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Civil War & Slavery: Iowa

Lesson Plan Item

General Information
Grade 10th Grade, 11th Grade, 12th Grade Class N/A Length of Lesson 90 minutes
Lesson Title Civil War & Slavery: Iowa
Unit Title
Unit Compelling Question How did African Americans impact early US History, specifically the Civil War?
Historical Context:

This flag, in the collection of the State Historical Society of Iowa, was used by the the 1st Colored Regiment of Iowa during the Civil War. Alexander Clark, a resident of Muscatine, Iowa, helped organize this regiment.

When the Civil War began, Clark helped to recruit the "60th Iowa Colored Troops" also known as the Iowa 1st Infantry. By the end of the war, nearly 1,000 African-American from Iowa and Missouri had served. Clark himself enlisted when he was 37, and was appointed as sergeant-major but could not fight due to a physical defect in his ankle.


Alexander Clark was born free in Pennsylvania in 1826 and moved to Muscatine from Cincinnati at the age of 16 to work as a barber. Once settled, he opened a business selling firewood to Mississippi River steamboats and thereby amassed considerable wealth. He also became an entrepreneur in local real estate. In 1850, he helped to organize the African Methodist Episcopal church in Muscatine and served as an officer there for 25 years. In 1865, he helped organize the Grand Lodge of Missouri, Prince Hall Masons, and served as Grand Master. Later, in 1884, he organized the Hiram Grand Lodge in Iowa and also served as Grand Master. In 1868, Clark was appointed chairman of a "colored mans" committee to rewrite the Iowa State constitution, eliminating the word "white" from the document, and thereby granting political equality to Iowans two years before the ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Clark is notable in Iowa history for other things, too. He sued the Muscatine school board on behalf of his daughter, Susan, in a landmark case that outlawed school segregation in Iowa. His son, Alexander Jr., became the first black graduate of the University of Iowa law school in 1879. Alexander Sr. became the second black graduate of the law school in 1884 at the age of 58. Clark was also active in Republican politics and was called "the Colored Orator of the West" for his speeches on the right of suffrage.

In 1890, President Benjamin Harrison offered Clark the opportunity to become the first United States ambassador to the nation of Liberia at an annual salary of $4,000. Clark died of fever in Liberia in 1891.


~ Teaching Iowa History Team




Race and policy in Iowa 1839-1876

Iowa’s attitudes towards race underwent a radical transformation between its admission to the Union in 1846 to the end of Reconstruction in 1876. Iowa went from one of the most racist and prejudiced states in the North to one that seemed to embrace egalitarianism.  The change was the result of advocacy by white reformers and pressure from African Americans who used the courts and political action to demand equal rights under the law.

In Iowa, the earliest white settlers came from states where slavery was legal.  They controlled the legislature where they passed laws, called Black Codes, that denied African Americans the right to vote, jury duty, and access to public schools.  For a time it was illegal for blacks to enter the state.  At the same time Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850 which allowed bounty hunters to enter Iowa in search of runaway slaves.  In 1857 pro-slavery advocates successfully defeated a statewide referendum to extend voting rights to black men.

In the 1850s the abolition movement began to take hold.  The territorial Supreme Court Case of Ralph in 1839 allowed that a slave who entered a free state had a right to his freedom.  In 1843 an Anti-Slavery Society was organized by Quakers and other denominations. They participated in the Underground Railroad and aided John Brown as he recruited support on his way to Kansas.  Iowa abolitionists abandoned the Free Soil Party to flock to the new Republican Party that sought to limit the expansion of slavery into Iowa and oppose secession.  When the Civil War broke out, over 80,000 Iowans volunteered to fight to preserve the Union in face of the Confederate secession that endangered the nation. Letters and reports from Iowa troops described the horrible condition of African Americans in the South under slavery. This encouraged Iowans to follow the leadership of Abraham Lincoln and the Republicans in calling for emancipation. 

African Americans in Iowa played an important role in the war.   In 1863 Alexander Clark, Muscatine businessman and African American leader, organized the 60th Iowa Colored Infantry Regiment which drew volunteers from Iowa and Missouri. Their military service was mostly in Arkansas where they saw some combat and displayed bravery in action,  but mostly the 60th Iowa defended river ports.   After the war, the African American community turned to the courts to demand the rights they had fought for. Clark successfully sued to have his daughter accepted in public school and Emma Coger won a lawsuit against a riverboat company that denied her access to public transportation. The most important initiative was the public referendum that removed the word white from the state constitution, giving black men the right to vote. This reform, one of the first of its kind in the nation and enacted before the federal 15th amendment, gave Iowa the name “Bright Radical Star” for its progressive racial policies. But while these actions transformed the legal structure, they did not necessarily change the personal prejudices and segregationist attitudes that many Iowans continued to practice.


