Race and Religion from Abolition to the Civil Rights Movement

Course Description

This course will use the robust tradition of religious resistance to white supremacy as a vehicle to introduce rhetorical principles and multimodal composition. We will consider the interrelationship among Written, Oral, Visual, Electronic, and Nonverbal (WOVEN) modes in individual and collaborative projects. We will use this WOVEN approach to explore how calls for liberation intersected with religious commitments.

In this course, we will explore how religious beliefs, symbols, and motifs both impeded and facilitated liberation movements from abolition to the Civil Rights Movement. We will discuss primarily black writers who drew on religious themes to resist slavery, lynching, and segregation, as well as critiqued the role Protestant Christianity played in legitimizing white supremacy. We will read a range of genres, including speeches, poetry, and essays.

Learning Outcomes

  • Rhetoric: Create purposeful, audience directed artifacts that present well-organized, well-supported, well-designed arguments using appropriate conventions of written, oral, visual, and/or nonverbal communication.
  • Process: Use recursive strategies, including planning, drafting, critiquing, revising, publishing/presenting, and reflecting confidently.
  • Multimodality: Develop competence in major communication modalities (WOVEN) and understand that modalities work synergistically.
  • Collaboration: Be productive in communities of practice—for example, as readers and critics, as team members and leaders—balancing their individual and collaborative responsibilities.
  • Critical Thinking: Systematically analyze and question information in a manner that identifies and evaluates problems, processes, values, assumptions, and arguments in order to reach understanding, determine solutions, and initiate actions.

Course Projects


Our class will be oriented around discussion, so your active participation is essential. Participation will be assessed on three main criteria:

  • Preparation: come to class on time and ready to work; do the assigned reading and writing.
  • Discussion: listen carefully to the instructor and other students; respond to others respectfully; ask thoughtful follow-up questions; take notes.
  • Collaboration: contribute to group projects effectively; put serious effort into peer review; come to office hours.

First Week Diagnostic Video—5%


  • Diagnostic Video due—1/10
  • Reflection due—1/13

You will create a 60-90 second video to introduce yourself, identify the course you are taking, and articulate a challenge you anticipate facing this semester in ENGL 1102. Begin by introducing yourself (name, major, hometown) and identifying your course (teacher, theme) in 10-15 seconds. Your video should articulate a challenge relating to one of the modes—written, oral, visual, electronic, or nonverbal communication—that you’ll be engaging with in class projects this semester. What challenges do you expect to face in relation to this mode? How might you overcome these challenges? Use specific examples. You might also use this assignment as an opportunity to set goals for yourself in terms of a specific mode of communication or in terms of developing a specific skill. To submit your video in Canvas: first upload it to “My Media,” then embed a link to it in the assignment page. After submitting your video, you will write a one-page reflection considering how and why you made the choices you made in completing the assignment.

Research Presentation—20%


  • Proposal due—1/22
  • Presentation draft due—1/31
  • Final presentation due—2/3, 2/5, or 2/7
  • Reflection due—2/10

You will research one aspect of systemic racism, such as the racial wealth gap, housing discrimination, environmental racism, banking deserts, or racial disparities in health care or education. Use the library to search for scholarly books and journal articles on your topic. You should have at least seven sources. Manage and annotate your sources with Power Notes. Distill your most important findings into a compelling five minute class presentation using all five WOVEN modes. This research will form the basis of your argument in your Digital Pamphlet.

Digital Pamphlet—20%


  • Argument draft due—2/19
  • Web site mock-up due—3/2
  • Final web site due—3/11
  • Reflection due—3/113

David Walker circulated his Appeal as a written pamphlet to reach a broad audience of enslaved and free blacks. You will create a digital pamphlet inspired by Walker for a contemporary audience. Drawing on the research you did for your presentation, you will create a web site giving an overview of the issue and presenting concrete solutions. You should employ the WOVEN modes, as well as ethos, logos, and pathos to maximize your web site’s persuasiveness. As Walker quotes from other writers, you should include relevant quotes from other course readings, hyperlinks to sources, and images that enhance your argument. While your Digital Pamphlet should be informative, its goal is not merely to inform, but to persuade the audience to take concrete action.

Mayor Ivan Allen and the Civil Rights Act—25%


  • Research report due—3/27
  • Web site mock-up due—4/3
  • Final web site due—4/15
  • Reflection due—4/17

In groups, you will create web sites exploring the responses to Mayor Allen’s testimony to the Senate in 1963 in support of the public accommodations bill that would be signed into law as the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Ivan Allen Digital Archive contains local and national correspondence to Mayor Allen in response to his public testimony. Three of the folders are labeled “Letters expressing appreciation” and two of the folders are labeled “Letters expressing dislike.” Working collaboratively, each group will analyze one of these folders, documenting the range of responses to this important historical event. You will visit the National Center for Civil and Human Rights to discover how Mayor Allen is portrayed and contrast his portrayal in the museum with the archival record.

Final Portfolio—20%

For the culminating assignment, you will submit a multimodal reflective portfolio in lieu of a final exam. For your multimodal reflective portfolio, you will select evidence from your body of work produced in the course, provide a context for this evidence, and describe the ways in which the evidence supports your argument that you have grown as a communicator. You should identify not only what you rhetorical, aesthetic, and technical choices you made, but why you made them in relation to the course outcomes. Your portfolio must include: 1) Reflective Introduction to the Portfolio: A page for a 1,200-1,800 word essay that introduces your portfolio and strategically employs multimodal elements such as images, videos, audio files, and/or links to accompany your text and demonstrate to your audience how your communication habits have evolved. 2) Artifact 0: A page for your multimodal diagnostic video, which you produced during the first week of class, along with a reflection answering the directed reflection questions about the artifact. 3) Artifacts 1-3: A page for each of three additional artifacts that together best reflect your work and development in the course, along with an introductory paragraph and short reflections (150-200 words) answering the directed reflection questions for each artifact. These artifacts should highlight your development in all WOVEN modes. Your portfolio will be due during our final exam period.