1853, as printed in Slavery in Mississippi by Sydnor, p. 236.