Episode 4, Season 3
Jim Crow was more than signs and separation. It was a system of terror and violence created to control the labor and regulate the behavior of Black people. In this episode, historian Stephen Berrey unpacks the mechanics of racial oppression, the actions white people took—in and beyond the South—to maintain white supremacy, and the everyday ways Black people fought back. And the directors of the film An Outrage join ELA-teacher Ahmariah Jackson to discuss teaching the racial terror of lynching.
Understanding and Teaching the Civil Rights MovementEdited by Hasan Kwame Jeffries
Own the book that inspired and informs season three of the Teaching Hard History podcast! Use the code CIVILRIGHTS for a 30 percent discount on this book from the University of Wisconsin Press.
- Teaching Tolerance, Jim Crow is Watching (9-12 lesson plan)
- Teaching Tolerance, Pauli Murray: Fighting Jane and Jim Crow (9-12 lesson plan)
- Teaching Tolerance, An Outrage
- Teaching Tolerance, I Investigate Lynchings, Walter White (9-12, primary source,)
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: I really enjoy political cartoons. I mean, I really enjoy political cartoons. I can spend hours reading them, laughing heartily at some, slowly nodding my head in agreement with others, and still others just make me throw my hands up in total frustration. I'm drawn to the truths that political cartoons tell, truths about the human condition that are revealed intentionally and unintentionally, subtly and not so subtly.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: My obsession led me to write an essay a few years ago titled, "Remaking History: Barack Obama, Political Cartoons, and the Civil Rights Movement." This piece used political cartoons that focused on Obama’s election to examine contemporary understandings of the Civil Rights Movement.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Of the many cartoons that I analyzed, one stood out as especially revealing. Immediately after Obama’s election, cartoonist Dwayne Booth tweaked a familiar image of Jim Crow: a Black man drinking from a public water fountain designated for African Americans while standing next to a fountain reserved for whites. Booth replaced the "Colored" label above the fountain the Black man was drinking from with the word "House," so the familiar Jim Crow signage of "White" and "Colored" now combined to read "White House." It was a clever play on words, one that testified to the great distance that African Americans had traveled since the era of de jure segregation. Booth called it "Water under the Bridge."
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: But his cartoon revealed something he didn’t intend. It illustrated the mistake we usually make in how we teach the obstacles to racial equality. As is too often the case, Booth reduced Jim Crow to a sign, to a benign kind of discrimination that merely inconvenienced Black people by prohibiting them from enjoying life’s simple amenities, such as riding in the front of a bus or drinking from a refrigerated water fountain. Not depicted are the people who put up the signs, the mechanisms of enforcement, or the dire consequences for those accused of violating them. Also missing is resistance to Jim Crow. What’s portrayed is simply compliance with segregation.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Jim Crow, of course, was about much more than signs or minor inconveniences. It was a system designed to control Black labor and regulate Black behavior that depended on terror and violence to make it work. African Americans, for their part, resisted Jim Crow vigorously. There has never a time when Black folk have not pushed the boundaries of the color line in ways large and small, seen and unseen. Understanding what African Americans were fighting against is essential for understanding what they were fighting for. It is also the key to deciphering the ways they chose to fight. In this episode, we unpack this critical aspect of civil rights history.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: I’m Hasan Kwame Jeffries, and this is Teaching Hard History. We’re a production of Teaching Tolerance—a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center. This season, we’ll be offering a detailed look at how to teach the Black freedom struggle, or the US civil rights movement. In each episode we’ll explore a different topic, walking you through historical concepts, raising questions for discussion, suggesting useful source material, and offering practical classroom exercises.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Jim Crow laws were a part of a strategy to reverse the gains made by African Americans during Reconstruction. They were enforced—both legally and illegally—well into the 1960s. In this episode, historian Stephen Berrey deconstructs the mechanisms of racial oppression, and the actions that white people took to maintain white supremacy in the South and beyond. He also examines the everyday ways Black people fought back against Jim Crow.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: We’ll also explore the violent and pervasive history of lynching with the directors of the documentary An Outrage. In an interview with high school teacher Ahmariah Jackson, filmmakers Hannah Ayers and Lance Warren discuss important observations about teaching this too-hidden history. I'm glad you could join us.
Stephen Berrey: Gordon Parks was one of the most highly-regarded, highly-respected photographers of the 20th century. In fact, he would later be known, maybe even better known as the director of Shaft. But in 1956, Life Magazine sent him on something of a dangerous assignment. Life Magazine sent Gordon Parks, a Black man, to take pictures for a photo essay they were doing called "Segregation in the South."
Stephen Berrey: Parks took a lot of photographs while he was moving across the region. And one of these photographs I often like to show when I'm introducing Jim Crow to my students. It's a photograph from the Atlanta airport in 1956. And it was from the waiting area in the airport. You see lots of turquoise in the background on the walls, the seats are in this kind of vinyl-y turquoise material. You can see the hint of a couple of water fountains in the background. You can also see several people in the photograph. There are a couple of white men standing in the background, there are a few white people sitting in the back rows of this seating area. But our eye is drawn to three individuals sitting front and center in this photograph, all in the same row. One of those individuals is a white woman on the left. She's wearing a black dress. She has on a turquoise necklace that matches the turquoise of the seats. She has on a lot of makeup, a black hat, and she is elegantly dressed at the airport. And then to her right is a Black woman, dressed in a maid's uniform, it's crisp and white. And she's holding a white baby in her arms. And there's one seat between the white woman and the Black woman.
Stephen Berrey: This photograph is something of a mystery. We don't know the names of the people in this photograph. We don't know what the circumstances are. We only know a few things about it from Gordon Parks's notes. We know that it was two in the morning. Park's notes tell us that the baby's mother, who's not in the photograph, is away getting flight information. And he also includes on the back of it this description, quote, "Although the Negro woman serves as a nursemaid for the white woman's baby, the two would not be allowed to sit and eat a meal together in any Atlanta restaurant." I like to start with this photograph because it is so peaceful, because it is so quiet and so still. I show it to them in part because I do want to complicate the ways in which they think about segregation. I know that when students come into this class, they have certain expectations about what racism looks like, and especially what racism looks like in the South, especially what it looks like in the Jim Crow era. And I often ask them what they think about when they think about segregation. And they mention things like separate water fountains, the Ku Klux Klan, burning crosses, people in hoods, people in robes, police dogs, things that were violent and loud and overtly racist. All of which are very much part of that Jim Crow story.
Stephen Berrey: This photograph, however, is quiet, it's still, it's very personal. And how does that disrupt our understanding of segregation? There's this idea of segregation would mean that Black people and white people are in separate sections. And certainly there were separate areas in the airports and other places for Black people and white people across the South. What does it mean that we see this waiting area with white people and Black people sitting together, and in particular, why can these two women, a white woman and a Black woman, sit together in this airport waiting area? And the answer is there are exceptions to when Black people and white people can be in the same spaces. And those exceptions are because it's convenient for the white family.
Stephen Berrey: And I often end that discussion by asking them, "It's 2:00 a.m. Where is this Black woman's family? Where are they at 2:00 a.m.? We know where she is. We know where the white family that she works for is. But the question is, where is her family?" And that suggests that even in these quiet and still moments, there's much more to Jim Crow and to the ways in which it plays out in people's daily lives.
