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        9-12

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        Domestic Terror: Understanding Lynching During the Jim Crow Era

        This lesson exposes the crime of lynching and explores the many political, legal and social attempts made by individuals and organizations to seek justice. They will learn about the racial violence that occured and its impact on the country. 

        Lesson Summary

        Overview

        This unit explores lynching during the Jim Crow era, focusing on the ways information was gathered and disseminated to educate people about lynching and to advocate for federal laws prohibiting its practice. Students use statistical information as well as historical documents to research the conditions surrounding the crime of lynching. As a culminating activity, students look at lynching within the context of individual accounts and personal stories.

        Objectives

        Students will:

        • recount how racial violence was employed against African Americans during the Jim Crow era;
        • evaluate statistical and textual information for evidence of racial violence;
        • understand the response of the African American community to racial violence.

        Grade Level:

        9-12

        Suggested Time

        Four 45-minute class periods 

        Media Resources

        Ida B. Wells: A Lifetime of Activism Video

        Walter White: Reporting the Crime Video

        Materials

        For individual students or groups (print copies):

        Lynch Law in Georgia by Ida B. Wells-Barnett

        The Tragedy of the Negro in America by Thomas Stanford

        Web Sites

        A Century of Segregation Timeline

        Lynching in America: Statistics, Information, Images

        This web page is a part of Professor Doug Linder's "Famous Trials" Web site. Dr. Linder is a Professor of Law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City Law School.

        Lynchings: By State and Race, 1882-1968

        Lynchings: By Year and Race

        Causes Of Lynchings, 1882-1968

        Lynch Law in Georgia by Ida B. Wells-Barnett

        The pamphlet consists of: 1) an introductory preface by Ida B Wells; 2) a description of a lynching in Palmetto, Georgia, mainly taken from coverage in the local press; 3) a description of the lynching of Sam Wilkes and the Reverend Elijah Strickland, also from reporting in the local press; and 4) the report of a Chicago detective who was sent to Georgia to investigate the matter. The lynchings took place within a few miles of each other during the course of a few weeks in April and May, 1899.

        The Tragedy of the Negro in America by Thomas Stanford

        The Tragedy of the Negro in America was written by the Reverend P. Thomas Stanford, the pastor of a church in Birmingham, England. Stanford, himself black, visited America in the mid-1890s to investigate the condition of American blacks, "in the hope of helping create a strong, healthy public opinion that will make it impossible for outrages and lynchings to be much longer continued."

        Before The Lesson

        • To make the best use of class time, you may want to have your students read Lynch Law in Georgia as a homework assignment.
        • Copy and paste pages 140 to 165 of The Tragedy of the Negro in America into a word processing program and print each of the 18 lynchings described on separate sheets of paper. (Most of the descriptions are a single paragraph in length, although one or two include newspaper accounts that are two or three pages in length. You may elect not to use the lengthier accounts.) Print enough copies to ensure that each student has a copy of one account.

        The Lesson

        Introduction

        One 45-minute class period

        1. Ask your students to define lynching. How, for example, does it differ from murder? Are lynchings by definition racially motivated? Are victims necessarily African American? In your students' opinions, what circumstances must have occurred before they would consider a specific crime to be a lynching? As your students discuss the matter, list on the blackboard the criteria they consider crucial to defining the term.

        2. Present students with the following four-point definition that the NAACP often used for determining whether a specific incident should be categorized as a lynching. (You may want to post this on the board beforehand, but keep it covered until this point in the lesson.)

        • There must be evidence that someone was killed
        • The killing must have occurred illegally
        • Three or more persons must have taken part in the killing
        • The killers must have claimed to be serving justice or tradition

        3. Pose the following questions to your students:

        • How does this definition compare to the set of criteria the students have put forward?
        • Why do you think the NAACP would have set forth this set of criteria to define lynching?
        • In what way(s) is/are the NAACP definition more expansive than the definition established by the class (i.e., would this definition include incidents that your students' definition would not consider lynchings)?
        • In what way(s) is/are the students' definition more expansive?

        4. Tell students they are going to see a video about an NAACP reporter who investigated the crime of lynching under unusual circumstances. As they watch the video, ask students to consider the NAACP's definition of lynching as it relates specifically to Walter White and his role in the investigation. Play Walter White: Reporting the Crime.

        7. Discuss the video. Ask students what this exercise suggests regarding the challenge of compiling statistical information relating to lynching.

        Learning Activity

        One 45-minute class period

        1. Print the following pages:

        Make enough copies for each student or if you prefer, for each group. (Students can be divided into small groups of three or four for this exercise). You will also want to refer students to the Century of Segregation Timeline on The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow website.

        2. Distribute the handouts and have the students study them in small groups. Give them a few minutes to look over and discuss these statistics.

        3. Ask students to refer to the first set of statistics: Lynchings: By State and Race, 1882-1968.

        • According to the table, in which states have the greatest number of lynchings of black people taken place?
        • Which areas of the country had the fewest lynchings of black people?
        • In which states were the number of lynchings of whites greatest?
        • What factors might have accounted for the lynching of whites in these states?
        • Which areas of the country had the fewest lynchings of white people?

