As an ELA teacher, I was always looking to strengthen my students' development of empathy, and one of the ways to do that is to draw parallels from their own lives to the very real struggles and sacrifices of others.
I thought that after reading Midnight Without a Moon and A Sky Full of Stars, by Linda Williams Jackson, Mississippi Trial's main character, Hiram Hillburn, and his story make an excellent example of white privilege when contrasted directly with Jackson's MC, Rose Lee Carter, and her decision to stay in Mississippi after Emmett Till's murder.
Hiram is white and being raised by liberal parents who rejected the Deep South and its Jim Crow ways, but he also butts heads with his father as he doesn't remember or understand the Mississippi Delta and grandfather. When Hiram was little, his father turned his back on segregated Mississippi and moved the family to integrated Phoenix, Arizona.
This is the part students in your classroom may relate to. They often don't understand why parents or grandparents do the things they do, as seen through the rose-colored lenses of youth and inexperience. It's not until those things are painfully stripped away that teens, no longer teens but young men and women, begin to understand the sacrifices their parents made, and how those sacrifices are not always as clear-cut as they'd like them to be.
Hiram gets his wish to return to the Delta and his grandfather the summer after his grandfather suffers a stroke and needs someone to help look after him. Hiram meets Emmett in a stream and is shocked to learn of the boy's murder days later.
He calls the police on a childhood schoolmate who bragged of what he'd do to Emmett, before the murder, and then disappears immediately after. Hiram's pulled into the trial of the two men arrested for Emmett's murder, and his grandfather drives him to the murder trial every day in his pickup, as Hiram's summoned to appear as a witness.
Hiram's never called to the stand to testify, but he learns something about his grandfather that he wishes he never knew -- and he elects, in the end, to leave the old man and rejoin his father and family in Phoenix, with a newfound understanding of his father's choices.
It could make for some great classroom discussions and Socratic Seminars in 8th grade, as well as compare / contrast essay writing prompt or argumentative essay writing prompt after classroom discussions.
Comparing how the two teens confront racism in the 1950s could also be a fantastic vehicle to explore questions of social justice through literature. Hiram's decision is vastly different than Rose's and involves an element of failing to do the right thing, although your students may disagree as to what the "right thing" to do was -- for either character.
As a classroom teaching unit, Mississippi Trial, 1955 has many advantages. It's an older book, published in the early 2000s, so there's plenty of FREE teaching materials provided to help you monitor your students' progress in the book (i.e. comprehension questions) and scaffold their reading, including but not limited to:
Author Chris Crowe offers a civil rights timeline, with 51 points leading up to the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., and article, "Where did Mississippi Trial, 1955" come from" . There's even a rough draft of the original first chapter (for those of you teaching ELA and that writing is a process).
There's a bunch of inexpensive TpT resources ($2-$5), as well.
Plessy v. Ferguson & the Roots of Segregation Lesson Plan
Before teaching any of the novels I've featured during Black History Month, I hope you're blessed with a Social Studies colleague across the hall who's introducing the history your students need to build background knowledge on this very important topic.
In case they're not, or if you're a Social Studies teacher looking to introduce the roots of segregation, here's an AWESOME lesson plan.
I modified the lessons and materials for my grade levels and state standards, first. I wrote to the administrators and received the editable PPT version. There is a LOT in this lesson to teach, so modify appropriately for the time you have available on your curriculum calendar and your state standards.
This is only the introduction to this unit; students later took notes, using a Guided Note Taker, and read several non-fiction excerpts and answered comprehension questions.
Introducing Jim Crow Laws Lesson Plan
1. To introduce this lesson on Jim Crow laws, students use laptop computers in a computer lab or a COW to research Jim Crow Laws in assigned states.
2. TW provide a brief explanation of Jim Crow laws. The idea is to let students discover for themselves how overarching these laws were and how they affected the lives of African Americans, so TW not go into too much detail. Anticipatory Set: Think-Pair-Share. How do you think Jim Crow Laws affected African-Americans' daily lives?
3. TW assign each student 1-2 states to research. SW find no fewer than 3 Jim Crow laws in their assigned states and write those laws, along with an icon (a train or car for laws governing transportation, a diamond ring for laws governing marriage, etc.) in a blank outline of that state.
4. SW cut out their states, and assemble the US maps on the wall, using tape. Each class period is assigned its own wall space. You will need to take down posters, etc. in preparation for this lesson.
5. TW ask students to plan a "trip" across at least seven states. TW assign each student a starting state, and give the students one of three scenarios: 1) You are a single African-American man traveling on business. 2) You are a married African-American family, with three children, going on a yearly trip to visit grandparents. 3) You are an elderly African-American woman traveling to visit her grandchildren.
6. SW use the assembled maps to plan their trips. There is a lot of up and down movement with this lesson, and let students consult and talk with each other to get tips and ideas for how to address different challenges.
7. After making a rough travel plan, and now with some idea of the difficulties they will face, SW use The Green Book, which is offered by the New York Public Library, to further research their trips, listing specific motels, train routes, etc.
8. When finished, SW turn in their travel plans.
9. SW write a one-page reflection essay in class, comparing and contrasting the trip they planned to a trip they've recently taken or to any kind of travel they've done with friend, parents, etc.