My Furthest Back Person by Alex Haley

Lesson Plan

Alex Haley

(Alex Haley)
Created by Kara Herriage

Core theme to which lesson relates:

Peopling the New World: African American History

Grade Level:


Estimated Duration of Lesson:

Three 52-minute periods

The content standard or standards that the lesson fulfills:

Theme: World Studies from 750 BC to 1600 AD: Ancient Greece to the First Global Age
Strand: History
Topic: First Global Age
Content Standard:  9. The advent of the trans-Saharan slave trade had profound effects on both West and Central Africa and the receiving societies.

The Primary Source Used:

1. “My Furthest Back Person” by Alex Haley as found in Prentice Hall Literature Book- Bronze Level.  (Copyright 2002 by Pearson Education, Inc., Upper Saddle River, NJ 07458.  ISBN 0-13-054787-5)
2. “Timbuktu” DVD from the History Channel’s Digging for the Truth series.

A summary of the lesson:

  • The students will read “My Furthest Back Person” by Alex Haley. They will interact with this autobiography by filling out a document analysis worksheet after reading it. They will also watch the documentary “Timbuktu” and answer some questions about the movie.  Both autobiography and documentary feature African griots, and the students will evaluate the importance of Africa’s oral history based upon the experiences that Alex Haley and the host on “Digging for the Truth” have with African griots.  
  • I expect students to discover through this activity the importance, accuracy, and usefulness of African oral history. The griots in each primary source provide the author/host with valuable information that they could not have gotten elsewhere. I would also like them to discover that African griots serve multiple purposes- they can help someone on a personal level with a particular ancestor, and they can help people discover information on a larger societal level.

Descriptions of the instructional steps to implement the lesson:

  • In the Language Arts book, the students and teacher will read “My Furthest Back Person.”  In it, the author writes about his ancestors talking about “The African,” who had been taken from his home while chopping wood to make a drum.  They spoke of words that the African had spoken from his native language and what they meant.  This led the author to question a linguist, who explained to him that the words were an African tribal dialect. Haley went on a search for answers about the African in Gambia. There, he met a griot who sang and chanted the history of the Kinte tribe, which included a tale of Kunta Kinte, who had been kidnapped while chopping wood to build a drum. The griot provided Haley with an oral history version of his furthest-back ancestor.
  • The students will fill out a   about the reading of “My Furthest Back Person.”
  • The students will watch the DVD documentary “Timbuktu.” In it, the series host goes to Timbuktu in order to discover the history of Mali’s empire and riches. The host meets with a griot, who tells him of the period of Mansa Musa, who was a Mali Emperor who squandered Mali’s weath on a journey to Mecca. The griot reports that even today, the people of Timbuktu will not speak the name of Mansa Musa because they believe it is his fault that they are one of the world’s poorest countries today.
  • Following the DVD, the teacher will facilitate a class discussion about what the host of the show learned from his time in Timbuktu.
  • After reading the autobiography and watching the DVD, the students will complete   about the role of the griot in African society.

Worksheets or other materials for using the primary source:

The students will use the document analysis worksheet attached.

List any materials needed by teachers:

List any materials needed by students:

  • A Language Arts book for “My Furthest Back Person”
  • Copy of the Document Analysis Worksheet
  • Copy of the compare/contrast homework
  • Writing utensil