Stephen Berrey: What we're seeing is a segregation story, in which we see a white person playing the role of being in charge, of being the employer, even the master. And we're seeing a Black woman in the role, including in the uniform of a domestic worker, a nursemaid, a servant. And that representation of master-servant, one that we often associate with the era of slavery, plays out over and over again in daily life, in photographs, in the broader culture, not just in the South. And my point in starting conversations about Jim Crow with this photograph is to emphasize to students that, yes, sometimes Jim Crow was loud and violent, and sometimes it was quiet and personal. And always it was about white supremacy.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: This season of Teaching Hard History is based on the book Understanding and Teaching the Civil Rights Movement. And this podcast is produced in partnership with the University of Wisconsin Press, publishers of this collection of essays, which I edited. From now until the end of the year, they are offering a 30 percent discount to listeners who order this collection. You’ll find a link to purchase the book at Tolerance.org/podcasts. Just use the promotional code CIVILRIGHTS—all one word. Now let’s continue our conversation with Dr. Berrey.
Stephen Berrey: I'd like to offer five guidelines for teaching about Jim Crow. And before I do that though, I'd like to suggest a basic definition about this racial system to provide some historical background so that we're all on the same page. And actually, I want to start post-emancipation, that is the period in the 1860s after slavery at the end of the Civil War, this period of reconstruction in which federal agents are in the South, and a moment in which Black people, most of whom had been enslaved in the South, are making gains.
Stephen Berrey: They are voting. They're getting elected to office. They're getting paid for their work. And many of them are moving up. To be sure, this is a period in which Black people also were confronted with violence from many white-led groups. Nonetheless, it was an optimistic, hopeful era of African Americans making all kinds of political, economic and social gains in the country. And it's within this context that Jim Crow emerges in the 1880s as a response to those gains. That it is very much an effort to roll back all of the things that had come in this post-emancipation period of reconstruction.
Stephen Berrey: Jim Crow, the term, is taken from the blackface minstrel stage. It actually refers to a blackface character. And I'll just say in passing that it gives you a sense of how popular blackface minstrelsy was in the late 19th century, that it becomes this label for this entire racial system. As a racial system, Jim Crow was rooted in white supremacy with the goal of preserving white power and white privilege. There are all kinds of tools connected to doing that, including laws, including customs, including various daily practices and including violence.
Stephen Berrey: And of course, one of the things we know most about Jim Crow and that we see most often, whether it's online or in various other representations, is that it creates all of these segregated spaces: separate spaces for seating, separate schools, separate water fountains, separate restrooms. We know about all of these things. And often separate waiting rooms. One of the things I like to do when we're talking about those separate spaces is I like to give students a specific example of what this sounded like. So I will read to them an early-20th century Birmingham city ordinance that required Black people and white people to be, quote, "Distinctly separated by well-defined physical barriers in any room, hall, theater, picture house, auditorium, yard, court, ball park or other indoor or outdoor place," unquote. I mean, they pretty much are capturing everything. You can imagine somebody writing this law and suggesting all of these possibilities for different spaces, and then just to cover their bases to also mention any other indoor or outdoor place. I like to give them the example of the language, that I find it useful for them to hear exactly what it sounded like. That is the ways in which people talked about race, and often to see the ways in which the language was very overtly racist in these public spaces.
Stephen Berrey: So this system of Jim Crow that is creating these separate spaces, it also extends into other things. It extends into the political realm where laws and violence deny Black people the right to vote. The gains that were made during the reconstruction era in the political arena are completely pulled back: Denying people the right to vote. Economic practices and violence that denied Black people the right to equal opportunities for jobs, for loans, and in addition to all of these other things, the social spaces, the political realm, the economic realm, ultimately Jim Crow would pervade all of American culture and daily life. That's a fairly quick, basic definition of this racial system. And at the same time, it is a long and complex history that encompasses the nation. It's a lot to grapple with. And so I'd like to offer you five guidelines in teaching about Jim Crow.
Stephen Berrey: Here's the first guideline: How to talk about violence. And let me just say that it's important to talk about violence, it's important to acknowledge the violence of this system, and the violence took a lot of different forms: physical, psychological. There were beatings, there were murders. There were lots of incidents, many unknown incidents of sexual assault, which was especially risky for domestic workers who would be working in white homes beyond public view, a particularly dangerous place in the Jim Crow South. And of course, lynching. And lynching is probably the one that we know the most about or that we often hear referenced when people talk about segregation.
Stephen Berrey: Lynching refers to killing outside the law by a group without any legal reprisal. That is, a group that's not going to be punished for this act. And there's no due process. There's no due process for them. They're not going to be punished. But there's also no due process for the person who is going to be lynched. They don't need proof to do this. And, in fact, lynching is essentially a community endorsement of this gruesome act. And make no mistake, that it was always gruesome. It often involved torture, drawing out a person's life, leaving them in pain. It may be related to various alleged offenses, claims of murder or sexual assault or even insulting a white person. But I emphasize that word "alleged," because again, there's no due process for this person.
Stephen Berrey: Usually lynchings took the form of a hanging, of a shooting, or of a burning, or sometimes of a combination of those things. And even in many cases, all three of those things to one individual. Throughout the Jim Crow era, thousands of Black people were lynched, and often you would have spectators at these lynchings, including, in many cases, thousands of men, of women, of children. Sometimes they would bring a picnic with them and have lunch. It became a big thing to do, a time to have a picnic in the middle or before or after this lynching. And these events were incredibly gruesome. Afterwards, people would pose with the body of the victim. Often these photographs were turned into postcards, and you could buy them all over the country. You could buy a postcard of a lynching in New York City, which again tells you the extent to which the larger public is okay with these acts, that you could buy a postcard of a lynching in New York City, way outside the South.
Stephen Berrey: Lynching was national. That is, that it took place in places across the country, but it was most prominent in the South, especially from the 1890s to the 1910s. Its purpose was to intimidate the entire Black community, to intimidate them not to challenge white people, to really convey to them what white power meant, which it meant that they could get away with this, that they could do this, and that there was nothing that somebody could do about it, that there would be no recourse. And it is really important to talk about these events in class. At the same time, it can be really challenging to talk about it, especially in this moment when we—including our students—are exposed to contemporary acts of racial violence, whether we see those online or in social media, that there are ways in which talking about racial violence is really challenging. It can be triggering in ways that it can be traumatic for your students.
Stephen Berrey: And there also is the question about, is it disrespectful to show a photograph of a lynching? What does that mean for the person who has been lynched? Are we, in fact, if we are looking at that photograph, also a spectator to that violence in the same way that people might show up there with a picnic? Here's how I approach it. I do show photos on slides in class on PowerPoint, but I do three other things when I'm showing those images. One, I cover up the Black individual in that photograph. My point in showing the photograph is to focus on the white participation in this gruesome act. That I want the students to see how acceptable this was in a particular community, but not to have them look as a spectator to this violence, to be looking at the Black person. So cover up the Black individual. Second, I may show several photographs, but I put them all together. I also let them know multiple times that it's coming up. So I will tell them the class before that we're going to be looking at some pretty horrific photographs. I will also mention it at the beginning of class, that it's going to come up at a certain moment, which is both to prepare them, but it's also to let them know that if it makes them uncomfortable, that they can leave the room, they can even look down at their notes if they don't want to leave the room. I want them to have options to be able to disengage.
