Lesson Plans

The 1857 Project Reading Guide: Quotes, Key Terms, and Questions

Illustration courtesy of Steve Edwards / Gateway Journalism Review.

Illustration courtesy of Steve Edwards / Gateway Journalism Review.


Students will analyze and evaluate essays from The 1857 Project from the Gateway Journalism Review in order to practice the following dimensions of historical thinking:

  • Chronological Thinking
  • Historical Comprehension
  • Historical Analysis and Interpretation
  • Historical Research Capabilities
  • Historical Issues-Analysis and Decision-Making

About The 1857 Project: 

Inspired by Nikole Hannah-Jones' 1619 Project, The 1857 Project is a special issue of the Gateway Journalism Review that chronicles the history of racial injustice in St. Louis, Missouri, and Illinois. It is called the “The 1857 Project” because of the important events that happened in St. Louis that year, such as the Dred Scott decision and the Lincoln-Douglas debates. This 80-page spring issue explores the history of race in the land of Dred Scott through visual and written pieces from journalists, activists, students, and educators. The issue also encourages students to examine the following questions, through the lens of various sources:

  1. What legacy has slavery left in the Missouri and Illinois region? What has been the lasting legacy of slavery in the United States of America?
  2. How do societal structures developed to support the enslavement of Black people, and the anti-Black racism that was cultivated in the U.S. to justify slavery, influence many aspects of modern laws, policies, systems, and culture within the region?
  3. How have resistance and advocacy by Black Americans over the course of U.S. history contributed to the strengthening of democracy within the Missouri and Illinois region?
  4. How have historical accounts of slavery created internal conflicts within African Americans, and external conflicts between racial groups within the U.S. society?

Curriculum Overview: 

The Pulitzer Center's curriculum for The 1857 Project, created by Christina Sneed, AP Language and Composition teacher at University City High School (St. Louis, Missouri), includes the following elements: 

  • Reading guides (below) for eight of the project's 30+ essays. Reading guides include: 
    • A quote that captures a central theme
    • Key names/dates/terms
    • Guiding questions to consider while reading
    • Post-reading activities to extend and expand the learning and provoke thought
  • Lesson plan for William H. Freivogel's introductory essay "Extracting the Poison of Racism from America's Soul"
  • Extension activities based on student contributions to the issue

Questions to Consider Before Exploring The 1857 Project:

  1. When did you learn about race? How does a person’s race contribute to their understanding of identity?
  2. How did you first learn about the history of slavery in the U.S.? What did you learn, and how was that information presented?
  3. What do you see as the lasting legacy of slavery in the U.S.?
  4. In what ways has slavery shaped and produced the U.S.? 
  5. What do you know about the contributions of Black Americans to the abolishment of  slavery, and where does that information come from?
  6. Referring to the text of the Emancipation Proclamation, answer the following questions:
    • What are the values stated in the Emancipation Proclamation?
    • How was the Emancipation Proclamation implemented, and over what period of time?
    • In what ways can you see those values working in contemporary U.S. society? In what ways can you see them failing?
    • How has the interpretation of this document changed over time? Who is responsible for changing this interpretation?

Reading Guides for The 1857 Project Essays: 

The 1857 Project contains over 30 essays, op-eds, and student contributions. Find a full PDF of The 1857 Project here, and the reading guide in its entirety here.  These reading guides offer reflection questions that can be used to support students’ engagement with The 1857 Project, as well as downloadable PDFs corresponding to each piece: 

  1. "The 1857 Project: Extracting the Poison of Racism from America's Soul" by William H. Freivogel (pgs. 4-9)
  2. "The Land of Dred Scott: Scenes from Our Racist History" by William H. Freivogel (pgs. 9-22)
  3. “Press Flubs First Draft of History of Race” by William H. Freivogel (pgs. 22-26)
  4. “Vulnerable Neighborhood Faces Shorter Life Expectancy and COVID-19 Dangers” by Richard H. Weiss (pgs. 26-28)
  5. “New Lights Shine on Riots Against Blacks  in East St. Louis and Across America” by Harper Barnes (pgs. 30-32)
  6. “The Clayton Conundrum” by Richard H. Weiss (pgs. 54-59)
  7. “Did St. Louis Find a Way to End the Civil War Over ‘Lost Cause’ Monuments?” by Robert Joiner (pgs. 59-62)
  8. "Looking Back: Legacy of Slavery Limited Opportunities at Post-Dispatch and Beyond" by Linda Lockhart (pgs. 62-64)

Questions to Consider After Exploring The 1857 Project:

Connecting to content:

  1. What lines/images/moments stuck out to you, and why?
  2. What surprised you? What do you want to know more about?
  3. How do the authors connect mechanisms established to support slavery with modern day practices in law, politics, business, culture, and other aspects of U.S. society?
  4. How do the stories presented in The 1857 Project compare to the stories you grew up hearing about the origins and abolishment of slavery and its modern day impacts? 
  5. How does knowledge of the history of the abolishment of slavery impact your understanding of Abraham Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation?
  6. What beliefs have been affirmed, or left unsubstantiated by the evidence within this project?
  7. What is national memory? How do we create it? How can we change it?
  8. What is the role of journalism in shaping national memory?

Connecting to structure:

  1. What emotions do you feel when reading the pieces? What language most stuck out to you from the project, and why?
  2. How do the authors integrate research, primary source documents, testimonials from experts, and personal narratives into their pieces? 
  3. How do the pieces in The 1857 Project connect? Where do you see parallels and reflections?
Educator Notes: 

National ELA, Social Studies, and Historical Thinking Standards:

Key Ideas and Details:


Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, attending to such features as the date and origin of the information.


Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of how key events or ideas develop over the course of the text.


Analyze in detail a series of events described in a text; determine whether earlier events caused later ones or simply preceded them.

Craft and Structure:


Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including vocabulary describing political, social, or economic aspects of history/social science.


Analyze how a text uses structure to emphasize key points or advance an explanation or analysis.


Compare the point of view of two or more authors for how they treat the same or similar topics, including which details they include and emphasize in their respective accounts.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:


Assess the extent to which the reasoning and evidence in a text support the author's claims.


Compare and contrast treatments of the same topic in several primary and secondary sources.

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