Teaching Cleveland
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Middle School Edition: 6-8

Lesson 40

A Study of the African-American Community in Cleveland in the 1940s Through the Photographs of Allen E. Cole


To familiarize students with the African-American Community in Cleveland in the 1940s through the study of a collection of Cole's photographs from the time period. Students will learn how to analyze a photograph for content and historical analysis.



  1. What was life like in Cleveland during the 1940s for African-Americans?
  2. What information can you discover about a community through photographs?


  1. Survey students about their personal photograph collections. What types of pictures do they keep in photograph albums? When do they take pictures? At what special occasions do they take pictures? When they look at pictures what do they look for first? What kind of information can you gain from a photograph?
  2. Distribute a photograph to each student, face down, and caution them to not turn the picture over until they are told to do so. When directed, students should turn the photograph over and study it carefully for 60 seconds. When you announce that their time is up, tell them to now turn the picture over and they are to write on a piece of paper all that they saw in the picture. This is an independent activity and they should not be sharing their information with other students. After a few minutes, have students turn to the student sitting next to them and share what they remembered about the photograph. They are to compare answers. After a few minutes, have students look back at the photograph and see how much they remembered, or missed. (This activity can also be done as a whole class activity with one photograph reproduced on a transparency. The student activity directions would be the same except that you will control the viewing of the photograph.)
  3. Next, share with students the information about the photographer Allen E. Cole, and explain to them that they will have the opportunity to view some of the photographs from his collection. After viewing these photographs, they will be asked to answer some questions about Cleveland in the 1940s.
  4. Divide students into cooperative groups. Distribute a packet of photographs to each group, a Photograph Analysis Worksheet for each photograph and a blank sheet of paper for each photograph. Direct students to analyze the photographs according to the directions on the analysis sheet. They are to complete an analysis sheet for each photograph.
  5. After groups have had time to analyze their photographs, have them share the photos from their packets with the rest of the class, including what they think these photos tell them about life in the African-American community in Cleveland in the 1940s. Be certain to record the information on the board, creating a data-base of information about the African-American community.
  6. When all the information has been shared and a data-base had been completed, each group will create a collage depicting life in the African-American community in the 1940s. Encourage students to be creative and to use pictures, symbols, and words in creations. When all groups have completed their collages, create a "collage wall" with all of the collages or create a mural with them by taping them to one long sheet of bulletin board paper and display in the hall.
  7. An additional activity would be to create their own "collection" of photographs representing their classroom. A school camera or an inexpensive disposable camera could be used for this activity.

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