That’s What My People Do: Facing Prejudice in a 1960s High School

by Eunice Jarrett

Story Summary

High school students organizing a memorial service for a teacher trigger an emotional process for Eunice who is asked to step out of her comfort zone, again.  Family life and school life create race-related expectations.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Thats-What-My-People-Do-Facing-Prejudice-in-a-1960s-High-School

Discussion Questions:

  1. How did expectations based on race shape the students’ behavior at Eunice’s school?
  2. Can you name talents or skills that are reflected in Eunice’s family? What about your family? What gifts do you see in yourself and your relatives?
  3. What is the impact of constantly hearing stereotypes – positive or negative – about you and groups to which you belong?
  4. In this story, what makes a simple request to sing seem so troubling?

Resources:

March by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell (Three graphic novels)
A Raisin in the Sun a play by Lorraine Hansberry
Article in Northwest Indiana’s newspaper about Eunice’s sister, Annie Hicks, who was the first black teacher in Hammond, Indiana –
http://www.nwitimes.com/news/local/lake/hammond/hammond-s-first-black-teacher-speaks-of-need-for-tenacity/article_b902bcf1-db00-5d20-9589-52674ba792de.html
Facts about school integration in the U.S. – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/School_integration_in_the_United_States

Themes:

  • African American/Black History
  • Civil Rights Movement
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Family and Childhood
  • Stereotypes
  • Taking a Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Eunice Jarrett and my story starts in the 1960s, in Indiana.

The complexion of our high school was changing and the black parents encouraged their kids to stand up and be a credit to our race. So, I became our high school student government’s token Negro. One of our teachers had died suddenly, and the student government people were asked to organize a memorial service.

And I remember the service going kind of like this. We had a meeting and I remember the meeting going something like this. Max was the president and he decided that he would preside over the meeting.

Rose really liked the old teacher. And so, she said that she would give the highlights of the teacher’s life. Chris was a poet and he volunteered to tell the poem. Huh, and Tom, Tom decided that he should say the closing prayer.

And then they decided, “Well, what, what should Eunice do?”

Tom said, “Let her sing. Isn’t that what her people do?”

Like I wasn’t in the room. I mean, I was right there. Why would they say for me to sing? They never heard me sing. Ohh! Sing and dance. That’s what they think my people do. Huh. Well, they didn’t know. They didn’t know that letting me sing might break that stereotype. Letting me sing, I might bring my whole race down from that high pillar of musical expectation. But I’d sing, because that’s what my people do.

You see, my sister Annie, she stepped up and she went to teachers’ college, graduated with honors, only to be told that this color of her skin disqualified her from teaching in her own hometown. Huh. She won that federal court case and the superintendent of schools who said, “Over my dead body,” he died. And my sister became the first Negro teacher in our whole school city. She inspired other people, and that’s what my people do.

Fred didn’t know, Fred didn’t know that I knew some real singers. I mean, my mother and my sisters, they could really sing. My mother, she fancied herself to be a soprano Marian Anderson. Hmm. When she got to sing on Sundays, she had her own gospel arias. But she would always tell us the story of that magnificent Negro woman who sang opera all across the United States and all around the world. Then she told the story of the Daughters of the American Revolution who wouldn’t let her sing at their event in Constitution Hall, in front of an integrated audience. Because Marian Anderson was a Negro. Hmm.

Mama said, “What the devil means for bad, God will use it for good.” Mama said, “Mrs. Roosevelt fixed it. Instead of Constitution Hall, Marian Anderson got to sing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on a beautiful Easter morning, in front of thousands and thousands of people. I can still feel the pride of Mama’s voice when she told that story.

Yes. Daughters of the American Revolution. Yes, that organization. They were the same daughters, they gave out awards to eighth graders for citizenship and leadership. And when I graduated eighth grade in 1966, I was the winner of that award.

Our principal and faculty, they voted for me. But when they found out who I was, they turned my name into the DAR. And when they found out who I was, they refused to give me the award because it was supposed to be given to a white student.

Well, our white principal said, “We voted for her. And if you don’t give it to her, we won’t give your award ever again!”

I still have that award somewhere in a box. Can you imagine how I felt standing there to receive an award that I knew they didn’t want to give me? But I stood there and I was gracious, because that’s what my people do.

Well, while Rose was writing my name, I wondered, “Should I get Mama or my sisters to sing?”

Well, the student government kids didn’t know that when I went to choir rehearsal, my sisters got the best singing parts, they got the leads. And the rest of us, we had to clap and rock in the background. The student government kids didn’t know I had a hard time clappin’ and rockin’ at the same time.

But I think I’ll sing, even though once a lady at choir rehearsal whispered very loudly that I couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket. So just to make her a liar, I practiced finding my tone, and I put it in my imaginary bucket.

Well, you know, I agreed to sing not because I’m the best singer, but we stand up. And sometimes we have to stand up to people who don’t know it was enough to not like us.

