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The Murder of Emmett Till
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Teacher's Guide: Hints for the Active Learning Questions


1. Another way to structure this activity would be to divide the class into two groups, each of which would prepare a timeline for the 1863-1954 period; one group would include only those events that signified progress in civil rights, while the other would include only those events that signified a step backward. This activity could be used as the starting point for a discussion of how to detect overall trends -- such as the eventual defeat of segregation -- in spite of events that ran contrary to those trends.

2. You also might ask students why controversies related to history and race in the United States seem to be so common.


1. You might ask for volunteers to read their responses to the class.

2a. In Plessy v. Ferguson, the Court ruled that laws segregating blacks and whites were constitutional as long as the separate facilities were equal; the case concerned a Louisiana law that segregated seating on trains. In Brown v. Board of Education, the Court ruled that separate educational facilities were inherently unequal and that the system of segregated education was unconstitutional; the case concerned a young black girl in Topeka, Kansas, who was not allowed to attend her neighborhood's all-white school.

2b. Students should explain their views clearly and present the reasons for those views.

3a-c. Students should understand that the publicity surrounding lynching aimed at part to intimidate African Americans by showing what could happen to them if they sought to obtain equal rights (or did anything else to anger whites). In the case of Emmett Till, on the other hand, the film notes that his mother's decision to allow mourners to see his body produced the opposite effect: it greatly energized efforts to overturn segregation. The difference between the two reactions may in part reflect the fact that while racial discrimination existed both in Chicago and in the South (as well as the rest of the country), the degree of discrimination and the threat of violence were greater in the South.


1a. If the Census Bureau map is difficult to access or use, a table listing the percentage of each state that is African American can be found in the Statistical Abstract of the United States, available on the Census Bureau's Web site. This data can be used to create the map. (Note, however, that the statewide data presented in the Statistical Abstract are less effective for the purposes of this activity than the county-wide data shown in the Census Bureau map.) Both Chicago and the Mississippi Delta have relatively large concentrations of African American residents; many African Americans in Chicago today are members of families that migrated from Mississippi and other southern states.

1b. The map shows that the states with the largest concentrations of African Americans still are in the South.

2. Electoral maps can be found on the Web site of the University of Virginia library. For much of the twentieth century, the Democratic Party dominated the South, but in recent decades the Republican Party has grown much stronger in the region. You might want to precede this activity by briefly discussing with the class the Civil War-era origins of the "solid South."


1. At the close of the activity, you might ask students why so many people became sharecroppers despite the system's obvious failings. Explain that people who became sharecroppers generally had few resources and little education, and, if African American, also faced widespread racial discrimination.

2. Students should recognize that a number of factors separated poor whites and blacks, including racist attitudes, anger caused by violence and oppression, and fear of competition. Before the "interviews" are held, you might want students to read the interviews with scholars to understand race relations in the South more fully.

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