High School Unit I

Activity 2: Comparing and Contrasting Two Points of View in Newspaper Reports

Was it an “outrage” or a “rescue” when black men whisked fugitive slave Shadrach Minkins out of the federal court house in downtown Boston? Have students read two contemporary newspaper reports (Documents H-16 and H-17) and respond to the questions at the end of each account.

Discuss as a class:

  1. How objective are either of these newspaper accounts?
  2. Which specific words and phrases indicate the perspective of the paper?
  3. What do these articles tell you about newspaper coverage during this period?
  4. What do the articles tell you about how “the people of Boston” responded to the Minkins case? Is there sufficient evidence on which to base an answer?
  5. How has newspaper reporting changed since 1851?
  6. What would it take to write an unbiased account of an event such as the removal of Shadrach Minkins from the court house?
  7. Why might the “rescuers” have acted as they did? What risks did they take?
  8. Could you write an objective account of what happened at the courthouse if you had only these two accounts on which to rely?
  9. What do historians do to reconstruct an event in the distant past?
  10. Under what circumstances do you believe civil disobedience is justified? (This question also lends itself to individual writing assignments.)

As follow-up activities, students can:

  1. find out who came to the defense of Shadrach Minkins and what happened as a result of their actions.
  2. compare the newspaper reports that followed the Shadrach Minkins episode with newspaper coverage of the Anthony Burns trial.
  3. identify words and phrases that suggest bias in the headlines or text of present-day newspaper articles.

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