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Introduction Lesson Plan Activities Resources

Lesson Plan 5: "Read All About It": The African American Press During the Jim Crow Era
overview procedures for teachers steps

Introductory Activity:
(one to two class periods)

This introductory activity engages students in an analysis of newspapers, including how newspapers are organized and operated, and how they represent different constituencies. Begin by collecting a variety of news publications representing different groups in your community. These might include major local daily papers, community papers, or the newspapers of local ethnic or immigrant communities. You may wish to involve your students in gathering these sources (especially if some students have foreign language skills and can help to guide other students in analyzing the content of the local foreign language press). If so, be sure to give yourself sufficient time to gather the newspapers before scheduling this activity.

  1. Organize your students into groups of three or four and be sure you have enough newspapers to distribute among the groups (you may have to provide duplicate copies for your students). Explain to your students that newspapers generally distinguish between the "straight reporting" of the news and editorials or opinions. Reporting is meant to convey journalistic information -- the "who, what, where, when and why" of a story. The editorial policy of the newspaper is reflected in its editorials. Opinion pieces often represent a variety of points of view solicited from sources unconnected with the newspaper (for example, syndicated or local columnists or writers).

    Have your students find the editorial section of the newspaper and compare a news article, an editorial piece, and an opinion piece.
    • How do news articles, editorials and opinions differ from each other?
    • What issues do the various newspapers choose to cover in their editorial pages?
    • A masthead is "the listing in a newspaper or periodical of information about its staff, operation, and circulation." Find your newspaper's masthead (generally in the editorial section). How is the newspaper managed? Who is the owner? The publisher? Editor? What other positions are listed on the masthead?
    • Discuss the various positions listed on the masthead. What are the responsibilities of the various positions?
  2. Newspapers are organized into separate departments to ensure journalistic independence -- in other words, to make sure that reporters and editors are not unduly influenced by outside forces. In practice, however, this intent is not always realized.
    • How might subscribers or advertisers influence news reporting?
    • How might bias or personal opinion be reflected in how a news story is reported?
    • How might bias be reflected in the coverage (or lack of coverage) of different groups within a community?
  3. Immigrant and other minority groups often establish newspapers to ensure that the issues and concerns of their communities are reported and advocated, issues that are often poorly covered in the mainstream press. Students should scan their newspapers and address the following questions:
    • Why would a minority group feel the need for their own press?
    • What issues would be of special concern to a specific group (say, an immigrant community)?
    • What sorts of stories unreported in the major press are likely to be reported in the minority press?
    • What international events would they likely cover? What local reporting?
  4. Finally, discuss with your students how newspapers support themselves, where they get the revenue they need to hire staff and publish their papers. Newspapers, of course, derive their income from newspaper sales and advertising revenue. Just as with television advertising, information concerning the numbers and types of readers are important to advertisers in deciding whether to advertise in a particular paper. This information is also used by the newspaper to set advertising rates. Have your students look at their newspapers and consider the following questions:
    • What kinds of businesses are advertising in their newspaper?
    • Must a community have a middle-class or a business population to support a newspaper?

Learning Activities

Activity One
(two class periods)

  1. Have students view the segment on Ida B. Wells from THE RISE AND FALL OF JIM CROW. The four-minute segment begins approximately 30 minutes into Episode One of the video series and lasts approximately 8 minutes and 40 seconds. Have students access the Timeline on THE RISE AND FALL OF JIM CROW Web site so they can situate Ida B. Wells in the chronology of Jim Crow. Students should be encouraged to consider the following questions and take careful notes. Following the video segment, discuss these questions:
    • What events prompted Ida B. Wells to take up journalism?
    • What are some of the issues that she took up as a young journalist in Memphis?
    • Wells was an activist as well as a journalist. How did journalism allow her to be a more effective advocate for her race?
    • Why did Wells recommend leaving Memphis and, by extension, the South?
    • What aspects of her character helped make Ida B. Wells an influential journalist?
  2. Have your students view the 13:10 minute segment on the Wilmington, North Carolina riot, which opens Episode Two of THE RISE AND FALL OF JIM CROW. Have students access the Timeline on THE RISE AND FALL OF JIM CROW Web site to determine what other events were occurring at the time of the events in Wilmington. Students should be encouraged to consider the following questions and take careful notes. Following the video segment, discuss these questions:
    • Describe the African American community in Wilmington at the time of the riot. Why was this community able to support a local newspaper? How did the prosperity of the black middle class challenge white supremacy?
    • How did different white and black news accounts report on and influence the course of events in Wilmington?
    • Why did the local black political establishment ask Alex Manly, editor of the Wilmington Record, to retract his editorial? Was Manly right in refusing?
  3. Have your students view the 7:45 minute segment on THE CRISIS, which begins approximately 32:15 minutes into Episode Three of THE RISE AND FALL OF JIM CROW. While viewing the video, students should consider the following questions and take careful notes. Following the video segment, have students access THE RISE AND FALL OF JIM CROW Web site to identify the following people and organizations: Discuss these questions:
    • How did W.E.B. Du Bois use his position as editor of THE CRISIS to influence the goals and direction of the NAACP?
    • How did Du Bois' position differ from that of Walter White?
    • Why was Walter White able to pressure Du Bois into resigning?
    • Why was it important to Walter White that he gain greater control of THE CRISIS?

