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Rise of the African American Press in Travis County

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Subject: Texas History

Grade:7th, may be adapted for 4th

Author: Jason Terry (2023)

Time Duration: Four or five 45-minute class periods, may be adapted to fewer

Objective: Students will use primary source documents to explore how African American newspapers published in Travis County around the turn of the 20th Century aimed to improve the lives of African Americans living in Central Texas.

TEKS: Social Studies, Grade 7

  • (1A), identify the major eras in Texas history, describe their defining characteristics, and explain the purpose of dividing the past into eras, including Natural Texas and its People; Age of Contact; Spanish Colonial; Mexican National; Revolution and Republic; Early Statehood; Texas in the Civil War and Reconstruction; Cotton, Cattle, and Railroads; Age of Oil; Texas in the Great Depression and World War II; Civil Rights; and Contemporary Texas
  • (5C), explain the political, economic, and social effects of the Civil War and Reconstruction in Texas
  • (15A), explain rights of Texas citizens
  • (15B), explain civic responsibilities of Texas citizens and the importance of civic participation
  • (16A), identify different points of view of political parties and interest groups on important Texas issues, past and present
  • (16B), describe the importance of free speech and press in a democratic society
  • (20A), differentiate between, locate, and use valid primary and secondary sources such as media and news services, biographies, interviews, and artifacts to acquire information about Texas
  • (20B), analyze information by applying absolute and relative chronology through sequencing, categorizing, identifying cause-and-effect relationships, comparing, contrasting, finding the main idea, summarizing, making generalizations and predictions, and drawing inferences and conclusions
  • (20C), organize and interpret information from outlines, reports, databases, and visuals, including graphs, charts, timelines, and maps
  • (20D), identify bias and points of view from the historical context surrounding an event that influenced the participants
  • (20E), support a point of view on a social studies issue or event
  • (22B), use effective written communication skills, including proper citations and avoiding plagiarism
  • (22C), create written, oral, and visual presentations of social studies information


  • Ransom and Sarah Williams Site Exhibit:
  • Background Article (included)
  • Primary Source Newspaper Documents (included)
  • Essay Outline (included)

Activities and Procedures:

Step 1: Introduce students to Ransom and Sarah Williams, two former slaves, who after the Civil War purchased a 45-acre farm in Travis County. The Williams family lived on the farm from 1871-1905. From 2007-2009, archeologists investigated the former Williams farmstead and collected thousands of artifacts. Historians examined historical archives searching for documents that would give clues as to what it was like for African Americans to live in Travis County from Reconstruction through the turn of the century. Important sources of information were newspapers published by and targeting African Americans.

Step 2: (Optional) Have students examine the main page of the Ransom and Sarah Williams exhibit at Texas Beyond History:

Step 3: Have students read the Background Article and complete the questions. Discuss responses with the class. Explain to the class that students will be using examples primary source newspapers to answer the question, “How did newspapers published by black Texans around the turn of the 20th century strive to improve the lives of African Americans living in Travis County?” Students will write a 5-paragraph essay using text evidence from the articles.

Step 4: In groups or individually, have students read each document and complete the questions. (Teachers may only assign certain documents to decrease the amount of time spent on the lesson.) Instruct students to choose the best three articles that will help them answer the main question, “How did newspapers published by black Texans around the turn of the 20th century strive to improve the lives of African Americans living in Travis County?”

Step 5: Have students complete the Outline to help them prepare for the essay.

Step 6: Students use primary source documents, questions and answers, and outlines to write a 5-paragraph essay that answers the question: “How did newspapers published by black Texans around the turn of the 20th century strive to improve the lives of African Americans living in Travis County?”

Closure: Have students read essays. Discuss what obstacles African Americans newspapers faced in Travis County around the turn of the century.

Extension Activities: Have students use the information on the Ransom and Sarah Williams page to write a feature article about the couple that might have appeared in an African American newspaper from the time. Include advertisements and editorials that are time-period appropriate.

Assessment: Completed documents and essay.