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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.

What's Inside Shmoop's History Teaching Guides

Shmoop is a labor of love from folks who love to teach. Our teaching guides will help you supplement in-classroom learning with fun, engaging, and relatable learning materials that bring history to life.

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.

Instructions for You

Objective: Charles Waddell Chesnutt was an African American lawyer, educator, and activist who lived from 1858-1932. He was also the author of many stories and essays that dealt with racism and "the color line," a phrase referring to the barrier separating non-white people from white people. 

In this activity, your students will read and discuss one of Chesnutt's stories, The Wife of His Youth, which was published in the Atlantic in 1898. 

Length of Lesson: 1-2 class periods.

Materials Needed:

Step One: Begin by introducing your students to Charles Waddell Chesnutt. Suzanne Shell's introduction to a collection of Chesnutt's short stories provides biographical material that will nicely contextualize the short story. (Scroll down to the Introduction, which is very clearly labeled, and read those two paragraphs with your students. 

Step Two: Direct students to Charles Waddell Chesnutt's story, "The Wife of His Youth" (1898), and give them time to read it in class.

Psst! We're big fans of reading aloud. Feel free to read to your students or have volunteers take turns reading a paragraph at a time. It's one sure way to make sure everyone finishes the reading. Plus, you can stop and check for understanding along the way as necessary. 

Step Three: After everyone has completed the reading, follow up with a discussion of the story and its implications for the era in which it was written. You can use the questions below to help guide your discussion.  

  • 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

You've heard of the color wheel, but what about the color line? 

Charles Waddell Chesnutt was an African American lawyer, educator, and activist who lived from 1858-1932. He was also the author of many stories and essays that dealt with racism and "the color line," a phrase referring to the barrier separating non-white people from white people. 

Today you'll read and discuss one of Chesnutt's stories and talk about the role race plays in the story as well as the role it played in 19th century America. 

Step One: First, you should know a thing or two about Charles Waddell Chesnutt. Thankfully, we have Suzanne Shell's introduction to a collection of Chesnutt's short stories here to provide you with a bit of biographical information that will nicely contextualize the short story. 

Check it out. (Click the link above and scroll down to the introduction, which is very clearly labeled. Read those two paragraphs, give yourself a pat on the back, and move on to Step Two.)

Step Two: Now you can read the story. Here it is: Charles Waddell Chesnutt's, "The Wife of His Youth" (1898).

Step Three: After everyone has finished reading, follow up with a class discussion. (Hey look! Discussion questions.) 

  • 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?

WANT MORE HELP TEACHING JIM CROW IN AMERICA?

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