Stephen Berrey: The third thing that I do is I provide context and tell them as much as I can about the victim's life. I tell them the name of the person, his or her name; there were some women who were also lynched. We talk about when it happened, where it happened, what was the alleged incident that led to this act. And anything else that I can find out as a reminder to the students about the humanity of that person who has been the victim of a lynching.
Stephen Berrey: So in talking about violence, it's important to note the brutality and the inhumanity of this system. And I think it's also important to do that in a way that recognizes the humanity of the person who has been killed.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Violence was the cornerstone of Jim Crow. And lynching was its most public manifestation. The documentary An Outrage is a powerful resource for teaching the impact of this too-hidden history. Filmmakers Hannah Ayers and Lance Warren present the memories and perspectives of descendants, community activists, and scholars from lynching sites in six states in the American South.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: We asked high-school ELA teacher Ahmariah Jackson to interview them about using the film in the classroom. Here’s their conversation.
Ahmariah Jackson: This is incredible to act as an interviewer, Hannah and Lance, in such a pertinent matter. To begin, what was your inspiration behind the film? What prompted it? What made it so important and imperative for you?
Lance Warren: Lynching was not taught memorably when I was in middle school, high school, even looking to college, the centrality of racial violence to American history was not made clear to me. And yet as we learned later, for the thousands of people who were killed, for their families, lynching was the clearest definition they ever had for what it meant to be an American. Once you understand something about the consistency of racial violence throughout American history, it should be impossible to look away from. And I think as storytellers, as media makers, we found ourselves wondering if there is a teacher who is interested in teaching this critical aspect of American history to her students, is there a film that we could offer to help shape that discussion?
Hannah Ayers: We had heard that teachers wanted to talk about this in their classrooms, but didn't always have the tools to really bring personal stories to life. And then the Equal Justice Initiative published their report, "Lynching in America," in the spring of 2015, and documented more lynchings than had ever before been documented. They really emphasized how this was a huge gap in our understanding of the American narrative. A lot of the media coverage emphasized the numbers, which are so important to understand the scale and scope of lynching. So what we thought we could offer as filmmakers was, how do you make that vast history personal? How do you bring it down to a human scale? And so we set out to make a film that would emphasize family stories.
Ahmariah Jackson: What I love about what you just said, Hannah, what actually affected me a lot about the film is that idea of saying the name, of putting a face, speaking of the individuals, of their descendants, and allowing that to have humanity there. Because I believe at times, when we discuss what are political and/or social issues, we absolutely ignore the individuals there. So you can say the word "murder" over and over again, as you can say "lynching" over and over again, and it is simply just a word. But when you allow the human that was affected by that, the humans that are affected by that to breathe in the discussion, I think you really prompt thought and the opportunity for some real definitive movement.
Ahmariah Jackson: There's so much going on with the film, but Uncle Frazier, Lake City, South Carolina.
Lance Warren: Yes.
Hannah Ayers: Dr. Fostenia Baker.
Ahmariah Jackson: She's looking at this farm that she's seeing, this farmland. And she asks dad whose farmland that was. And he says, "Uncle Frazier." And she asks about it and he says, "Honey, it's a long, sad story." I had to write that down, because it touched me that she'd be walking by the history of her ancestor regularly and not being aware. And then once she is made aware, the pain that goes with it. And also looking back at Mr. Johnson speaking in Memphis, Tennessee, talking about 5,000 folk cheering and selling concessions like it was a stadium event. I'm curious, which moments affected you the most?
Lance Warren: I think sitting in Dr. Fostenia Baker's living room and hearing that story. We were in Washington, DC, where she lived, and yet we were taken back in our imaginations to a small town in rural South Carolina a half century ago. And how distant she might have felt from the world where we were sitting, and yet how powerfully present that history was. That was a riveting moment. You've got to think after all, her great uncle was a postmaster. That means that he was one of more than 2,000 Black Americans who served in positions in the government from senator to postmaster, everything in between. More than 2,000 Black Americans during Reconstruction who were part of the government, who were part of the United States in a way that hadn't been possible mere years before. That time of hope was much briefer than we often teach about it. You know, we teach that Reconstruction ended in 1877 with this compromise, but that's really just when the final troops are pulled out of the final places in the South. Reconstruction ends quite a bit earlier in most Southern states and is quite short. In Virginia, for example, Reconstruction's over by 1870.
Lance Warren: The moment of hope that Reconstruction brings, the hope that Black Americans and some white allies fought for in Reconstruction is brief. And we can see its brevity and its brutal taking away in the story of Dr. Baker, in the story of her great uncle, in a story of what happened on an apparently ordinary stretch of ground in Lake City, South Carolina, where as a girl she wondered, "What is this land and why is it empty?" And her father was able to tell her it's not empty at all. It's full of a lot of memories.
Lance Warren: Those landscapes, the landscape that she was observing as a child in Lake City, South Carolina, the landscape that Dr. Andre Johnson took us to in Memphis, overgrown weeds by a creek. Those landscapes don't reveal what happened there. They look ordinary. There's an ordinariness to a lot of lynching sites due to the lack of commemorative markers, due to the lack of mainstream knowledge about what happened there. And so, in a sense, those landscapes lie to us. They suggest that nothing much happened here, when in reality something terrible happened here. Those landscapes are two tangible examples of how the present shape of our lives, how powerfully they are defined by what happened there in the past. Because for Dr. Fostenia Baker's father, that wasn't just a field, that was where his family's story took a tragic turn, that was where his family's vision of what it could mean to live in America radically changed.
Hannah Ayers: One thing that's really stuck with me is Dr. Baker is a great example of someone who has worked for a long time to keep her family's memory alive. She worked for a long time on a book about her great uncle who was lynched. And not only him, but what happened to that family after he passed away. Because despite the fact that he was an employee of the federal government, the family didn't receive a pension. They received no support from the government to pick up their lives. And it was a young family, a widow with kids. And how do you pick yourself up from that? And what do you do when you're in a community that is attacking you and your family, who has set out to murder your entire family?
Hannah Ayers: And I think she wanted to explore that pain and that legacy and the resilience of her family. And Dr. Baker passed recently, and her material is there, so I hope the book will still come out. But one thing that really stuck with me with producing the film is meeting people like her, meeting Thelma Dangerfield in Paris, Texas, meeting Hattie Lawson in Monroe, Georgia, meeting Sonny Gray in Shubuta, Mississippi. For Thelma, Hattie and Sonny, they live in these places, and they're daring to speak about a history that most people don't want to dig up. It's uncomfortable. It doesn't shed good light. It's not good for tourism. It's not something that most people want a marker about. They don't want filmmakers coming in from the outside and talking to people about. So I don't see what we were doing as heroic in the least. We had the easy job of coming into town and meeting the true heroes who are doing the everyday work to make this history present, to refuse the forgetting of this history.
Hannah Ayers: And someone like Thelma, it really stuck with me that, you know, we asked, "How did your family come to live in Paris, Texas?" Which is in the eastern part of the state. And she said, "My family were slaves here and they stayed here." And she has taken it upon herself to dig into the archives at the genealogical society, create an exhibit about the Black history of Paris, Texas, including brutal lynchings that happened there. And that can't be popular, that can't be a safe thing to do or a comfortable thing to do. But she has it in her heart and spirit to make that part of Paris's narrative, that it's not just kind of a cute town with a cute name. That there's real hate and hurt to deal with there, too.
