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Teaching Guide

Teaching Jim Crow in America

The past can be ugly.

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We've come a long way since Jim Crow, but race is still a dicey issue, and it's up to you to help your students tackle it.

In this guide you will find

  • an activity on Jack Johnson (the boxer, not the singer).
  • a lesson debating the ideologies of Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois.
  • discussion questions on law, migration, and culture.

All this is enough to make everyone appreciate how far we've come…and see how far we still have to go.

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Inside each guide you'll find quizzes, activity ideas, discussion questions, and more—all written by experts and designed to save you time. Here are the deets on what you get with your teaching guide:

  • 3-5 Common Core-aligned activities (including quotation, image, and document analysis) to complete in class with your students, with detailed instructions for you and your students. 
  • Discussion and essay questions for all levels of students.
  • Reading quizzes to be sure students are looking at the material through various lenses.
  • Resources to help make the topic feel more relevant to your 21st-century students.
  • A note from Shmoop's teachers to you, telling you what to expect from teaching the topic and how you can overcome the hurdles.

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Instructions for You

Charles Waddell Chesnutt, "The Wife of His Youth" (1899)

Before your students this short story, you should introduce Charles Waddell Chesnutt to them. Suzanne Shell’s introduction to the reading in the Gutenberg version provides biographical material that will nicely contextualize the short story.

Post-reading discussion prompts:

  • What does the existence of the Blue Vein Society suggest about the African American community at the end of the nineteenth century?
  • What were the keys to Mr. Ryder’s “distinction?”
  • With what philosophy of African American “uplift,” might his social ascent be associated?
  • What do you think of this “theory” about African Americans’ future—or at least the future of light-skinned African Americans?
  • Mr. Ryder begins his account by praising women’s fidelity. In what ways is this a story about more than just marital fidelity?
  • What does this episode say about Mr. Ryder’s theories of ascent? Has his theory changed by the end of the story or just his position?

(Lesson aligned with CA History-Social Sciences 9th-12th grade historical research, evidence, and point of view standard 4; historical interpretation standards X; 11th grade American History standards 2, 3)

TEKS Standards: §113.41. United States History Studies Since 1877 b1, b2, c9A, c29A

Instructions for Your Students


After your teacher introduces you to the African-American writer Charles Waddell Chestnut, read his short story "The Wife of His Youth." Think about the story in the context of the history of Jim Crow and prepare to participate in a class discussion led by your teacher.

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