You know, they say that when one black family moves into a block, it breaks the block. Well, when my family moved, we broke the block. And the boy next door made it his job to stand at our fence and call us names, every day. And we had to walk past him, hold our head up high, and ignore him every day, until the day he came into the fence, ready to fight girls in their own backyard. Well, my middle sister got in trouble for fighting back. But you know, sometimes we just get tired, sometimes we really do. Huh.

Well, all I had to do was sing a song. I just had to pick a song. “Let My People Go?” Uh, that was a little sarcastic. “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot?” That was probably the only spiritual that some of my classmates knew. But I was a Negro and we had spirituals. That’s what my people do.

Well, it was the day of the program. I remember the shuffling feet, letting down the wooden auditorium chairs, the hushed whispers. The student government officers, we entered stage left and there were chairs, wooden chairs and an arc behind the podium. Yes, hhh, I remember.

Max went to the podium, and he, in his most eloquent words, explained the reason for the assembly and we started the assembly. He introduced Rose, and Rose had done her… She’d done her research. I didn’t know that I… that teacher had gone to Tibet and knew how to ski. But I was not surprised that she taught a lot of the parents, and she had a cat.

Well, next Chris went up to read his poem. I don’t know what he said because I knew I was next. Then Max went back to the podium, and he said words and more words and I was looking for my invisible bucket. But then Max turned and smiled at me.

So, I stood up. And I walked to the podium. And I looked out on the darkness, and I did what my people do.

The Colfax Louisiana Massacre: A Story about Reconstruction

by Zahra Glenda Baker

Story Summary:

This is Zahra’s personal story of reconnecting with her siblings and learning about how history is told through the voice of the “hunter”. On a journey back to their Louisiana birthplace, Zahra and her siblings uncover a story of an event that affects the lives of their family, community and the nation. (more…)

Surviving and Thriving: When Racism Destroyed 1920s Black Wall Street in Tulsa Oklahoma

by Shanta Nurullah

Story Summary:

This family story describes Shanta’s father and grandparents’ escape from the 1921 Tulsa Oklahoma Massacre. Shanta’s grandfather, a tailor, was forced to flee with his family to Chicago where he was able to re-establish his business. (more…)

THE DR. KING HOLIDAY : DAY OF SERVICE Contributing vs. Taking ?

What is the difference between contributing and taking? Do the students of today understand this distinction? Can they put it into practice? As educators, it is our responsibility to ensure that the mlk-stampyouth of today play a role in positively contributing to our society. After all, we want our future leaders and caregivers to build our communities up and expand our resources, rather than become those who tear down our quality of life.

It is important to discuss with students, on a regular basis, the value of contributing. Contributing to conversations, to programs, to the world in a positive way. Contributing means giving or donating. It could refer to time, energy, talents, money, or resources. Students should see that everyone, regardless of age or race, has the ability to contribute to our world in a positive way and make a difference. That is how we learn about each other – values, cultures, beliefs. And that is how we make our world a better place for everyone. 

Taking is just that. Taking. It doesn’t offer anything in return. It isn’t helpful. It isn’t kind. It doesn’t improve the quality of life for anyone – except the taker, and that is usually temporary and minimal. All actions have consequences. Taking can suggest a negative action and has a negative consequence. Contributing, on the other hand, is a positive action with positive consequences. Contributing often has a ripple effect – impacting people positively miles away and generations apart.

How can schools and teachers impart these valuable life lessons to students? Below are a few tips:

  • Value the opinions, beliefs, and experiences of every student. Encourage students to form their opinions based on fact, not rumor.
  • Encourage students to share in class. Tying academic lessons to life experiences cements understanding of those lessons. Don’t be afraid to allow the lesson to drift to this area. The results are priceless.
  • Provide opportunities of service and volunteerism for students. Some schools even require students to participate in some sort of service. Have students select a service, and then have them sign an agreement to complete the task.
  • Expect students to participate positively while in school, and support activities that promote student service.
  • Set up a field trip (or several) during the school year where the entire class participates in an act of service.

 

FOR FURTHER IDEAS ON THESE THEMES  SEE RACEBRIDGES RESOURCE :

GIVING IT BACK : SERVICE LEARNING IN YOUR CLASSROOM 

Reflecting on Dr. King: Taking a Stand: Teaching Our Students to Consider Those Less Fortunate

What can students learn today about the highly influential Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.? So much is accessible for students to learn about the man and his works that it is impossible for students today to be a part of our society and not know of him. He changed our country, our mentalities about liberty and human rights. It is nothing short of amazing what one man with a powerful voice can accomplish in a fleeting period of time.

Students should be able to take away from a study of his life and accomplishments the strong set of values
that he possessed. Values that he saw as so basic, everyone should have them.

He was, and still is today, a commanding authority on the rights of the individual. He spoke for those who had no platform and no hope. He opened doors that had been sealed shut. He encouraged volunteerism and a serving spirit. 