~ Dr. Robert Neymeyer, University of Northern Iowa
Lesson Supporting Question
Lesson Overview

This lesson is incorporated into a Slavery/Civil War Unit. It is designed to be taught after lessons on American slavery. It focuses on the Civil War in Iowa, particularly African American soldiers involvement.  

Primary Sources Used
Resources Needed











File lesson_overview_presentation.pptx, File unit_concept_map.docx
Lesson Target
  • Students will understand that slavery was a major influencer of the Civil War.
  • Students will understand that northern states were free and southern states had slavery.
  • Students will understand that southern states left the union (secession).
  • Students will understand that some states that stayed in the union were slave states.
  • Students will understand that African Americans in Iowa (northern free state) were soldiers in the Civil War.
Lesson Themes African American Experience, Civil War
Lesson Procedure
Step Procedure Time Differentiation plan / Additional Information

Quote Bell Ringer- “Once let the black man get upon his person the brass letter, U.S., let him get an eagle on his button, and a musket on his shoulder and bullets in his pocket, there is no power on earth that can deny that he has earned the right to citizenship.”- Frederick Douglas


As students are walking into class, remind them to pick up a quote bell ringer worksheet (1 per group). Once bell has rung they have 2 minutes to complete. After 2 minutes are up, we will have a short class discussion/share out of what they wrote. Students should leave these at their desk when they leave at the end of class so teacher can pick them up.


Atlas of the Civil War p. 22 & 23-  Have these pages on overhead/Elmo. Hand out student notes handout. This will be filled out throughout class, students will hand this in after they have completed the ½ page journal entry. (see assessments) They are advised to use this handout for their journal entry. They will get these back to study.


Atlas of the Civil War p 18- (have passage on overhead/Elmo) read text under “Prelude to War A Nation Divided” aloud. Have three student volunteers read a paragraph each.


After paragraph 1:  Although previous lessons have been about slavery, reiterate that the North states were free, and the South allowed slavery. “A more perfect Union”- United States= Union, words are in constitution. Remind students of the 3/5th law (enslaved African Americans were counted as 3/5th of a person in the census, this gave an advantage to the southern states because it increased their population, which increased their members in Congress)

After paragraph 3: What is secede? (separate, rebel, revolt): southern states seceded from the Union.


Civil War and Iowa PowerPoint

Slide one:President Abraham Lincoln called for men to enlist in the army from the northern states (Iowa) for 90 days- no one thought it would be a long war. There were no battles fought in Iowa between the North and South- explain the northern states are the Union and the southern states (that seceded are the Confederacy. African American soldiers- There was a Federal Law dating back to 1792 that restricted African Americans from bearing arms in the US Army, The Lincoln Administration was weary because they did not want to lose the loyalty of the border states (slave states that stayed in the union) but eventually needed more soldiers to the government reconsidered

Video- Alexander Clark Organized African Americans in Iowa to Fight in the Civil War

Slide two: 1st Colored Regiment of Iowa during the Civil War. They were of African descent (free slaves). They volunteered for this regiment. Total men in the regiment was 1153 men. Because of the prejudice, black units were not used in combat as extensively as white regiments. Flag- this was the flag used by the 1st Colored Regiment of Iowa in the Civil War. Class discussion: how is this flag different than todays?

Slide three: Quote from bell ringer. Connect lesson back to it- Frederick Douglass was talking about African Americans fighting in the war, and then getting there freedom because of it. Get back with your partner from the beginning of class, on the back of Quote Bell Ringer worksheet, have students write a bullet point list of 3 things they learned during the lesson. (remind them to leave this paper on their desk)

Slide four: Assignment (½ page journal entry, prompt=answer lesson essential question)

Formative Assessment
(How will you use the formative assessments to monitor and inform instruction?)
  • Self assessment: exit ticket- 3 things you learned today.
Summative Assessment
(How does the lesson connect to planned summative assessment(s)?)
  • Performance Task: ½ Page Journal Entry, prompt- answer the essential question Goal: To have students understand how African Americans were involved in the Civil War. Role: The students will take on the role of listener, historian analyzer and writer Audience: Teacher Situation: Students will take information they have collected from class to answer the lesson essential question. Product: Students will write their answer to the lesson essential question in a ½ page journal entry.
Author Information
Author Patricia Brandt Reviewer Dr. Lisa Millsaps, University of Northern Iowa Created 03/27/2019 Last Edited 08/22/2019
Lesson Plan Development Notes: Teaching Methods, University of Northern Iowa, Fall 2018

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