Magazine article The Elementary STEM Journal

Hands through History

Magazine article The Elementary STEM Journal

Hands through History

Article excerpt

hands through history These Hands Mason, Margaret H. Illustrated by Floyd Cooper New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children. (201 1] ISBN: 978-0-547-21566-2


Joseph's grandfather introduces Joseph to a different world by showing him all the amazing things his hands can do and have done throughout his lifetime. Yet, despite all the wonderful things he learns about his grandfather and his numerous skills, Joseph also learns that in times of segregation, his grandfather was limited in what jobs he could do at the factory where he worked. These Hands is a powerful story about how hard work and perseverance can overcome prejudice.

student introduction

Joseph learns many things from his kind and caring grandfather, such as how to tie his shoes, hit a ball, play a piano, and do card tricks. However, Joseph also learns that his grandpa was never allowed to be a baker in the factory where he worked.

A Note From the Author

Retrieved online from com/dp/0547215665/ref=rdr ext tmb

Not so long ago, during the 1950s and early 1960s, African-American workers at the Wonder Bread, Awrey, and Tastee bakery factories were allowed to sweep the floors, load the trucks, and fix the machines - but they were not allowed to work as bread dough mixers or bread dough handlers.

I learned this history from Joe Barnett, an old friend and leader of one of the bakery labor unions, which are groups of workers that join together to fight for fair treatment in their jobs. Joe told me the story one evening as we were driving to a Detroit Pistons basketball game, and I can still picture his hands gesturing and trembling in the crisscrossing glow of headlights. My husband, who is a labor union attorney, has also heard bakery union members talk many times over the years about these "unwritten rules" for African-American workers.

A lot of what we know about how people were treated in the past comes through the retelling of stories like Joe's, or "oral history." Fellow Michigan author Jean Alicia Elster remembers her mother telling her that African-American women were not allowed to try on the hats in Hudson's department store. The father of the first African-American governor of New York, David Paterson, remembers being paid by the people he worked for to not attend holiday parties In the 1940s.

This history is shocking today to many people. But back in the 1940s and 1950s, it wasn't news; it was just how things were. In fact, newspaper ads for jobs back then often mentioned "white only" or "no colored." Deciding what jobs people could do based on their skin color was not against the law until the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964. Before then, people may have thought such behavior was wrong, but they couldn't force other people to change.

One day in 2006, a few years after Joe died, I was watching my daughter play the violin and thinking about hands. I thought of Joe's hands, and also of his heart. And I wrote down his story.

Margaret H. Mason

design brief

Suggested Grade Levels: K-3

Ages: Ages 5-8

Read These Hands as a class and brainstorm together about your favorite relatives, family stories, favorite foods, or dishes. Then research different historical periods or cultures online. Using your research, create your own multimedia presentation about a chosen time period or culture. Share your presentations with the class.

Enrichment: Create posters or a bulletin board featuring your students' research, pictures, timelines, etc.

materials needed

* Digital camera

* Software to download, edit, share multimedia presentations

* Access to the Internet

* Printer

* Paper (copier paper, construction paper, or heavyweight watercolor paper)

* Colored pencils

* Markers

* Watercolor Paints

* Paintbrushes

* Projector

* Framing or matting materials (cardboard, wood, glue, staples, matt board, etc. …

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