Below is a list of service opportunities that students could participate in during the school day, either in school or in the community. There is no more fitting place for Dr. King’s values to be put into practice than with the youth of today. Explore these opportunities with your students, and let them choose  one or many to participate in. When students are allowed a voice, their voices become much stronger.

  • Organize a food drive
  • Make crafts for kids in the hospital or those in nursing homes
  • Shovel snow, rake leaves, sweep floors, etc. for neighbors
  • Paint a mural in the community
  • Clean up an area of the community that needs work (parks, for example)
  • Plant trees for the community
  • Research your community to see what their needs are
  • Help out at an animal shelter
  • Deliver meals to the elderly
  • Babysit for a single parent for an evening
  • Collect recyclables
  • Serve meals at a homeless shelter
  • Organize a clothing drive for kids in need

 

Explore the many free lessons, resources and videos with themes of community building and inclusion found on our web sites. 

Not just another day off : How teachers can help students celebrate Dr. King’s Birthday

Dr. King Day : Turning Dreams Into Deeds

On January 16, will your students be thinking about the real reason for the national holiday? Or will they simply think of it as one part of a nice three-day weekend?

For so many students — and teachers alike — the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. is just another day off, rather than an active celebration of the life of America’s most prominent peacemaker. White students in particular may not think this holiday has much to do with them. And with an African-American leader in the White House, today’s young people may be thinking that racism is a thing of the past — a problem for older generations, not theirs. But in spite of great strides made since the Civil Rights era, racism still presents serious challenges for America. 

King Day offers a timely opportunity to remind students of these challenges, and encourage them to reverse the damaging beliefs, behaviors and systems associated with discrimination. So what can you do? The educators at RaceBridgesforSchools, a nonprofit initiative that offers free lesson plans on diversity and community-building, have these suggestions to help you bring Dr. King’s message and mission into your school.

  1. Promote service learning.Many people are not aware of the service component of the holiday: in 1994 Congress designated the King Holiday as a national day of volunteer service. Instead of a day off, Congress asked Americans of all backgrounds and ages to celebrate Dr. King’s legacy by serving the community. Do this at your school by organizing a day of service: students can serve at a soup kitchen, plant trees or deliver meals to homebound persons..
  2. Write a commitment pledge to racial unity at your school. King Day is an excellent time to develop and commit to a pledge against racism. Get students and faculty engaged in the process where all can contribute in a reflective and honest way to write this pledge. Have the completed pledge printed up in a large format, and encourage school administrators to adopt the pledge, distribute it, and have the students say it together at a special time during the week before King Day..
  3. Start an anti-racism or diversity club for students and/or faculty.Now’s a great time to form a group that focuses on many of the challenges Dr. King spoke of. You can begin by discussing issues and themes of ethnic and racial differences and conflicts at your schools, and move on to consider what positive actions you would like to take as a group to address these issues..

Martin Luther King’s son, Dexter, in a speech initiating the national holiday for his assassinated father, said, “The holiday for my father is not just for black people…the holiday for the birthday of my father is for all people of goodwill everywhere.” As schools work to recognize and celebrate Dr. King’s legacy, MLK Day can become more than a day off, and a more meaningful celebration for students of all backgrounds.

For more ideas about celebrating the birthday
of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. –and resources and
lesson plans for encouraging diversity year round —
visit RaceBridges Studio

Learn More About Kwanzaa

Kwanzaa is a relatively new holiday, first created in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga. Some have gone so far as to say, it’s not a “real” holiday because it is so new. But whether a holiday was created last year or centuries ago, someone and some people created it because it filled a deep human need to ritualize what gives us strength and meaning in life. The fact that Kwanzaa celebrations grow each year within the African American and Pan-African communities worldwide shows that this holiday has become an important way to reinforce what it means to be of African heritage and a lover of community, justice and equality.

Here is a short video that explains the broad strokes of the holiday and the official website and book by Dr. Maulana Karenga.

Resources:

http://www.officialkwanzaawebsite.org

Kwanzaa: A Celebration of Family, Community and Culture by Dr. Maulana Karenga (Los Angeles: University of Sankore Press)

From Flint Michigan to Your Front Door: Tracing the Roots of Racism

by Storyteller LaRon Williams

This lesson plan explores the true story FROM FLINT MICHIGAN TO YOUR FRONT DOOR by African American professional storyteller La’Ron Williams. With humor and honesty Williams will inspire conversation among students about the issues of institutional racism, living in two cultures at once, and claiming one’s own history and culture. This story and lesson plan addresses the White, Euro-centrism of our history and culture and the use of story to challenge that mono-cultural understanding of history. Lesson Plan, story-text, student activities and audio-downloads.

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Storyteller La’Ron Williams writes about his experience growing up in Flint, Michigan, where he felt nurtured by a strongly supportive African-American community. Yet even at an early age, Williams knew there were threats to his safety when he saw on the front cover of Jet Magazine the picture of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old boy who had been killed by bigoted Whites in the South.