Ahmariah Jackson: I am even now kind of taken aback at the beautiful ugliness of it all. What I mean is those who kept those ancestors' names alive, those who are bravely still speaking out in areas, especially some of these rural areas, where it's still not necessarily as safe as one might imagine, to ensure that there are others who can learn from and benefit from that. So I'm curious, particularly as an educator who speaks with children who may have somewhat of a limited understanding of history, how do you envision this film being able to counter the narrative that everyone's been accustomed to of what lynching was and who was involved with lynching and even the possible reasons for lynching?
Hannah Ayers: Reflecting on my own high school education, lynching was really presented as something that happened, perpetrated by the Ku Klux Klan in the dead of night. Didn't happen very often, but was horrific. These masked figures who would come in and hang someone. That is definitely part of the story. That did happen. The KKK no doubt played a major role in perpetrating racial violence. But I think if we leave it at that, we miss a huge part of this history and its meaning, because lynching did not only happen in the dead of night, it was not only perpetrated by people wearing capes. It happened in broad daylight. It happened in front of crowds of hundreds or thousands of people sometimes. At times it was advertised in the newspaper and schools were closed so that families could attend. In the film we explore the fact that this was really part and parcel of what being in the South was during the Jim Crow era. There was a constant threat of violence, because white Southerners felt that their livelihoods were being taken away, that they did not have the same economic opportunities. And the response was any kind of action could be seen as a ...
Ahmariah Jackson: I think I understand what you're saying. You know, there's a subtlety and a nuance that's often missed when we have this conversation. In 1991, I was fortunate enough to move to Albuquerque, New Mexico, and got introduced to a whole 'nother world, coming from a place that was Black, white and mixed. And yes, that would be someone of generally Black and/or white parentage. But that was the world that I lived in in Arkansas, and all of the cute white girls I didn't have any conversations with, even though I spent a lot of time in classes with them. But I remember moving to Albuquerque, and at the eighth grade social, the music is playing. I'm having a great time. And there's this cute blonde with green eyes on the other side of the room who lives in the same neighborhood as I moved into. And, you know, she's—I guess she's flirting with me. She says something kind of cute. I don't remember. I don't hear her. And it's like a scene from, I don't know, Saved By the Bell or some '80s movie. The song on the radio stops playing. She says something pretty saucy to me. Everybody looks at me, and I am frozen. Because in my mind I'm thinking Arkansas. And I'm thinking of the implications of what could happen and who's watching and what they may have to say about that. And then I snapped out of it, and I wasn't in Arkansas anymore. I was in Albuquerque.
Ahmariah Jackson: But that was a very, very present fear that I lived with as a child growing up. Something as commonplace as a conversation that could be perceived as going too far, someone getting outside of their position, getting "uppity," if you will. And I think those are the subtle implications. Those are the long-reaching hands that are hallmarks, that are harbingers of that history of lynching, because you never know. If that makes any sense. You just never know. That pain affects those who are direct victims of it, but it also affects those who have had any proximity to any of that or any understanding of that in their lives.
Lance Warren: And you say "You never know," because if we only think of racial violence as having been committed by the Klan, which is to say by these outrageous figures in costumes, then it's easy to separate them from a broader narrative of what was happening in the South, in America. After all, we got to remember, this didn't just happen in the South. The Ku Klux Klan has long been a national organization. It marched in cities all across the country. Membership stretches coast to coast. But lynching didn't just look like the Klan, let's be honest. Lynching looked like respectable businessmen. It looked like grandfathers. It looked like kind people who would go home and hug their families.
Lance Warren: Lynching looked like the South, looked like America, because it was committed by Americans and Americans allowed it to happen. And if we get out of this mindset of racial violence somehow being consolidated in the odious history of the Klan, then we can get to a place where we can look at racial violence as being consistent over American history.
Ahmariah Jackson: I feel my educators would want to fight me if I didn't ask, how do you envision this conversation and the film and its corresponding materials, how do you see that fitting into such a standardized, test-driven educational system?
Lance Warren: This is something that we've thought about a lot, the ability to teach hard history. And we discovered that there are a lot of opportunities to do this embedded in the curriculum already.
Hannah Ayers: I think one of the most powerful ones, and it's something that I learned in making the film, is the Great Migration. Ahmariah, is it safe to say that the Great Migration would figure in both English language arts and history classes as a standard part of the high school curriculum?
Ahmariah Jackson: Oh, absolutely. And I've had a great time exploring it, and I connect it to the birth of hip hop.
Hannah Ayers: Oh, fascinating! It's a key example for us too, because my memory of learning about the Great Migration was that it this very hopeful story about jobs opening up in Northern cities, and Black families picking up and leaving the South en masse to search for new opportunity and finding that new opportunity in the form of jobs and homes. But I think Isabel Wilkerson really helped complicate that notion for me, that there was that pull, but what we're not taught about the Great Migration traditionally is the push from the South. The fact that families were also fleeing racial violence, they were fleeing terrorism. Some had been directly affected by lynching. Some had been made aware of the threat, any misstep could lead to death.
Hannah Ayers: Families were certainly wanting to break away from the poor economic opportunities that were in the South, but many of them were also fleeing for their lives. And I think that gives a whole different shape and understanding to the Great Migration. It really just sheds a totally different light on it. And there's also, of course, the complication that families who sought opportunities in the North weren't met with safety, necessarily. That there was a whole 'nother set of dangers and risks and challenges. And that too, I think can come out if you're realigning the Great Migration to look at the history of racial violence, and how families were trying to carve out opportunities for themselves.
Lance Warren: And I think you can pick up too, and talk about people like W.E.B. Du Bois. People like Ida B. Wells. These are folks who regularly pop up in our history textbooks, who regularly pop up in our curriculums. And what catalyzed their work was the history of lynching, was fighting against lynching. W.E.B. Du Bois tells a story. He was heading off to a meeting and he stopped at a store to get a Coca-Cola or something. And what he finds among refreshments at the store is a souvenir. It's a souvenir from a lynching. And it's a piece of the body of a man named Sam Hose who was killed in Georgia that was on sale for people who might have wanted to take home a bit of the history that was being written by white people in that county. He said he went home and realized in that moment that if he was not fighting for Black liberation every day in every way that he could, then he was wasting his time.
Lance Warren: Ida B. Wells was originally a teacher if I'm not mistaken, but she was galvanized in the work that would define her career by the murders of friends of hers who had the temerity to open a shop in Memphis, roughly across the street from some white business owners. As Americans brought to revere the free market, we might call that competition. In this Memphis community, it was seen as an affront. It was seen as an aggressive act. It couldn't stand. She was never able to come back home after starting to write about the realities of lynching in America. And she led out the rest of her life's work exiled from her homeland for speaking the truth.
Lance Warren: There are names throughout American history that are taught, that are in our textbooks, that people are familiar with, and much of the passion that they found for their work came from a place that we're not as familiar with, and namely the history of racial violence. So there are plenty of ways to look at the people and the ideas that we're already expected to teach and find a way to sharpen the edges a little bit. People like Ida B. Wells, W.E.B. Du Bois, they would know that you could not teach about their life's work without talking about racial violence. And we should know that, too.
Ahmariah Jackson: Lance, Hanna, this has been a great way to prepare me for the travails of getting back into the virtual classroom. Thank you so very much for the film, for saying the names, for adding humanity, for adding people. And definitely thank you for equipping my fellow educators with some tools so that they can go back and further uplift our youth and our future, if you will, in the words of Whitney Houston. Thank you so much.
Lance Warren: Thank you, Ahmariah. Really, it's a privilege to talk with you. We appreciate you giving us your time. We've said many times, and we mean it without a bit of exaggeration, that teachers are our heroes. History teachers teach the history that Americans remember. That's a profound responsibility. And we are grateful, truly, to you and your colleagues for trying to do that hard work every day.
Hannah Ayers: Thank you, Ahmariah. This film really doesn't mean anything, doesn't do anything unless it's put to work, unless it's shown to young people. And we know it's just a starting point, but we hope it's a starting point that can open up a lot of worthwhile conversations. So thank you for your work in doing that.
Ahmariah Jackson: Absolutely.
Hannah Ayers: Take care.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: This is Teaching Hard History, and I’m your host Hasan Kwame Jeffries. We’re hoping you’ll learn from the podcast and apply it to your classrooms. That’s why for every episode, we prepare a detailed page of show notes just for you. It includes a complete transcript, which our team has enhanced with links to many relevant resources. This means you can easily find the materials mentioned by our guests, along with other tools for teaching about "Jim Crow, Lynching and White Supremacy." You can find these detailed show notes at Tolerance.org/podcasts. Now let’s return to Dr. Berrey.
Stephen Berrey: The second guideline is to talk about Jim Crow as a routine in everyday life. For all of those dramatic moments in which somebody may have been beaten or killed, there are all kinds of other moments shaping daily life. One of the things I say to my students is to think about it as a performance. In any performance you have a stage, you have scripts, you have stage directions, you have particular lines that people are supposed to deliver in a certain way. They're supposed to move in a certain way. Those are expectations. And Jim Crow also carried expectations for both Black people and white people in how they interacted in daily life.
Stephen Berrey: So, for example, white people expected Black people to address them with titles of respect, to refer to them as "Mister," as "Miss," as "Mrs." or as "Sir." As in, "Yes, sir," or "Yes, ma'am." Conversely, white people would address Black people not with titles of respect, but rather with nicknames, with "Boy," "Auntie," "Aunt Sadie," "Uncle." In addition to those things that we might imagine as being in that script, there were also gestures. Black people were supposed to gesture in ways that conveyed deference, that they were deferential to white people. And I talk about imagining all the times in which people are talking to each other throughout a day as a way to think about how this is a system that is demeaning and dehumanizing, that's going to play out multiple times a day every time you're interacting with someone else.
Stephen Berrey: A second way that I like to talk about this is to think about sidewalks. I will often ask students what is their sidewalk etiquette? That is, when they're walking down a sidewalk and it's a narrow enough sidewalk that somebody approaching them, that one of them is going to have to step to the side, I ask them, "How do you decide whether or not to step aside? Do you have particular kinds of rules? Are there particular moments in which you will or won't step aside for someone else?" And they mention all kinds of things. They may talk about stepping aside for older people. They may talk about stepping aside based on issues related to gender, or even about ways in which they refuse to step aside as their own performance of who they are. And I ask them that to then note that there is this Jim Crow expectation that if you are a Black person in the Jim Crow South, you are expected to always step aside for white people. You're always stepping off the sidewalk, that that's a daily rule. And that's something that if you are a Black person walking down the sidewalk, you always have to be prepared for that, thinking about that, ready to step off the sidewalk as you see somebody coming. Jim Crow is this system that shapes daily life, that literally shapes what people do, how they move, how long it takes to get from point A to point B, again imagining all the times you might have to step off the sidewalk.
Stephen Berrey: A third thing that I try to do in thinking about the daily routines of Jim Crow, is to focus on other interracial interactions. Black people and white people are constantly in the same spaces, even with these rules. And photographs work great for conveying what that looks like and what it means. One that I like to use is a shot of the interior of a Birmingham bus. In the back of the bus, you see all of these Black passengers who are crowded together, many of them standing up. The seats are completely full. They're pushed together. And then in the front half of the bus, you see many fewer white people, none of whom are standing. In fact, there are many empty seats. They're spread out. They look comfortable.
Stephen Berrey: And we spend some time without me talking about what I think is happening in that image, getting them to talk about, what do you see here? What does this tell you about Jim Crow? What are some conclusions that you can draw? And usually I use a photograph like that to highlight three points. One is that we can see that Jim Crow is this system in which even with people being separate, they're still together. They can still see each other, they can still hear each other, and that means that the ways in which people perform, the ways in which they move and talk is important.
Stephen Berrey: Secondly, that Jim Crow, especially in daily routines, is often about comfort and convenience for white people, and often at the expense of discomfort and inconvenience for Black people. And you see it really powerfully in this photograph. And then the third thing that I like to emphasize is that seemingly nothing is happening here. It's not an episode that looks physically violent or particularly traumatic or dramatic. We don't see police dogs or people being beaten. And yet in this image where nothing seems to be happening, it's also a really clear image of the ways in which Jim Crow is this system meant to dehumanize Black people. That we see that very clearly marked in these performances on the bus. The everyday-ness of this system, the daily routines of Jim Crow, is so important to it.
Stephen Berrey: Guideline number three is talk about Jim Crow outside the South. Jim Crow was a national system, and so far up to this point I've mostly been focused on the South, especially where it emerges in the 1880s and 1890s, in part because the overwhelming majority of the Black population in the US is in the South in that period. But it was very much a national system. So here are a few examples of ways you can talk about this. Number one, housing contracts. Across the country, especially in cities in most of the 20th century, certainly in most of the first half of the 20th century, you would often find what was known as a "restrictive covenant" written into a contract. And that if you bought this house, there are certain groups of people you could not sell it to. It might include Black people, Jewish people, Mexicans, Chinese, Japanese, depending on where you were. And you see all kinds of language in the ways in which various groups are described, whether it's in New York or Chicago or somewhere on the West Coast. But these covenants were regularly written into housing contracts that were meant to keep neighborhoods completely white. And it was legal. It was not only that it was legal, that it was in the contract, but it was legal for it to be in that contract until 1948.
Stephen Berrey: And one of the things that I like to do is to Google "restrictive covenant" and find examples from actual contracts. And it's really effective for people to be able to see the language that would show up in as mundane of a document as a housing contract.
Stephen Berrey: Number two: Redlining. Redlining refers to a practice embraced by a federal agency in the 1930s who took urban maps and was essentially outlining them in different colors, outlining various neighborhoods. And the various colors, green and red, blue, I think yellow was a category, all of them were meant to mark whether a particular neighborhood was “desirable” or “hazardous,” and especially for investment for new housing. And overwhelmingly in cities across the country, neighborhoods in which the majority of the population were Black or were Latinx, those neighborhoods were outlined and then colored in red, which meant they were hazardous. Which meant that it was virtually impossible to get a loan to invest in those communities. These maps are readily available for cities across the country. And there's a very decent chance that the city that you might be teaching in has one of these maps that's available online.
Stephen Berrey: The other reason I like to show it is that it's a reminder that Jim Crow is not only about something that happened in the past, but we know that when you take something like investing in a neighborhood, that has long-term repercussions, that has a legacy that way outlives the 1930s and 1940s when these practices were put in place. The legacy of a community that's not going to have any growth or any investment, that's going to extend into other generations.
Stephen Berrey: A third thing that I like to talk about in talking about Jim Crow nationally is sundown towns, towns that actively excluded various groups of people. Most often that referred to Black people, but also in the West, you see a lot of sundown towns referring to Chinese people. The name "Sundown" is a reference to a particular group of people having to be out of town by sundown. In other words, they couldn't live in that town. They might be able to work there during the day, but they couldn't stay there at night.
Stephen Berrey: And these sundown towns became prominent in the late 19th century, often connected to an initial expulsion of a particular group, a dramatic act of violence that drove out most of, let's say, the Black population out of that town. And then was enforced through formal or informal measures, again throughout the country, outside the South, the North, the West, the Midwest, and extending into the 20th century and in some cases into the present. The person who's behind this research, historian James Loewen, created a website. And in every state, there are lists of towns with information about its status, and when it became a sundown town, and if there are other things that are known about the racial practices in that town. It works really well in the classroom. You can have students check on places nearby them, whether or not they're a sundown town. There's also steps that are on the website in which they can do their own research into towns nearby to see if, in fact, that was or is a sundown town. So the key, though, whether you're talking about any of these measures, is to emphasize that Jim Crow was a national institution and was not just in the South.
Stephen Berrey: Here's the fourth guideline. Talk about the national culture. And this also highlights the ways in which Jim Crow was a national system. It was everywhere. It was all over films, advertisements, television, cartoons. Imagine somebody three or four years old, their first exposure to some representation of Blackness is a demeaning caricature. And often it took the form of reducing Black people to a few images, a few representations as violent, as lazy, as inferior. In all of these ways, always as something that was dehumanizing.
Stephen Berrey: One of the examples I like to give is with advertisements, with things like Aunt Jemima in reference to pancakes and syrup or Uncle Ben's rice. I will have students analyze the ads, and the old advertisements, advertisements from the '30s, '40s, '50s, are effective in showing these particularly dehumanizing representations. You will always see Black people smiling. You will often see them dressed as servants. Uncle Ben is dressed as a servant. Aunt Jemima is dressed as a maid or as a domestic worker serving white people. You see these representations over and over again in the advertisements. Even the names, Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben's, is referencing those customs of how white people talked to Black people, often through nicknames or these demeaning references.
Stephen Berrey: Another thing I find effective to talk about in talking about national culture is blackface. Blackface was a 19th-century professional practice that continued well into the 20th century in local communities. In fact, it persisted into the 1960s and 1970s. And this practice of amateur blackface was immensely popular everywhere. These shows were put on across the country; every region, every state, small towns, big cities. In schools, churches, civic groups. I've seen photographs of children as young as five years old doing these shows. And these shows, which were modeled on the 19th-century minstrel shows, featured white people putting on Black makeup and putting on outlandish, oversized bow ties, mismatched, oversized suits. The scripts themselves would include lots of mispronouncing words, playing on those reductive caricatures of Black people as not being very smart or as being violent or as being lazy.
Stephen Berrey: And these shows were so popular that a publishing industry emerges so if you're putting on a show in your local high school, there are scripts you can buy. You can buy a guide to how to put on a minstrel show for high school students. That one came out in 1939. And there are all kinds of these things. You could buy makeup that's specifically for putting on a minstrel show. And I will tell you that these shows by white communities were packaged as good, clean, innocent fun, as something wholesome and innocent, even as for the entire history of these performances in the 20th century, the NAACP is challenging these shows, is protesting them, is asking groups not to put on these shows. The response from white communities is often that they don't mean any harm, that this is perfectly innocent.
Stephen Berrey: But of course, it isn't perfectly innocent. These caricatures are incredibly destructive. And in terms of talking about them to students, references to blackface come up all the time, whether it's a reference to Justin Trudeau or to Halloween this year, last year, next year, to somebody at a frat party or somewhere finding a photograph. Those things are popping up all the time. And when they do, the students are intrigued by it, and I think generally know that there's something wrong with that representation, but not specifically what the history is behind it. This is a history that has been thoroughly buried in communities as well as nationally. Back in 2019, Ralph Northam, the governor of Virginia, was in the news when his medical school yearbook from 1984 showed a photograph on his page of a person in blackface and a person in a Klan outfit. When this incident came out, I actually showed this photograph in class. And one of the things I talked about with the students, in part because it wasn't coming up in the media at all, is that the person in the photograph, it wasn't just that they were in blackface, they were actually dressed up as a minstrel show character. And we know that because they were wearing this oversized bow tie, the mismatched, ill-fitting suit, those are the trademarks of the minstrel show. And it's obvious that whoever that person is who's in blackface, that they are playing on this tradition, and they probably come from a town where people were putting on shows pretty late into the 20th century. And it's not surprising, given how prolific these shows were.
Stephen Berrey: So you can have students look at old school yearbooks. There's a very good chance that they will find evidence of amateur blackface minstrelsy. They may see photographs of people in blackface in the 19-teens or 1920s, 1930s. It's also possible that in those eras in particular up to the 1940s, in those yearbooks, they'll see that there were minstrel shows put on at the high school, in the auditorium. And even as late as the '50s or '60s, they can even look at yearbooks in the '70s, '80s, '90s, and there's a decent chance that they'll see somebody dressed up in blackface for a costume party or for Halloween or for something like that. You can also have them talk to older people in the community, that there's a really good chance that people in the community will know or remember that those shows took place. And also, if you live in a place where the newspaper has been digitized going back 100 years, you will almost certainly find lots of examples that you can then bring into a class to talk about race in the way it's played out in your own community.
Stephen Berrey: So it's important to talk about the ways in which Jim Crow was everywhere, it's in everything, and it's in every region. That it is very much this all encompassing system.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Music was vital to the civil rights movement, and continues to be critical to global freedom struggles today. In this installment of “Movement Music,” historian Charles Hughes brings us two heartfelt and evocative songs about the realities of living in the Jim Crow era. Here’s Charles.
Charles Hughes: Blind Willie Johnson recorded “Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground” in 1927 in Dallas, Texas. His slide guitar mixed blues and gospel over a wordless vocal that is both earthbound and ghostly. It is haunting and haunted, a deeply moving soundtrack for the pain and violence of the Jim Crow years.
Charles Hughes: Like Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” or Skip James’s “Hard Times Killing Floor Blues”, Johnson’s mournful call expresses an era which kept equal citizenship out of Black folks’ reach, and a nation where white violence and silence was the response to Black assertion and accomplishment. Sometimes there were no words to express the depth of the struggle.
Charles Hughes: “Dark Was The Night” is built on Black musical traditions which laid the groundwork for musical revolutions to follow, not only capturing the era’s pain but also symbolizing its perseverance.
Charles Hughes: Songs from the Jim Crow years reflect the same survival, community-building and resistance traditions that emerged as African Americans confronted new circumstances with a rich and imaginative set of responses. The music was part of that response. Blues, jazz, gospel and other sounds reasserted the beauty and complexity of Black experiences, and allowed for safe, sometimes secret spaces, for expressions of anger, sadness and joy.
Charles Hughes: The music was also the sound of mobility. Drawing from older, often rural traditions, these new genres—and the recordings that allow us to hear them a century later—represented a historical remix, as Black communities faced new opportunities and challenges in the 20th century. Opportunities and challenges like the Great Migration, the massive movement of African Americans from the rural South to Northern and Western cities during the early decades of the 1900s.
Charles Hughes: Black folks who moved brought their music with them, including one family who journeyed from Mississippi to Chicago and became the Staple Singers.
Charles Hughes: Uncloudy Day” was the Staple Singers' debut single. Released in 1956, it is a compelling musical encapsulation of the Jim Crow era. Built around the rumbling electric guitar of Roebuck “Pops” Staples, modeled on the Delta blues players he knew in his youth, the song reverberates with the pulsing harmonies of Pops and his children, whose voices join together in the close-harmony call-and-response that joined the spirituals with modern gospel music. Youngest daughter Mavis anchors the ensemble with a striking baritone.
Charles Hughes: “Uncloudy Day” launched the Staple Singers. They became gospel stars and later part of the R&B and soul revolutions of the '60s and '70s. The Staple Singers consciously linked their music to the Civil Rights Movement. They performed at Movement rallies, and lent their support to the political revolutions that emerged out of the Jim Crow period. Like their friends Aretha Franklin and Sam Cooke, the Staple Singers nurtured the historical connections between the music and the freedom struggle. The lyrics of “Uncloudy Day” offer assurance—or at least strong faith—that a better day is coming. But the sound aches with the same ambivalence as Blind Willie Johnson’s wordless chorus, what Cornel West identified as “the moan.” A better day may be coming, but it‘ll be a long, hard road to get there.
Charles Hughes: Both of these songs offer sonic glimpses into the energies and histories of the Jim Crow era. Blind Willie Johnson and the Staple Singers, like their countless counterparts in blues, gospel, jazz and other genres, address this era in a manner that neither erases the violence of white supremacy nor minimizes the ways that Black people fought to survive and overcome. For educators who seek to teach the Jim Crow era and honor that complexity, the musicians provide us with some of our most effective and powerful teaching tools. All we have to do is keep listening.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: The Black experiences—equal parts joy and pain—and Black music, blues, gospel, R&B, not only lets us hear both, hear the joy, hear the pain of the Black experience, it lets us feel both. And that is a precious gift. Be sure to listen to our latest Spotify playlist. Dr. Hughes has curated dozens of songs that amplify even more of the ideas raised in this episode. Just follow the link in the show notes at Tolerance.org/podcasts. Now back to Stephen Berrey.
Stephen Berrey: This is a really important point: include Black voices. The fifth guideline is include Black voices, in part because so much about Jim Crow is about talking about white people. White people are creating the laws. White people are carrying out a great deal of violence, and all of this is for the benefit of white people. There are ways in which in teaching this, it's easy to sort of get lost in the ways in which this is a white story. But it's really crucially important in talking about this system to talk about the Black people who are at the center of it. Black voices are critical. Talking about Black life, about Black culture, having them read Richard Wright, Zora Neale Hurston, Nella Larsen, having them listen to the music of Bessie Smith, of Billie Holiday, of Big Bill Broonzy, having them study the art of Elizabeth Catlett, Aaron Douglass, Jacob Lawrence. All of those things are a way of reminding students that in talking about this racial system, we're also talking about real people involved in this system. And we're also talking about the ways in which, in spite of this racial system, we see Black people having fulfilling rich lives in all kinds of other ways.
Stephen Berrey: You can also do this in talking directly about, and relating it back to Jim Crow. And I'd like to give you a few examples of ways that I do that. One of that is through oral histories, and there are a lot of oral histories, hundreds if not thousands available online, including audio clips and transcripts. A couple of great places to find these oral histories are at the University of Southern Mississippi's Civil Rights Oral History Collection, as well as Duke's Behind the Veil project.
Stephen Berrey: One of those people, for example, is Daisy Thomas Livingston. Daisy was born in 1926 in Greenwood, Mississippi. That's in the Delta in Mississippi. Her father worked in a local mill. Her mother worked at home. And there's an interview with Daisy in the Behind the Veil series from Duke [audio @ 15:24 / transcript @ page 10] in which the interviewer is noting that segregation was in part intended to make Black people feel inferior. And she asked Daisy, she said, "Did you ever feel that way? Did you ever internalize those things?" And Daisy's response is, and I quote here, Daisy says, "No, I really didn't. I never did feel like it, because I had a wise grandmama and mama, and like I told you, my granddaddy had land and we were always taught that we were as good as anybody. And that's the way I felt. My grandmama and grandpapa had a real sense of worth. They talked about Africa and Haile Selassie all the time."
Stephen Berrey: Daisy's response to this question, it actually reveals a lot. It reveals the strategies that she adopted for resisting Jim Crow. And it has us thinking about the ways in which people did survive and resist Jim Crow. It has us thinking about the importance of her family, about what she learned from her family, about learning Black history, and not just Black history generally, but referencing a proud history that goes back to Africa. And at the same time, it also has us thinking about the importance of the home that's more likely to be separated from and away from the surveillance of white people. There's a lot you can do with these clips. And there are so many of them available. They're really effective. Students in particular, I think find it more meaningful to hear somebody talking about this experience growing up in the Jim Crow era.
Stephen Berrey: A second thing that you can use in getting Black voices into your conversations about Jim Crow are to think about survivals and workarounds. A really good example of this is the Green Book. You might be familiar with the Green Book because we've recently seen a movie with that title. And it's referring to this guide that was created by Black people, for Black people, specifically for Black travelers. This guide came out every year from 1936 to 1966. And inside the guide are references to places that you can get a meal, places that you can stay at night, sometimes it's a hotel, sometimes it's the name of a person's house, a tourist's home. All kinds of other things you can do in particular places.
Stephen Berrey: The guide that I like to use is from 1949. It's a guide that's available online that I've downloaded and I will show it to students. I'll have them look at various listings. And I like to show it to them because it demonstrates a few points. Number one, it's a window into Black people as tourists and travelers. That is, that all of these other moments in which we're talking about Black people experiencing Jim Crow, we get to see the ways in this book in which they're thinking about navigating the things that all of us navigate as we're thinking about moving about the country.
Stephen Berrey: Number two, it's an example of Black people navigating Jim Crow rules specifically. That is, thinking about if you are taking a trip, preparing ahead, that you have to do these extra steps to make sure that you're staying somewhere where you can get something to eat, where there is a place to stay at night. That's not only about finding a place that's allowable and finding a place where you will be safe. And three, it's also another reminder of the ways in which Jim Crow is this national system, because this guidebook is not a guidebook to traveling throughout the South, it's a guidebook to traveling throughout the country. There are listings for cities and towns in Maine, in Michigan, in California, in states across the country, in towns and cities across the country. And so it is this moment of reminding students as they're looking at it, especially if they see their own state or their own town in this place, it's another way in which to emphasize the ways in which Jim Crow is this national system and the ways in which Black people are having to think about and navigate through this system.
Stephen Berrey: The third thing I like to do in terms of including Black voices is to talk about activism. Black people were always organizing, there is always a history of activism alongside Jim Crow from the very beginning. And one of the ways in which you can demonstrate this to students is to have them do research on specific individuals. For example, students can do research on Ida B. Wells, an anti-lynching activist in the late 19th and early 20th century. They can do research on Carter G. Woodson, the founder of what is now Black History Month, and important in so many other ways in connection to thinking about Black history. Or they can do research on Ella Baker, who is in the 1930s organizing NAACP chapters across the South, and who by the 1950s and 1960s has become one of the central and most important figures of the civil rights movement.
Stephen Berrey: There are lots of other possibilities for that exercise. But really the point is, in all of those measures finding ways to include Black voices in how you talk about Jim Crow as this racial system.
Stephen Berrey: When we think of the successes of the civil rights movement, we often think of the major legislative victories, of the things that ended legal segregation in public places, like finally being able to eat at a lunch counter, or we think about the legislation that protected voting rights. And to be sure, those things were really important and significant. At the same time, we can see that voting and lunch counters were only two facets of that system, and that it wasn't even a story that was exclusively about the South. Jim Crow was about economic issues, it was about policing issues, it was about the ways in which it shaped everyday life. This is a national story. And it was about the larger culture. It really was this massive system that stretched into all aspects of people's lives, wherever they lived. And it's an indication of the massive task that activists confronted, and why it’s been so hard to dismantle this system of racial oppression.
Stephen Berrey: And I'd actually like to come back to that Gordon Parks photograph that I talked about in the very beginning of this discussion, that photograph of the white woman, the Black woman and the white baby, because one of the things that I think that Gordon Parks, the photographer, has us asking ourselves when we were looking at that photograph is, “Who are they? Who were these people in this photograph? How did they experience Jim Crow?" And I think we can take our cue from him. I think that that's a really good way to think about how to teach Jim Crow, is that we do want to think always about the people who were swept up in this system, those who benefited from it, those who suffered, those who worked to preserve it, and those who challenged it and organized to take it down.
Stephen Berrey: And I will say that at the end of the day, as much as history is about things like events and facts and about these bigger forces, it's always also and centrally about people.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Stephen A. Berrey is an associate professor of American culture and history at the University of Michigan. He is the author of The Jim Crow Routine: Everyday Performances of Race, Civil Rights, and Segregation in Mississippi from UNC Press. Dr. Berrey also works with historian James Loewen to provide useful resources online through the Sundown Towns project. You can find a link in the show notes.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Ahmariah Jackson teaches high school English and composition, as well as AP literature in Atlanta, Georgia. Mr. Jackson considers education to be his act of revolution—using content within the books and literature that he loves to help his students see the greatness that dwells within them.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Lance Warren and Hannah Ayers are the Emmy-winning, documentary filmmakers behind Field Studio, in Richmond, Virginia. Their film An Outrage—along with a teaching guide—is free for teachers to stream on the Teaching Tolerance website. Field Studio's latest project is the PBS series, The Future of America's Past—exploring how artists, activists, and curators remember some of the hardest chapters of American history.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Teaching Hard History is a podcast from Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center—helping teachers and schools prepare students to be active participants in a diverse democracy. Teaching Tolerance provides free teaching materials about slavery and the civil rights movement that include award-winning films and classroom-ready texts. You can find these online at Tolerance.org.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Most students leave high school without an understanding of the civil rights movement and its continuing relevance. This podcast is part of an effort to change that. We began by talking about slavery for two seasons. And now we’re tracing that legacy of oppression—and resistance—into the present day.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Thanks to Dr. Berrey, Ms. Ayers, Mr. Warren and Mr. Jackson for sharing their insights with us. This podcast is produced by Shea Shackelford. Russell Gragg is our associate producer. Mary Quintas is our technical producer. And “Movement Music” is produced by Barrett Golding. Gabriel Smith provides content guidance. Our interns are Miranda LaFond and Amelia Gragg. And Kate Shuster is our executive producer.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Our theme song is “The Colors That You Bring” by Damon Locks Black Monument Ensemble, who graciously let us use it for this series. Additional music is from their album Where Future Unfolds, and from Wendel Patrick's JDWP Tribute.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: If you like what you’ve heard, please share it with your friends and colleagues. And let us know what you think. You can find us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. We always appreciate your feedback.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: I’m Dr. Hasan Kwame Jeffries, associate professor of history at The Ohio State University—and your host for Teaching Hard History.
- Teaching for Change, "Remaking History: Barack Obama, Political Cartoons, and the Civil Rights Movement."
- Harper's Magazine, "Water under the Bridge."
- PBS American Experience, Jim Crow Laws
- Southern Poverty Law Center
- Library of Congress, Reconstruction and Rights
- Stephen Berrey, University of Michigan
- Teaching Tolerance, An Outrage
- Ahmariah Jackson, LinkedIn
- Hannah Ayers and Lance Warren, Field Studio
- National Park Service, Gordon Parks Photography
- Gordon Parks, Life Magazine
- Gordon Parks, "Segregation in the South."
- Hasan Kwame Jeffries, Understanding and Teaching the Civil Rights Movement
- Jim Crow Museum (Ferris State University), Who Was Jim Crow? -
- American Studies (University of Virginia), Birmingham's Racial Segregation Ordinance
- wikipedia, Lynching in the United States
- An Outrage (film)
- Teaching Tolerance, Teaching "America’s National Crime"
- Equal Justice Initiative, Lynching in America
- Teaching Tolerance, Only a Lynching Is a Lynching
- Congressional Record, Tribute to Dr. Fostenia Baker
- The New York Times, Why Reconstruction Matters
- Dr. Andre Johnson, The University of Memphis
- Smithsonian Magazine, The Long-Lasting Legacy of the Great Migration
- Isabel Wilkerson
- NAACP, W.E.B. Du Bois
- Teaching Tolerance, Before Rosa Parks: Ida B. Wells
- African American Experience in Athens, The Lynching Project: Coweta County
- D.C. Policy Center, The rise and demise of racially restrictive covenants in Bloomingdale
- Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project, Racial Restrictive Covenants History
- Google search, "restrictive covenant"
- The Washington Post, Redlining was banned 50 years ago. It’s still hurting minorities today.
- James Loewen, Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism
- James Loewen, Sundown Towns in the United States
- The New York Times, Quaker to Change Aunt Jemima Name and Image Over 'Racial Stereotype'
- NPR, Uncle Ben's Changing Name To Ben's Original After Criticism Of Racial Stereotyping
- National Museum of African American History and Culture, Blackface: The Birth of An American Stereotype
- The Atlantic, Blackface Was Never Harmless
- Time, Justin Trudeau Wore Brownface at 2001 'Arabian Nights' Party While He Taught at a Private School
- Vox, Why yearbooks keep revealing skeletons in politicians’ closets
- Texas Monthly, The Soul of a Man: Who Was Blind Willie Johnson?
- Stax Records, The Staple Singers
- Cornel West
- National Park Service, Jim Crow Laws
- American Folklife Center, The Civil Rights History Project
- Duke Digital Repository, Behind the Veil
- Duke Digital Repository, Daisy Thomas Livingston interview
- The Atlantic, The Documentary Highlighting the Real Green Book
- NYPL Digital Collections, The Negro Motorist Green Book: 1949
- Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum, Carter G. Woodson
- Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Who Was Ella Baker?
- Stephen Berrey, The Jim Crow Routine: Everyday Performances of Race, Civil Rights, and Segregation in Mississippi
- Field Studio
- Teaching Tolerance, An Outrage (teaching guide)
- VMP/PBS, The Future of America's Past (film)