Teaching Cleveland
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High School Edition: 9-12

Lesson 6

Cleveland's Response to the Slavery Issue


To provide students with an example of how Cleveland responded to the issue of slavery. To introduce students to a prominent member of the Cleveland African-American community and his recollection of a runaway slave case in Cleveland.



abolitionist, Ohio's black laws, fugitive, warrant


  1. How did Clevelanders respond to the slavery issue?
  2. What role did Cleveland and its citizens play in the case of the runaway slaves Alexander Williams and John Houston?


  1. Ask students to define abolitionism and place into historical context.
  2. Distribute copies of the newspaper ads from Cleveland papers in the 1840s. What might these ads suggest about Cleveland and the abolitionist movement?
  3. Have students research John Malvin or read the short biography of Malvin provided in the lesson plan. Ask students to explain why they think John Malvin was an important Cleveland citizen during the 19th Century. (answers should reflect Malvin's active role in the African-American community and his work for equality)
  4. Distribute or read to students the excerpt from Malvin's autobiography of the runaway incident in Cleveland in the 1840s and discuss. What did Malvin and others do to help the runaways? Why do you think Malvin decided to help Williams escape at the end?

Suggested Activities:

  • Have students re-enact the incident. Using Malvin's recollection and the Character List, have students write a script, assign parts and act out the play.
  • Students can become newspaper reporters and write a newspaper article about the runaway incident.
  • Students can write an editorial for a newspaper about the incident.
  • Have students write an opinion paper on Malvin's decision to helpWilliams escape before the trial.
  • Students could research other abolitionist activities including the Oberlin-Wellington Rescue of 1856, and the Lucy Bagby case in Cleveland in 1861.

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