From that jarring moment onward, Williams describes the experience of growing up in parallel worlds: a Black world that loved and mentored him and a White world that, even in its most benign expression, assumed a “neutral status” that for African-Americans was neither neutral nor benign. Using examples from the media and from his own experiences in a town divided by racial tension, Williams creates a story that tells the truth about American racial hierarchy while also offering hope for all those eager to transcend its legacy.

This story offers a powerful tool to approach institutional racism and unconscious bias in a nonthreatening way. With his rich, warm voice, La’Ron narrates audio excerpts that help to personalize these complex issues, bring them to life for students, and encourage his listeners to think deeply about race and racism.

Use this story as a way to introduce topics related to race, to deepen your conversations about the distinctions between personal and institutional racism, to address race and unconscious bias in the media, or to provide another way to celebrate African-American Heritage Month.

More information about this story

Lesson Plan

Download the From Flint, Michigan to Your Front Door lesson plan (PDF)

Story Excerpts

The following MP3 tracks are story excerpts for use with the From Flint, Michigan to Your Front Door lesson plan. Please note that these excerpts are protected by copyright and are exclusively for educational use.

Excerpt #1 — Part One — 8:26 minutes

Excerpt #2 — Part Two12:57 minutes

Excerpt #3 — Part Three — 7:19 minutes

Excerpt #4 — Part Four – 5:44 minutes

Need help to download the MP3 Story Excerpts?  Click here for directions.

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About Storyteller La’Ron Williams

La’Ron Williams has a remarkable rapport with audiences of all kinds. Children and adults respond with equal enthusiasm to his warmth and vigor as he uses dialect, facial expressions and movement to breathe life into tales which transcend the boundaries of class and age.

Williams is motivated in part by the belief that the power and beauty of African culture should be shared, and that the lessons of struggle, perseverance, and survival of Africans in the Western Hemisphere are part of a legacy we all should recognize and own.

Ultimately, he believes that a narrow love of one’s own culture is not enough; that we all have to take the time to tell each other our stories – with all the joy and frowns and pain and smiles that they bring. That “…we have to come to know and accept the ways in which we are different and become aware of and appreciate the ways in which we’re alike, and that we have to use that knowledge not to ascribe hierarchy or to produce winners and losers, but to promote understanding and resolution.”

Dignity and Courage Come Alive !

by Storyteller Linda Gorham

I Am Somebody :  Story Poems for Pride and Poweriam

African American storyteller Linda Gorham tells this upbeat and moving celebration of Linda’s family tree and heritage. The lesson plan guides teachers to invite “pride poems” from their students.

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Rosa Parks : One of Many Who Sat Down to Stand Uprosa

In Linda Gorham’s story Rosa Parks : One of Many Who Sat Down to Stand Up Linda personalizes the words and action in a story of the famed Rosa Parks. The lesson plan explores the many other heroes of the civil rights movement who “sat down’ to stand up for justice. Self-worth, dignity and courage come alive.

 

 

Dignity and Courage Come Alive !

 

 

lindaAfrican American storyteller Linda Gorham tells two stories. One is I Am Somebody : Story Poems for Pride and Power. This is an upbeat and moving celebration of Linda’s family tree and heritage.

The lesson plan guides teachers to invite “pride poems” from their students.

In her story Rosa Parks : One of Many Who Sat Down to Stand Up Linda personalizes the words and action in a story of the famed Rosa Parks. The lesson plan explores the many other heroes of the civil rights movement who “sat down’ to stand up for justice. Self-worth, dignity and courage come alive.

This unit comes with a teacher guide, text of stories & audio-download of stories as well as student activities.

Lesson Plans

I am Somebody: Yes You Are!

Purpose

    • Build pride in students for their family and background
    • Connect home life and classroom activities
    • Model how times of struggle become sources of strength
    • Appreciate the diversity and background of the other students
    • Gain practice in writing by creating poems and stories

Download I Am Somebody Lesson Plan (PDF)

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Rosa Parks: One of Many Who Sat Down to Stand Up

Purpose

    • Become more familiar with the Rosa Parks’ story
    • Place Ms. Parks’ protest within the larger context of her supportive family and community and the burgeoning Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s
    • Examine the motives and practices of bigotry and institutional racism
    • Experience a recreation of some of the feelings, challenges and decisions facing people in this country as they lived in a system of legalized segregation and discrimination
    • Understand the extent of the bravery of those who stood up to discrimination given the ignorance and violence of the times.

Download Rosa Parks Lesson Plan (PDF)

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Story Excerpts

The following MP3 tracks are story excerpts for use with the I am Somebody and Rosa Parks lesson plans. Please note that these excerpts are protected by copyright and are exclusively for educational use.

Need help to download the MP3 Story Excerpts?  Click here for directions.

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About Storyteller Linda Gorham

Linda Gorham’s stories are fun, full of energy, and designed to enhance the love of reading. She tells folktales, inspirational stories, fables, “RESPECT” stories, hero stories, and, of course, stories that make your spine tingle and your hair stand on edge. Linda’s stories reinforce values, spark the imagination, and explore the world of ideas and traditions from other cultures. www.lindagorham.com

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Connecting the Dots: Racism, Activism & Creating a Life

by Storyteller Michael McCarty

African American Storyteller Michael McCarty tells his true story Connecting the Dots: Racism, Activism & Creating a Life.

