Frederick Douglass and Kale – Comparing Primary Sources



This is a great primary source activity for high school American history and world history students. Students compare Frederick Douglass’s “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” speech to a letter written by an eleven-year old boy named Kale from the La Amistad ship. The purpose of this activity is to compare a primary source from somebody very famous (i.e., Frederick Douglass the influential abolitionist) to somebody very few people know (i.e., Kale).

Zero prep! Just print and you are ready to go! The Google Docs version is editable, if you desire to make some changes.

Materials include

  1. Background information on Frederick Douglass and Kale
  2. Two primary sources to read
  3. Primary source questions
  4. H.I.P.P.O.S. comparative analysis chart to fill in

* H.I.P.P.O.S. stands for Historical context, Intended Audience, Point of view, Purpose, Other, So what?

How to use this activity

Start a discussion about the life of Frederick Douglass and the La Amistad incident. If you are not too familiar with what happened on the La Amistad, this product includes a short description. You could even watch some clips from Steven Spielberg’s 1997 Amistad movie.

Then, read the background information and primary sources either as a class or individually.

Once the reading is done, start the activities. Put the students in pairs. Students need to answer nine questions related to the text. The questions force students to think like a historian.

After the primary source questions, the students need to fill out the H.I.P.P.O.S. chart. Understanding H.I.P.P.O.S. is very useful for APUSH students. This chart is unique though. Students need to compare and contrast the two primary sources. So, for example, they will need to find the similarities and differences between the historical context (the ‘H’ in H.I.P.P.O.S.) of the two documents.

Or, simply give this assignment as homework.

Alternative activity ideas:

  • If distance learning: students read primary source and complete the activities at home (could discuss on Zoom, if possible)
  • Read the primary source as a class and then conduct a Socratic Seminar (use the activities as homework)
  • Read the primary source in pairs, then have a round table discussion (student led, but teacher prompts historical thinking questions); do activities in class or as homework
  • Read the primary source for homework, discuss in class; do questions in pairs
  • Students identify the H.I.P.P.O.S. (Historical background, Intended audience, Point of view, Purpose, Other information, and So what?) then prepare group presentations
  • Students watch Amistad movie for homework

Students will be able to…

  • Understand more about the struggles of Black people shortly before the Civil War
  • Understand more about Frederick Douglass’s life
  • Under the “Corrupt Bargain”
  • Think like a historian
  • Read, comprehend, and analyze secondary and primary sources
  • Improve their ability to read and analyze primary sources
  • Also useful for English students

Additional information

Grade Level

8th, 9th, 10th, 11th

Resource Types

Primary Source Activities, DBQs, Printables


Black History Month


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