        4. Now have your students consider the next set of statistics: Lynchings: By Year and Race.

        • In what periods were there increased numbers of recorded lynchings of black people?
        • Referring to the Century of Segregation Timeline, what explanations might there be for the high number of lynchings of black people during certain periods of time?
        • During what years were there higher recorded numbers of white people lynched?
        • What factors might have accounted for the high number of white lynchings?

        5. Refer your students to the third set of statistics: Causes Of Lynchings, 1882-1968.

        • Does the information in this table include both white and black victims of lynching? How do you know this?
        • How reliable is this table as an indication of the actual guilt or innocence of lynching victims?

        6. The following questions should be considered by way of concluding the learning activity:

        • Why were statistics of this sort compiled by anti-lynching advocates?
        • How might these statistics have been used to push for federal anti-lynching legislation?
        • What information do these statistics fail to convey?
        • Who compiled these statistics? Why is it important to know the source of this information?

        Culminating Activity

        Up to two 45-minute class periods

           "We must first give statistics, which are horrible enough, and then a few    details, which are more horrible." P. Thomas Stanford, The Tragedy of the    Negro in America (Boston, 1897), p. 137.

        1. Explain to students that African American writers and journalists and the organizations and news publications they worked for tried to give issues like lynching the coverage they deserved. Lynching and other acts of violence towards African Americans, especially those living in the South, were seldom treated in the white National press. The reporting of lynchings in the white Southern press was generally biased and sometimes advocated violence towards African Americans.

        2. Tell students that this part of the lesson investigates the coverage of lynching in the works of two black writers. Ida B. Wells-Barnett was an energetic journalist and anti-lynching activist. The pamphlet Lynch Law in Georgia was published in 1899 in response to a series of lynchings that occurred in Georgia in that year. The Tragedy of the Negro in America was written by Thomas Stanford, the pastor of a church in Birmingham, England. Stanford, himself black, visited America in the mid-1890s to investigate the condition of American blacks, "in the hope of helping create a strong, healthy public opinion that will make it impossible for outrages and lynchings to be much longer continued."

        3. Play the video Ida B. Wells: A Lifetime of Activism, asking students to identify the event that was a turning point in Ida B. Wells' career as a journalist. Discuss.

        4. Distribute copies of Lynch Law in Georgia to each student. To make the best use of class time, you may want to have your students read the pamphlet as a homework assignment.

        5. Discuss the following questions with your class:

        • Ida B. Wells' pamphlet Lynch Law in Georgia uses the reporting of Atlanta newspapers which covered a series of lynchings in Georgia. How does she use this reporting to make her own case?
        • When did the lynching of Sam Wilkes occur?
        • How long did it take for Ida Wells and her Chicago group to prepare this account for the press?
        • What, reports the detective, was the response of whites in Newman when asked about Sam Wilkes' motives for the murder?
        • What does the detective have to say of claims that Sam Wilkes assaulted Mrs. Cranston?
        • Who does the detective claim was complicit in the lynching of Wilkes?
        • How does the detective's accounts of the lynchings of Rev. Strickland and the shooting of the five black men in Palmeto compare to the newspaper accounts given earlier in the pamphlet?

        6. Access The Tragedy of the Negro in America which describes 18 different episodes of lynchings.

        7. Copy and paste pages 140 to 165 into a word processing program and print out the 18 lynchings described on separate sheets of paper. (Most of the descriptions are a single paragraph in length, although one or two include newspaper accounts that are two or three pages in length. You may elect not to use the lengthier accounts.) Print out enough copies to ensure that each student has a copy of one account.

        8. Allow students enough time to read the individual accounts carefully. Have students briefly summarize the various accounts. Ask students to respond to the following questions:

        • What reasons were given for these lynchings?
        • How often were the victims of lynching the apparent subjects of mistaken identity?
        • Many of these accounts are marked by disturbing descriptions of torture and mutilation. What seem to have been the purpose behind these acts of torture?

        9. Many of the incidents in Ida B. Wells and Rev. Stanford's accounts are described in graphic, horrifying detail. Have your students consider the following questions:

        • How are these details meant to affect the reader?
        • Are the readers of these books likely to be black or white, Southerners or Northerners?
        • In Lynch Law in Georgia, Ida B. Wells writes that "the real purpose of these savage demonstrations is to teach the Negro that in the South he has no rights that the law will enforce." In Stanford's chapter on lynching he writes that "Lynch Law might as well be written into the constitution of many states; it is in force and flourishes in not a few of them." How do the lynching narratives support these claims?
        • Federal anti-lynching bills were introduced to Congress on a yearly basis, only to be defeated by Southern Congressmen and their allies, who often argued that there was no need for a federal anti-lynching law as these cases could be dealt with locally. What evidence do Wells and Stanford give that local law enforcement was incapable or unwilling to prosecute lynchers?

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