Racism in Chicago … the Black Panthers …Activism and the institution … Expulsion from High School …. Drugs …. Searching … Journeys around the world … Stories and people that shape us ….Ways and paths to self-discovery … With humor and hope the storyteller “connects the dots” in his life.

Invite your students in to explore their responses to McCarty’s challenges, dead-ends and the people and events that shaped his life’s journey.
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    • African American Storyteller Michael McCarty tells his true story Connecting the Dots: Racism, Activism & Creating a Life.
    • Racism in Chicago … the Black Panthers …Activism and the institution … Expulsion from High School …. Drugs …. Searching … Journeys around the world … Stories and people that shape us ….Ways and paths to self-discovery … With humor and hope the storyteller “connects the dots” in his life.
    • Invite your students in to explore their responses to McCarty’s challenges, dead-ends and the people and events that shaped his life’s journey.
    • Let Michael McCarty’s story inspire conversation among your students (and faculty) about the issues of racism, standing up for one’s beliefs, working for change in the world and in our lives and the power of stories to inspire and connect.
    • Complete text and audio download of this story come in a short version and a long version. (See below).
    • Connecting the Dots is an ideal discussion starter for college age, young adults and justice and peace groups. Lesson Plan provides questions and activities.

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Connecting the Dots (Short Version)

Lesson Plan

Download the Connecting the Dots (Short Version)lesson plan (PDF)

Story Excerpts

The following MP3 tracks are story excerpts for use with the Connecting the Dots (Short Version) lesson plan. Please note that these excerpts are protected by copyright and are exclusively for educational use.

Excerpt #1a – 4:11 minutes

Excerpt #1b7:07 minutes

Excerpt #1c — 6:06 minutes

Excerpt #2a4:24 minutes

Excerpt #3a — 4:55 minutes

Need help to download the MP3 Story Excerpts? Click here for directions.

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Connecting the Dots (Long Version)

Caution

In this longer version of the lesson plan, there is reference to drug use particularly in Story #2.  While the storyteller talks about how he eventually gave up drugs and devoted himself to being healthy and productive, a teacher might want to address the topic of drug use and abuse before beginning the lesson or to skip reading and listening to the sections of the story that pertain to drug use.

Lesson Plan

Download the Connecting the Dots (Long Version) lesson plan (PDF)

Story Excerpts

The following MP3 tracks are story excerpts for use with the Connecting the Dots (Long Version) lesson plan. Please note that these excerpts are protected by copyright and are exclusively for educational use.

Excerpt #1 — Track One17:25 minutes

Excerpt #2 –Track Two18:20 minutes

Excerpt #3 — Track Three17:16 minutes

Need help to download the MP3 Story Excerpts?  Click here for directions.

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About Storyteller Michael McCarty

Michael McCarty (“Have Mouth Will Run It“™) is a multicultural storyteller of African, African-American and International Folk tales, Historical tales, Stories of Science, Spiritual stories as well as stories of the brilliant and absolutely stupid things he has done in his life.

His stories inform, educate, inspire and amuse. His storytelling style is energetic and enthusiastic.

BRING BLACK HISTORY INTO THE PRESENT

Black-History-150x150

With budget cuts at every level of education, it’s rare when a teacher can arrange a field trip to a national monument or organization. Thank goodness for the web! This February, during your Black History celebrations, why not rely on virtual experiences to give your students new encounters and increased understanding without the cost or time away from the classroom?

You can create a virtual Black Issues scavenger hunt for your middle and high school students using this resource:

http://bit.ly/tJv2aI

Focusing on African American history without showing how the past is still affecting the present leaves our students without an understanding of today’s challenges and how they might one day make a difference. This resource centers on the hurdles African Americans face today because of the institutional racism of the past.

Have students work in teams to search these papers for facts on disparities in testing, economic mobility, school discipline and suspensions and the like. The victories and achievements African Americans continuously make despite ongoing discrimination is a cause for celebration and inspiration for all Americans.

We All Have A Race : Addressing Race and Racism

This lesson plan helps students to understand the concept of race better, to distinguish between prejudice and racism, and to learn ways to stand up against racism and to act as allies with students of different races. This lesson provides a substantial, educational way to celebrate African-American Heritage Month and the accomplishments of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. Can also be used at any time of year.

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WE ALL HAVE A RACE

A Lesson Plan that Helps You Teach Your Students about Race and Racism

We offer a lesson plan: We All Have a Race: Addressing Race and Racism—in time to be used during African-American Heritage Month. This lesson plan helps students to understand the concept of race better, to distinguish between prejudice and racism, and to learn ways to stand up against racism and to act as allies with students of different races. This lesson provides a substantial, educational way to celebrate African-American Heritage Month and the accomplishments of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement in the United States.

