Fences: Facing Obstacles On and Off the Diamond

Research Scenario


negro baseball league logo

August Wilson's play Fences is set in urban America in 1957. Since the end of the Civil War and Reconstruction, African Americans and whites had been segregated in many arenas of life: on buses, in schools, and even on baseball fields.Troy Maxson, the protagonist in the play, defines himself by his experience as a former Negro League baseball player. Troy views life and the world entirely through the lens of that past experience. His preoccupation with the obstacles or "fences" that black baseball players faced on and off of the field are a catalyst for his actions and his feelings towards himself, his family, and his society. In order to fully understand Troy Maxson's character, you and your classmates will research the lives and times of black baseball players in the Negro Leagues. This background knowledge will enable you to answer the essential question in preparation for reading the play Fences.

How did the "fences" faced by Negro League baseball players reflect the social, political, and economic conditions in America at the time?

Before you begin your research, your teacher may have you view the Safari Montage Video Racing for Home: The Jackie Robinson Story or the BrainPop video Jackie Robinson to introduce the player who broke the color barrier and began the integration of Major League Baseball in 1947.

Task and Product


negro baseball heros

Your task is to work with a small group of classmates to gather information about one of the following aspects of Negro League baseball history. You will then use your findings and a technology tool of your choice to create an informative presentation and share your new knowledge with the class.

Group Research Topics & Products
Technology Tools*

History of the Negro Leagues

Explore inter-relationships between key events in the history of segregation, baseball, and the Negro Leagues to create a timeline with visuals.

Use Time Toast or Timeline to create an interactive timeline including text, pictures and/or video.

Life in the Negro Leagues

Describe in vivid detail what the life of a typical Negro League basball player was really like by creating a multimedia poster, presentation, video or display.

Use Discovery Ed Board Builder to create an interactive multimedia poster.

Use Animoto, Photo Story 3 for Windows, or Windows MovieMaker to create a video.

Use Microsoft Publisher to create a poster or baseball card.

Use Cube Creator to create a biography about a player.

Use another tool approved by your teacher to demonstrate your knowledge.

Teams in the Negro Leagues

Profile one of these Negro League teams (or another team of your choice) to create a poster, presentation, video or display: the Pittsburgh Crawfords, Homestead Grays, Baltimore Black Sox, or Baltimore Elite Giants.

Players and Leaders in the Negro Leagues

Profile one of these Negro League players, managers, or owners (or another player or leader of your choice) to create a poster, presentation, video, display, or baseball card: Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, "Cool Papa" Bell, Hank Aaron, Buck O'Neil, Jud Wilson, Cumberland Posey, Rube Foster.

Teacher notes:

* Teacher and/or individual student registration (free) may be required for Web 2.0 tools.

To facilitate the collaborative nature of this project, consider creating a project-based wiki or using another collaborative Web 2.0 tool (VoiceThread, MindMeister, Groupsite.com, etc.) for students to use as a workspace. For further help or suggestions, consult with your Library Media Specialist or visit The BCPS ODL Toolbox. See the Sidebar for directions/tutorials.



The following scoring tools may be used or adapted by your teacher to evaluate your research process, product/presentation, and reflection.



negro baseball league team

Essential Questions:

How did the "fences" faced by Negro League baseball players reflect the social, political, and economic conditions in America at the time?

Focus Questions:

  1. What laws and court decisions sanctioned segregation in American society? (Plessy vs. Ferguson, Jim Crow laws, etc.) How did these affect professional baseball? Why didn't blacks play on Major League baseball teams before 1947? How and when did professional baseball become integrated?
  2. What was life really like for black baseball players in the Negro Leagues? (travel and playing conditions, opportunities after baseball, etc.) What was "barnstorming"? What were the negative and positive aspects of life as a Negro League player?
  3. How were the Negro Leagues organized? What were the major teams? Where and how often did these teams train and play? How were Negro League teams important to their local communities?
  4. Who were some of the Negro Leagues' star players? How did their talents and career accomplishments compare to those of star players in the Major Leagues? What character traits helped these players to overcome the "fences" or obstacles they faced?
Gather and Sort


Use the Student Resources page to gather information about your topic from a variety of sources.

Take notes using Cornell notes, note cards, a graphic organizer, an online note-taking utility like Note Star, the notes cards available in EasyBib, or Inspiration software, as directed by your teacher.

Paraphrase and quote information taken from sources and cite your sources in a Bibliography to avoid plagiarism. You may use an online citation generator like EasyBib to format your sources for a Bibliography.





computer lab



Collaborate with your group members to analyze your research notes and evaluate the effectiveness of your research for the task: 

  • Have you gathered sufficient details about your topic to answer your focus questions?
  • Are your details organized in a logical sequence, categories or sub-topics?
  • Which facts are the most compelling and will help you and your classmates to answer the Essential Question?
  • Do you have the necessary media to create your project? (pictures, video clips, sound/music files, etc.)

Synthesize your research findings by using one of the technology tools listed for your topic in the Task and Product step (or another tool from this resource wiki) to design an informative presentation and share your learning and insights with the class. Use the directions and tutorials below as needed for your chosen format.

Digital Tools

Directions and Tutorials

Time Toast interactive timeline


Animoto video

Discovery Ed Board Builder

Cube Creator

Time Toast Tutorial

Timeline Instructions

About Animoto

Board Builder Tutorial

Cube Creator Instructions

Software Tools
Directions and Tutorials
PhotoStory video
PowerPoint presentation
Microsoft Publisher poster or baseball card
PhotoStory Tutorial
PowerPoint Tutorial
  • Use the Research Project/Presentation scoring tool sheet to self-assess your own group's project.
  • Research projects may be displayed in the classroom or uploaded to a class wiki for reference during your reading of the play Fences.

student presentation



Fences book cover






Each group will share their research project with the class (face to face or online).

  • As you read/listen to/view each group's presentation, use this Main Idea chart to summarize the main idea and some supporting details/examples about the topic.
  • Your teacher may also have you use the Research Project/Presentation scoring tool sheet to peer-assess another group's project.

Pre-reading Predictions:
The play Fences is set in 1957 and the fictional protagonist, Troy Maxson, is a former Negro League baseball player now in his fifties. In the play, Troy often recalls and comments about his memories of that experience. Use your new knowledge about the lives and times of Negro League players to make some predictions about Troy's character. Support your predictions with details/examples from your own group's research and other groups' presentations.

  • How will Troy feel about his past experience as a Negro League player? Proud, nostalgic, bitter, angry?
  • How might Troy react to these events in the play Fences?
    • Jackie Robinson breaking the "color line" to become a Major League Baseball player in 1947 (and other black players joining the Major Leagues in subsequent years).
    • Troy's son Cory being recruited for the football team at a racially-integrated college.

Your teacher may have you share your predictions in a class or small group discussion, post them on a classroom bulletin board, or post them electronically on a Padlet Wall (see Padlet Junction for directions)

Use your new knowledge about the Negro League players and their experiences to write an essay which answers the following reflection questions. Use details and examples from your own research and other groups' research presentations to support your response.

  1. What "fences" do you face in your own life?
  2. What traits might help you to overcome the "fences" in your own life? How will these traits help you?
  3. What will you do to foster these traits within yourself?

Your written response may be assessed using this scoring tool.  

As you read the play Fences:

  • Use your background knowledge to explain how the social, political, and economic tensions of the times are reflected in Troy’s relationship with himself and others.
  • Confirm or refute the predictions you made about Troy's character.