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How Jourdon Anderson Understood Justice

55 min

Guiding Questions

How can I seek justice on behalf of another person? On behalf of myself? 


  • Students will analyze justice as a virtue.  
  • Students will examine the motives of Jourdon Anderson in writing the letter to his former master.  
  • Students will evaluate the ways in which Anderson received justice for himself and for his family. 
  • Students will identify people who assisted Anderson in receiving justice for himself and for his family and how they assisted.  
  • Students will identify how students can seek justice for themselves and for other people.  

  • Justice
  • Virtuous
  • Victuals
  • Toil
  • Recompense
  • Day of reckoning


Berlin, Ira, et al. Slaves No More: Three Essays on Emancipation and the Civil War. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

Blight, David W. A Slave No More: Two Men Who Escaped to Freedom, Including Their Own Narratives of Emancipation. Reprint ed. New York: Mariner, 2009.

Post or project this definition of justice (as a civic virtue):  Standing for equally applied rules and making sure everyone obeys them. 

Ask:Have you ever wished you had said or done something in response to someone’s words or actions, but thought of just the right words or action when it was too late to do or say it? Allow time for brief discussion.

Introduce a five-minute “quick-write” using the following prompt: Describe a time you either witnessed or experienced an injustice. What happened? How did you respond? Are you satisfied with how you responded? Why or why not? 

Have students spend five minutes in a pair-share activity to briefly discuss and compare how they responded in their respective situations. Have them compare and discuss any regrets. 

Conclude the warmup by asking the whole class: In what ways does having at least one other person standing with you help you to address injustice? Why can it be helpful to have others join in addressing unjust situations? 

Transition to the Jourdan Anderson narrative and letter, telling students that, throughout the 17th and 18th century millions of people endured a lifetime of slavery in the United States. Their fate was unjust. Jourdon Anderson was a man who suffered this injustice but was able to escape. He later had the opportunity to say some things he had previously not said to his oppressor.  As you read about him, pay attention to the people along the way who stood alongside him in ways that may seem small to us now. Think about what character traits it required for Mr. Anderson to say what he did.

Conduct a whole group discussion addressing the guiding questions. Begin with the questions related to the letter.  

  1. How did Jourdon Anderson receive justice for himself and his family? 
  2. Who assisted Jourdon Anderson in receiving justice for himself and for his family? 
  3. How did they assist Jourdon?  

Using the example of Jourdon Anderson, discuss: How can I seek justice on behalf of another person? On behalf of myself?  

Justice Worksheet writing prompt: Think about what a just society looks like. Is a just society one where the laws treat everyone the same, or one where the laws treat people differently? Explain. 

Include this additional option for the writing promptDo we live in a just society? How does the Constitution contribute to justice in our society? How could it be amended to better serve justice?  

This lesson can be expanded for a second day to include the writing and discussion of the justice worksheet.  

Option 1: Assign the justice worksheet as homework and use the full class period to hold small group Socratic discussions followed by a whole group debrief.  

Small Group Socratic (25 minutes) 

  • Divide the class into groups of 4-6 students.  
  • Assign one student per group as leader, who will monitor the discussion and keep track of participation by group members.  
  • Provide 25 minutes for students to discuss the question from the justice worksheet: Do we live in a just society? How does the Constitution contribute to justice in our society? How could it be amended to better serve justice? 

Large Group Debrief (20 minutes)  

  • Discuss each part of the questions from the Justice worksheet with the whole class. 
  1. Do we live in a just society? 
  2. How does the Constitution contribute to justice in our society? 
  3. How could the Constitution be amended to better serve justice? 
  • Number group members off 1-6 depending on the size of the group 
  • Randomly select a group member by rolling a die 
  • Each group member with the selected number will stand or move to the front of the classroom.  
  • Each member will report what their small group discussed.  
  • Open the question to the whole class to permit students to add any important ideas that have not been mentioned.   
  • Repeat for each part of the question selecting a different group member for each part.  

Option 2: Assign the justice worksheet for the first half of class on day two and complete the day with a small group Socratic discussion.   

Option 3: Use Virtue in Action page for additional follow-up activities.

Student Handouts

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