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A White Girl Looks at Race

superohStoryteller Susan O’Halloran weaves three short true stories of her life growing up in Chicago in the 1960s.

The three short stories offered here—“Davy Crockett,” “Us vs. Them,” and “The Dr. King March”—all explore Susan’s experience growing up in Chicago in the 1950s and 1960s when the relationship between blacks and whites in the United States were tense and changing quickly.

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Ripples: From a Field in Mississippi to General Motors in New York

 

Story Summary:

 April 4, 1968 may have been the end of one dream with the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. However, on that day, another began in a young woman who pushed past despair, journeying from Mississippi to New York City, to discover that the “dream” lived on in her. (more…)

Martin and Me – A Coming of Age Story

By Stephen Hobbs

Story Summary:

 Growing up, Steven was involved in Boy Scouts and his church and as a teen he advocated for community development in his New Jersey neighborhood. But could he get involved in the rising black militancy of the late 1960s?  (more…)

Taming the Fire: A Black Heritage Search

 

Story Summary:

One day an angry black teenage girl – Sheila – stormed into her History Class and demanded to know why she had never heard about black inventors. Her favorite teacher, who happened to be white, was faced with a decision, but in making that decision an entire classroom of students was changed and history was given more relevance. (more…)

A Black American Son’s Survival Lessons

By Sheila Arnold

 

Story Summary

A frantic call from Sheila Arnold’s son during his freshmen year in college turns into a moment to remember all that she had to teach him about growing up black, and, in turn, all he had also learned about crossing bridges in spite of people’s perceptions.  (more…)

Not By the Sword: How a Cantor and His Family Transformed a Klansman

By Storyteller Pippa White

 

Story Summary:

 In 1991 in Lincoln, Nebraska, a Jewish Cantor and his family were threatened and harassed by the Grand Dragon of the state Ku Klux Klan. Here is the remarkable story of how they dealt with the hatred and bigotry, and, in the process, redeemed a life. Based on the book, Not By the Sword: How a Cantor and His Family Transformed a Klansman, by Kathryn Watterson. (more…)

Soul Food in a Southern Swamp: Bumming Fish and Crossing Boundaries

By Storyteller Doug Elliott

 

Story Summary:

After fishermen in the Okefenokee Swamp give Elliott two fierce looking mudfish, he finds himself on a hilarious cross cultural journey learning how to cook the fish, and later meets a number of challenges learning how to tell the tale. (more…)

Special Blends: A Youthful Perspective on Multi-Cultural, Multi-Ethnic Heritage

By Storytellers Amber, Misty and Autumn Joy Saskill

 

Story Summary:

 Amber, Misty, and Autumn – three multi-ethnic sisters – offer a sneak peek into their thoughts about self-identification. These storytellers also share a medley of emotional experiences about how they have sometimes been viewed by others. From skin color to hair texture, from humor to poignant reflection, these dynamic young women personify Dr. Maria P. P. Root’s, Bill of Rights for People of Mixed Heritage. (more…)

Unsung Hero: How My Uncle Was Saved from the KKK

By Sadarri Saskill

 

Story Summary:

 Sadarri retells a story of heroism that her mother, Rose, remembered as a child. The story takes place in Holly Springs, Mississippi in the late 1920’s when Sadarri’s Uncle Carl was set to be lynched for “speaking out of turn”. This story is about the unlikely hero who saved the life of Carl Esko Lucas who was truly a Black man dead and resurrected from the dust.  (more…)

Plastic Glory

By Storyteller Linda Gorham

 

Story Summary:

 Linda’s grandmother lived in what her sisters and she called “The Plastic Palace.” Her grandmother covered everything with plastic. Everything … chairs, tables, lampshades … and, of course, her living room couch, including the throw pillows. Plastic is fun, right? But who would suspect that it could also set off a painful memory of the Vietnam War for Linda’s father? (more…)

Shadowball

By Storyteller Bobby Norfolk

 

Story Summary:

 Learn what the term “Shadowball” meant if you were a person of color who played baseball in segregated America in the 1920’s and 30’s. Bobby brings to life famed baseball players such as Cool Papa Bell and Satchel Paige, as he explores their triumphs and sacrifices. (more…)

Penny for Your Thoughts

By Storyteller Diane Ferlatte

 

Story Summary:

While sitting alone in a restaurant having lunch, Ferlatte notices an older white man also eating alone and looking sad and worried. When she tries to be friendly, the man responds with a grunt. Ferlatte starts labeling him in her mind as a “mean old white man.” Later, she corrects her own thinking by reminding herself that she doesn’t know anything about the man. Later, as he leaves the restaurant, the man pours out his story, sharing that his wife of 61 years has recently died. The two end up having a brief conversation, and Ferlatte realizes the importance of reaching across barriers of race, culture, and generations in order focus on the person right in front of you. (more…)

Bartholomew

By MayGay Ducey

 

Story Summary:

