The Fight for Justice: Mumbet’s Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution
A story from Day Two of Black Lives Matter Week of Action in Schools.
Kenmore Middle School educator, Dr. Tiffany Mitchell, started her class today by asking her students to share what they know about the Black Lives Matter movement. Student responses included, “people marching and saying Black Lives Matter in response to police brutality,” and “football players taking a knee during the national anthem as a form of protest.”
One student said they have heard the phrase All Lives Matter in connection with Black Lives Matter. Dr. Mitchell responded by telling students that some people are opposed to the Black Lives Matter movement because there is an assumption that Black Lives Matter does not care about other causes. The Black Lives Matter movement, she shared, “has supported other causes such as the Dakota Access Pipeline movement.”
Even more, Dr. Mitchell pointed out, “the Black Lives Matter movement is not saying all lives don’t matter but in our country right now Black People face a lot of racism, discrimination and are being killed as a result of police brutality. Black Lives Matter is trying to call attention to these injustices.”
As part of the Black Lives Matter Week of Action in Schools, Dr. Mitchell read Mumbet's Declaration of Independence to her students as an introduction to a lesson on the constitution. Mumbet’s is a story of an enslaved woman who resides in Massachusetts and overhears the words “All men are born free and equal” during a town hall meeting about the constitution. Mumbet becomes inspired to fight for her freedom and convinces a lawyer to help her gain her freedom using language from the constitution to secure her liberty.
During the read aloud Dr. Mitchell stopped intermittently to have students reflect on the emotional impact enslavement had on the people who were enslaved. At the beginning of the read aloud she asked students, “Why didn’t Mumbet have a last name?” One student pointed out that enslaved people sometimes had the last names of their owner. While another student shared that enslaved people were not viewed as humans and were considered property.
Dr. Mitchell used this time to point out the inhumanity of slavery. It was a system that considered a person an object that was owned rather than a human being. In another instance, she had students stop and reflect on a scene in which the colonists were complaining about British taxes. One student shared, “They are talking about freedom and feeling like the British might make them slaves at the same time Mumbet who is enslaved is behind them, that’s not right.” During this conversation, students were making connections between what they had previously learned about the Revolutionary War and pointed out the unjust nature of a war for freedom that excluded people, like Mumbet, who were denied their freedom because they were enslaved.
Following the read aloud, Dr. Mitchell had the students analyze the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution. She had students stop and reflect on the words “we the people” by asking students, “Who weren’t they talking about here?” Several students responded, “enslaved blacks” and “women.” One student responded, “I think they were talking about white men.”
Dr. Mitchell also had the class analyze the word “justice.” Then she connected the discussion back to Mumbet’s story by asking the students, “How did Mumbet use the language in the constitution to get her justice?” Dr. Mitchell then ended this part of the discussion by stating, “In history, there are many instances when people used the language of the constitution to get their justice.”
She had students then reflect on issues they cared about which they could then use the constitution to address this issue and fight for justice. The classroom buzzed with conversation as students pointed out that the constitution could be used to fight for justice as it related to issues of sexual harassment, deportation, the Muslim ban, health care, police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement.