That Jim Crow was a tremendously important period in United States history is undisputable. Less obvious is how to properly address the violence, politics, and complexities that mark the era. In this section, Thirteen/WNET New York's Ed Online has provided Lesson Plans, Activities, and Resources for the classroom.
Educators may also be interested in exploring the New York Life-funded History of Jim Crow educator's Web site: www.jimcrowhistory.org.
From "The African American Press During the Jim Crow Era" (grades 6-8) to "Understanding Lynching During the Era of Jim Crow" (grades 9-12), these seven lesson plans run the gamut.
Two activities: "Living with Jim Crow" and "The Geography of Jim Crow."
An array of resources for educators and students.
ORAL HISTORY OVERVIEW
Much of America's history remains unrecorded, residing in the stories and memories of its people. Properly undertaken, a student-developed oral history project can be an important contribution to our knowledge of history. Through the practice of recording oral history, students learn to do research, to ask penetrating questions, and to listen, transcribe, edit, and design finished products. Through community-based oral history projects, students gain respect and recognition from their communities. By fostering local, intergenerational collaborations, oral history projects are a wonderful way to build bridges between the classroom and the community and to take advantage of community resources in educating your students. An oral history project is a way for students not only to learn history but also to do history.
That said, oral history projects demand time, planning, and administrative commitment. Students (and some teachers) may find it difficult adjusting to the unstructured nature of an oral history project. Given the time and level of commitment needed (many such classroom projects are the product of a semester-long period of preparation and development), teachers may want to consider developing an oral history project as part of an elective history course.
Using Oral Histories: The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow
Each of the four episodes of the documentary series The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow contains interviews with family members or witnesses to events in the history of Jim Crow, although the fourth episode in particular relies extensively on oral history interviews. The video is an effective way to introduce students to oral histories as a learning resource, as well as providing examples of well-done oral histories.
Many students just beginning to conduct oral history interviews often see themselves in the role of a debater trying to make a point or a reporter attempting to catch their subject in a contradiction. An oral history interviewer should guide the interviewee into sharing his or her experiences and opinions. Few people, for example, would agree with the attitudes expressed by the Klansman interviewed in Episode Four of the Rise and Fall of Jim Crow, who tells of his involvement as a child in a lynching. However, by allowing him to tell his story the viewer is provided a chilling glimpse into the violence that African Americans faced in the Jim Crow South.
Through the interviews with former students of Charlotte Hawkins Brown and the family members of Ned Cobb, Booker T. Washington, Isaiah Montgomery, and Charles Hamilton Houston, we experience a vicarious, living connection to African Americans, born in the nineteenth century, whose leadership charted the course for African Americans in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century. Listening to the recollections of witnesses to the Malcolm and Dorsey lynching or the student strike at Moton High School, in Farmville, Virginia, reminds the viewer that those events, which occurred some fifty years ago, a still a part of the living memory of their participants -- memories still powerful enough to draw tears to the eyes of those remembering the 1946 lynching of the two former servicemen and their wives, and smiles of admiration to the faces of Barbara Johns' classmates. For students beginning to embark on an oral history project, the documentary series is a powerful reminder that what is history to some is memory to others.
A Brief Guide to Developing Student Oral History Projects
This guide gives tips on the pre-interview, interview, and post-interview phases of an oral history project and offers a bibliography and a selection of useful online resources.
- Begin by laying the groundwork for your oral history project. Oral history projects almost always turn out to be far more ambitions than originally expected. Establish a focus on a particular event, topic or historical era. It might be the impact of Jim Crow in your community, or an oral history of African American migration during the Jim Crow era. Initiate brainstorming sessions with your students. If they are involved in the project from its first, conceptual stages, they will be more likely to devote the time and energy needed to complete the undertaking successfully. With the participation of students in the class, develop a schedule for all phases of the development and completion of your project.
- Once a particular topic has been decided upon, begin to gather local resources related to the topic in question. This might involve investigating community resources, local archives and libraries. Investigate local newspapers from the era (many are available on microfilm), and gather maps and photographs. Invite speakers to discuss the topic with your students. The more informed your students are about the specific history of Jim Crow in your community, the more successful their interviews will be.
- Create a consent form for interviewees to sign. Consent is required for any future use of the material gathered in an oral history interview and it is a good way to instill a sense of professionalism in your students. Many of the books listed in the bibliography include sample consent forms.