 Bartholomew, an African American man who is the church custodian is a familiar figure to the congregation at Mary Gay’s church. However, when it’s rumored that African Americans are coming to their church and will be asked to be seated, suddenly the pleasant veneer of acceptance is exposed.  (more…)

Changing Neighborhoods

by Storyteller Susan O’Halloran

 

Story Summary:

 Sue grew up hearing about “them” – the people who would come and take her and her neighbors’ homes in their all-white neighborhood. When her family watched the Friday night fights, it was made clear who was “the other” and who was “us.”  (more…)

Rosa

By Storyteller Linda Gorham

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Story Summary:

 Rosa Parks is best known for her refusal to give up her seat to a white man on a Montgomery, Alabama bus in 1955. Her action galvanized the growing Civil Rights Movement and led to the successful Montgomery bus boycott. But even before her defiant act and the resulting boycott, Ms. Parks was dedicated to racial justice and equality. Linda Gorham tells the story of those times through the eyes of three people: Claudette Colvin (a 15-year-old who refused to give up her seat nine months before Rosa Parks), James Blake (the bus driver), and Rosa Parks herself. (more…)

Looking at My Yearbooks

by Shanta Nurullah

Story Summary:

Looking at high school yearbooks, Shanta reflects on the “change” in her neighborhood from mostly white to all black. As a child, Shanta could not understand when the adults told her “the white people are running away from us”. Even as an adult with a larger understanding of the times – blockbusting and other societal and economic pressures – the sting of being “the other” remains.  (more…)

The Oberlin Rescue of 1858

By Storyteller Susan O’Halloran

 

Story Summary:

 John Price escapes from the Kentucky plantation where he had been enslaved. He plans to go to Canada but when he arrives in Oberlin, Ohio and sees Black shopkeepers and Black students going to college, he decides to stay. However, he doesn’t know that a slave catcher under the protection of the Fugitive Slave Act is coming for him.  (more…)

THE OTHER 9/11 STORY

By Storyteller Susan O’Halloran

 

Story Summary:

 After the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, demonstrations against Muslims arose in different parts of Chicago. One group of Chicagoans on the southwest side of the city decided to support their Muslim neighbors. This support grew into a massive rally and teach-in at Chicago’s Navy Pier. Sue witnessed people willing to learn from and about each other and how much taking a stand could mean.

For print friendly version of the transcript, click here: The-Other-911

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why don’t we hear the stories of what is working?
  2. The teachers taught the students about other times in history when people were stereotyped and scapegoated. Give an example of what they might have taught.
  3. Were the adults correct in keeping the students away from the (peaceful) demonstration of support? Was their alternative way to involve the students effective?
  4. Why is it important to show support to groups of people who are under attack?

Resource:

  • September 11, 2001: A Record of Tragedy, Herosim and Hope by Editors of New York Magazine

Themes:

  •  Crossing Cultures
  • Interfaith
  • Muslim Americans/Muslims
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Two days after the tragedy of September 11th, 2001, Sister Margaret Zalot, principal of Maria High School, found herself in trouble.  She was driving down east on 95th Street when she unwittingly drove right into an anti-Muslim demonstration.  Crowds were milling about, cars would zip across the intersection at 95th and Harlem.  Then across again and again and shouting, “White power!”  They held signs that said, “Choose what side you’re on.”   “This is the beginning and the end.”  They were just ignoring the police.  They were trying to keep all that traffic going but pretty soon everybody just kind of ran their cars into the middle, just took the intersection over.  There were guys in the back of pickup trucks, huge American flags with long poles, looked like jousters ready to ram somebody.  And she found herself caught in the middle of all this.

Took over an hour and a half to get through that gridlock.  Now just the night before, this angry mob had marched on the mosque at 92nd Street.  Only because the police got there moments ahead and threw up barricades did it keep the windows getting broken or maybe worse.  I’m sure it was fresh in the police people’s minds because just a few years earlier the Federal Building in Oklahoma City had been bombed.  And two days later the mosque in Springfield, Illinois was burned to the ground.  So they saved that mosque but the demonstrations went on and on.  And Sister Margaret Zalot finally got home safely but she remembered that saying, “The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.”  She’s like, “I’ve gotta do something.  What can we do? Oh, what we can do?”

So she went out and she found some other people with the same concern, the same sense of urgency.  She went to swop… S.W.O.P, Southwestern Organizing Project.  This represented 27 community groups on the southwest side of Chicago. And they were also asking what can we do?  It didn’t make sense to meet violence with violence?  What can we do?  They came up with a brilliant plan.  They said, “Lucky the police got to that mosque with the barricade just in time to save it.  We’ll make a human barricade.”  What they decided to do was next day… was Friday, like a Sabbath for Muslims, Friday afternoon prayer, Jumuʿah prayer.  They said, We’ll make a human barricade around the mosques and we’ll protect the people inside.”  And that’s what they did.

Now some people didn’t even know there were mosques in their neighborhood on 63rd Street.  You know, you can just not pay attention to something that doesn’t concern you?  And these are little storefront kind of places of worship.  But the next day, even though it was a workday, Friday workday, 150 people showed up.  And they stood arm in arm, shoulder to shoulder and they had signs from their religion like, “Pax Christi,” Peace and Christ, or “Shalom,” the Jewish tradition word for peace.  And people were so glad that they were there.  In fact, a newspaper accounting talked about the president of one of the mosques saying how much he appreciated the people being there.  How Islam does not teach that kind of violence.  That they were all grieving over the tragedy of 9/11. And certainly, the president of that mosque, Khatam Pharez, was grieving because his cousin was on the 82nd floor of the World Trade Center when that first plane hit that first tower.

And the paper also talked about this young man on his way to Friday prayer when he saw all these people demonstrating in front of the mosque. Well, he knew about the threats to his mosque, there were death threats , and should he go?  Was that the smart thing to do?  Should he go just back home?  And all of sudden one of the men turned around.  It was an older man with snowy hair, and on the sign he was carrying, it said, “As-Salāmu Alaykum,” the Arbic blessing; peace be unto you.  The young man knew those people in front of his mosque weren’t there to hurt him but to protect him.

Well, unfortunately, the violence continued that next week after 9/11.  So, the people decided that they were going to have a circle of peace again.  And Sister Margaret Zalot, principal of Maria High School, had gone back to her school that whole week.  And they suspended many classes and worked with the kids.  They told them stories about, through history when people have been turned against each other, when people have been used to hate one another to somebody else’s benefit.  So, maybe if kids heard these stories, they’d think. So they couldn’t be used against anybody or any other group.  And then they told them stories when people had stood together and the kids really learned.  Because when they heard Sister Margaret, they got it! Some of the teachers were going back the second time to make circles of peace.  You can imagine what they said.  “We want to go, too!  Come on, you’re teaching us about justice and standing together and universal diversity.  We’re gonna go too!”

But these really were dangerous times after September 11th.  The teachers couldn’t take the students somewhere there might be violence.  So, they came up with an alternative because they didn’t want to discourage the girls.  They said, “Why don’t you write letters to your Muslim neighbors?  Tell them how you feel.”  So, that next Friday, double, triple the crowd showed up at those mosques to make their human barricade, their circle of peace.  And when those folks came out from prayer that Friday, they were handed letters from the Maria High School girls.  And the letters said things like, “You are our neighbors, we love you.  We stand by you and for you.”  And people read those letters out loud and, I tell you, there wasn’t a dry eye off the street.  People were huggin’ and crying.

Well, through the months of that winter 2001 and 2002, Southwest Organizing Project joined with community groups from all over Chicago and decided to have a Muslim/non-Muslin dialogue.  But, you know how winter can be any who live in the north.  Oh my goodness!  You get a nice day and everybody just wants to be outside.  It was one of those kind of days, a Sunday afternoon.  They wondered would anybody show up to talk perfect strangers on a beautiful day in Chicago?  They had rented Navy Pier Ballroom.  What if there was nobody coming at all and it was empty?  Four thousand people showed up to share, to dialogue and even the high school girls modeled how to talk and dialogue with each other.  They asked each other questions and, I remember, the Maria High School student asking a girl from the Islamic school, “You know, I have to admit, I saw those hijabs, those headscarves you wear, and I thought it was kind of weird but then we girls got talking.  You know, you can have a bad hair day, that hijab would come in handy.”  And the Islamic girl said back to her, right in front of everybody, “You know, you have bad hair days, we have bad hijab days.  Sometimes you just can’t get those scarves to sit on right.”

So they would model or they would have some other people come up from Southwest Organizing Project would model talking to each other.  And then we in our small groups, they’d give us a discussion question.  Well, you can imagine the noise in that room with four thousand people!  You had huddle in close to hear each other.  I had a Muslim man, I had a teenage boy from the northwest side, I had two cab drivers who just heard about it and came driving on in and we huddled real close.  As we shared our lives and our hopes and our dreams, it’s like the energy just emanated out of Navy Pier up and down the lakefront, all across Chicago.  Because after that all, the white power and other demonstrations just stopped.

What does it take for ugly history not to repeat itself?  It takes people who are willing to go and stand in front of places they’ve never been, to protect a religion they’ve never practiced, to listen in their classrooms or in their community groups to different people’s stories so that we can cut through all that ignorance and fear, so that we can speak and we can celebrate the truth.  We are one.

Dr. King Came to Town

by Storyteller Susan O’Halloran

Story Summary:

Dr. Martin Luther King marches through Sue’s southwest side neighborhood in Chicago in 1966. Her family’s and neighbor’s reaction plus her own conflicted feelings rise just as the KKK makes its appearance.  (more…)

Vindication

By Storyteller Michael McCarty

 

Story Summary:

While in high school, Michael and some classmates make demands of his school to include more Black History in the curricula. The students hold a walkout and Michael is expelled. Decades later as an adult, Michael is brought back to the school to receive his high school diploma and the school’s gratitude. (more…)