Part Two:
(one class period)

Under the editorship of W.E.B. Du Bois, the NAACP's news journal THE CRISIS gained prominence as a significant voice for African Americans. In this activity students look at material from issues of THE CRISIS published in 1919 and 1920. In addition to these documents, you will find more material from THE CRISIS online at

  1. Divide your students into groups of four or five. Students can view this material online, if your school has a networked computer center. If not, you may wish to photocopy the material beforehand and distribute the collection of documents to your student groups. (Clicking on the initial images will call up a larger, printable image.)
  2. Have your students view the following pages and discuss the accompanying questions:

    THE CRISIS' Editorial Masthead and Contents Page

    Contents Page, THE CRISIS, IXX (December, 1919), p. 37.

    • Who published THE CRISIS? How much did a subscription to THE CRISIS cost in 1919?
    • What is Du Bois' position? Who else is listed on the editorial masthead, and what do they do?
    • What kind of material is listed in the content page? (Stories, articles, photographs, etc.)

    A Poem

    J. W. Work, "It's Great to be a Problem," THE CRISIS, XXI (November, 1920), p. 18.

    (Black and white writers had discussed the "Negro Problem" throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. J. W. Work's poem "It's Great to be a Problem" comments on the seemingly endless fascination with the subject.)

    • What tone does the poet take in this poem? Is he sincere? Ironic? Humorous? Angry?
    • What examples of Jim Crow practices are mentioned in the poem?
    • How does the poem's narrator seem to feel about being the subject of all this attention?

    An Editorial Cartoon

    Albert Alex Smith, "They Have Ears But They Hear Not," THE CRISIS, XXI (November, 1920), p. 17.

    • What is meant to be represented by the different characters in this editorial cartoon?
    • What is the cartoon commenting on

    Images of African Americans

    "Men of the Month," (Image), THE CRISIS, IXX (November, 1919), p. 341.

    "Madonna. Photographed by Battey," (Image), THE CRISIS, IXX (December, 1919), Cover.

    • How are African Americans represented in these photographs?
    • How are these African American images different from those you might find in the white press of 1919?


    Advertisements [Howard University, etc.], (Image), THE CRISIS, IXX (November, 1919), p. 351.

    Advertisement [Real Estate], (Image), THE CRISIS, IXX (November, 1919), p. 354.

    Advertisements ["Colored Dolls," etc.], (Image), THE CRISIS, IXX (November, 1919), p. 358.

    Advertisement [Madame C.J. Walker], (Image), THE CRISIS, IXX (November, 1919), p. 359.

    • What kinds of goods and services are advertised in the magazine?
    • Which goods and services seem to be exclusively for a black clientele?
    • What sorts of values do the advertisements in THE CRISIS promote (for example, education, racial pride, personal appearance)?
    • In which cities are the businesses advertised in The Crisis located? Is THE CRISIS a national or local magazine?

Culminating Activity/Assessment:
(two to three class periods)

In this final activity students create African American newspapers that focus on the following events:

  • End of Reconstruction (1877)
  • Formation of the NAACP (1909)
  • Entry into World War II (1941)
  • Brown v. Board of Education (1854)
  1. Create groups of five students, who will act as each newspaper's editorial staff. Each group will be assigned one of the focus events listed above (some focus events may be covered by more than one group). Students should assign one of these five different journalistic roles to each student in their group: Editor, Reporter, Editor for Correspondence, Lifestyles Editor, Business Editor.
  2. Using the resources listed in the Media Components section, students should research their focus event and the era in which it took place, as well as its significance to African Americans. The student editorial staff will work on the creation of a Focus Newspaper, which should contain the following sections:
    • A news story reporting on the focus event. (Reporter)
    • An editorial commenting on the focus event and how it will affect African Americans. (Editor)
    • Letters to the editor commenting on the focus event. (Editor for Correspondence)
    • A section profiling notable African Americans of the day (e.g., sports, literary, political, educational or religious leaders). (Lifestyles Editor)
    • Advertisements reflecting African American businesses, goods and services of the day. (Business Editor)
  3. Have students assemble these components into a newspaper using Pagemaker or a similar desktop publishing application. Post finished newspapers in the classroom.

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Intergenerational Discussion Guide
presents ideas and facts on the Jim Crow era.
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