- Make sure that you have the equipment your students will need to conduct interviews (a good tape recorder with a microphone) and have your students practice using the recorder until they are familiar with its operations. The Web sites listed below offer suggestions for recording equipment. Bear in mind, though, that excellent oral history projects have been developed on a shoestring budget.
- Practice interviewing skills among students. There are some common pitfalls that beginning interviewers are likely to encounter, and developing good interviewing techniques takes practice. Oral history consultant Paula J. Paul offers some fun tips for developing good interviewing skills in her essay "Fish Bowls and Bloopers: Oral History in the Classroom," online at http://www.oah.org/pubs/magazine/oralhistory/paul.pdf . If you can find an interviewee who is willing to act as a "guinea pig," an in-class mini-interview is a good way to practice interviewing techniques before students begin their personal interviews.
- Set up contacts for oral history interviews. Contacts might include friends and family members of your students, or members of a local church, retirement community or civic organization. Have students contact their interviewees. Students should inform them in advance about the general areas they will be discussing and let them know how much of their time will be needed (an hour or an hour-and-a-half should be sufficient). Students should also find a time of the day that is convenient for their interviewees, and let them know that they will be asked to sign a consent form.
Oral history interviewing is an art that improves with practice. Baylor University's Oral History Workshop on the Web has useful "Interviewing Tips" and "Interviewing Do's & Don'ts" online at http://www3.baylor.edu/Oral_History/Workshop_welcome.html. Many of the publications listed in the Bibliography also offer detailed interview techniques. Some of the best advice for conducting a successful interview will come from your students, who should be encouraged to evaluate and discuss with their classmates what went well and what went wrong in their interviews. The following are just a few suggestions that students should consider when conducting interviews:
- Make sure you are familiar with your equipment and that it is functioning correctly. In addition to your tape recorder, bring an extension cord or extra batteries, extra cassette tapes, and a pencil and paper. You may also want to bring a camera.
- Find a quiet place where you and the interviewee will not be interrupted.
- Don't begin right away. Introduce yourself, thank the interviewee for their time, and make the interviewee feel comfortable.
- Ask the interviewee if they are ready to begin. When the tape is started give your name, the interviewees name, date, location and the project you are involved in.
- Begin your interview with some simple questions that will make the interviewee feel comfortable.
- Ask questions one at a time. Pause before going on to the next question.
- Speak clearly and slowly so the interviewee can understand you.
- Ask open-ended questions and try to organize your questions in some sort of logical order. However, don't feel compelled to move from question to question. Have the interviewee's responses organize the interview.
- Be an active listener and show interest in what the interviewee is saying. Follow up on questions raised by the interviewee's responses. (Don't simply move on the next question!)
- Don't interrupt. If you have something you want to follow up on, write it down so you won't forget.
- Don't contradict the narrator or offer your own opinions.
- Check your recorder occasionally to see that you haven't run out of tape.
- Have a good closing question that will allow the interviewee to summarize their thoughts on a subject or event.
- During the interview, write down any names that you are unsure of the correct spelling, and ask your interviewee for correct spellings after the interview is completed.
- Thank the interviewee and have them sign a consent form.
After the Interview
- Have your students evaluate the interview and discuss with other students in the class what worked and what didn't.
- Have student interviewers send a thank-you note. In addition to this being the polite thing to do, you may decide that a follow-up interview is needed, and this is a good way to stay in touch.
- The taped interviews will have to be transcribed. Baylor University's Oral History Workshop on the Web has a detailed "Transcribing Style Guide" online at http://www3.baylor.edu/Oral_History/Styleguide.html. You may find it useful in teaching students how to prepare transcripts that conform to accepted standards.
- Check student transcriptions for errors.
- Prepare a copy of the tape and transcription for the interviewee.
- Find a suitable repository or repositories for your oral history tapes and transcriptions. This may be a state or local historical society or a local college or university. Contact the Oral History Association ( http://omega.dickinson.edu/organizations/oha/ ) for repositories in your area.
- You may want to develop these oral histories into some sort of finished product: a magazine, exhibit, performance or Web site. Depending upon the finished product, this may involve organizing and editing interviews, writing introductions, assembling or creating illustrations and photographs, and designing graphics.