Grade Level: 7-9
Time Allotment: Three or four 45-minute class periods
Overview: Throughout the history of the United States, iconic characters and caricatures have symbolized cultural and political movements. Whether spawned by big business or actual individuals and events, many of these characters have resonated across generations and come to represent trends, ideas, stereotypes, and moments in history. In this lesson, students will research the development and creation of some of American culture's most enduring iconic characters.
After completing Web-based research and collaborative presentations, students will examine via video the symbolic character of Jim Crow, and how it came to represent segregation and racism in the post-Civil War United States. Following their introduction to Jim Crow and the Jim Crow South, students will design and develop iconic characters to represent either current events or other selected periods in American history. This lesson will ideally be used as a portion of a larger unit on African-American history and/or the Civil Rights Movement. A basic knowledge of United States history is essential.
Subject Matter: Social Studies and History
Students will be able to:
- describe iconic characters that have been used throughout American history;
- analyze how iconic characters have symbolized cultural and political movements, ideas, trends, and stereotypes;
- explain the development and history of the term "Jim Crow";
- create their own iconic characters to represent either contemporary issues or historical periods
From the National Standards for History, available online at
2i. The student thinks chronologically; therefore, the student is able to draw upon visual, literary, and musical sources, including: a) photographs, paintings, cartoons, and architectural drawings; b) novels, poetry, and plays; and c) folk, popular, and classical music, to clarify, illustrate, or elaborate upon information in the historical narrative.
4a. The student conducts historical research; therefore, the student is able to formulate historical questions from encounters with historical documents, eyewitness accounts, letters, diaries, artifacts, photos, historical sites, art, architecture, and other records from the past.
4b. The student conducts historical research; therefore, the student is able to obtain historical data from a variety of sources, including: library and museum collections, historic sites, historical photos, journals, diaries, eyewitness accounts, newspapers, and the like; documentary films, oral testimony from living witnesses, censuses, tax records, city directories, statistical compilations, and economic indicators.
THE RISE AND FALL OF JIM CROW, Episode 4: Terror and Triumph
For the Introductory Activity research, bookmark the following sites for your students:
Uncle Sam: Uncle Sam Image Gallery
This site contains images of Uncle Sam on everything from cereal boxes and Christmas ornaments to political cartoons and toys.
The Invention Dimension: Uncle Sam
This site, part of a larger site developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, provides a brief essay detailing the development of the Uncle Sam character.
American Memory: Historic American Sheet Music, 1850-1920
This site, developed by the Library of Congress, provides illustrations of Uncle Sam as he appeared on sheet music between 1850-1920.
Rosie the Riveter
This site is a brief sketch of the development of Rosie the Riveter by the United States Department of Transportation.
Rosie the Riveter Song
The lyrics of the 1943 song "Rosie the Riveter."
Norman Rockwell's "Rosie the Riveter"
Norman Rockwell's painting of Rosie the Riveter for the May 29, 1943 edition of the SATURDAY EVENING POST.
About.com's Homework Help: Smokey Bear
A brief article on the development and history of the Department of Forestry's Smokey Bear character.
An Agency Icon Turns 50
A fascinating essay from a bi-weekly western newspaper about the life (and death) of Smokey Bear.
Smokey's Vault: History of Campaign
A history of the Smokey Bear campaign from the USDA Forest Service.
The Orphan Bear, "Smokey"
The story of the "real" Smokey Bear, from the USDA Forest Service.
Today in History, June 5: Uncle Tom's Cabin
This site from the Library of Congress provides background information on Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel, UNCLE TOM'S CABIN.
"Uncle Tom's Gwine to Stay"
The lyrics of a song, sung by the character of Uncle Tom, in an early stage adaptation of Uncle Tom's Cabin.
This site, part of an online encyclopedia, provides an overview of the development of the term "Uncle Tom."
Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia: Uncle Tom
This site, from a small museum at a Michigan university, seeks to educate the public about the development of racism through a gallery of products, advertisements, and caricatures that show stereotypical depictions of African Americans. NOTE: Be advised that this site contains racial epithets and images that must be viewed in context.
McDonald's Corporate Timeline
This site, part of the McDonald's corporate Web site, provides an overview of the company's history and includes information on Ronald McDonald.
Willard Scott as Ronald McDonald
This site details the history of a Virginia-based radio show from the 1960s, and includes an anecdote about the original Ronald McDonald.
The "official" web site of Ronald McDonald.
The following Web sites will be used in the Learning Activity portion of the lesson:
Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia: Who is Jim Crow?
This site provides a brief "biographical" sketch of the origins of the "Jim Crow" character. NOTE: Be advised that this site contains racial epithets and images that must be viewed in context.
Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia: What Was Jim Crow?
This site details some of the many laws meant to insure white supremacy during the Jim Crow era. NOTE: Be advised that this site contains racial epithets and images that must be viewed in context.
For each student:
"What a Character!" Research Sheet
"What a Character!" Report Form
Jim Crow Media Interaction Sheet
For each group of 4-5 students:
Computer with Internet access
Prep for Teachers
Be advised that due to the subject matter of the lesson, some of the Web sites and video clips utilized contain both racial epithets and stereotypical depictions of African Americans. Prior to teaching the lesson, please evaluate both the Web sites and the video to determine their suitability for your class.
Prior to teaching this lesson, bookmark the Web sites used in the lesson on each computer in your classroom. Cue Episode 4 of THE RISE AND FALL OF JIM CROW to the beginning of the episode, when you see the image of a man in blackface looking into a mirror.
Prepare the student materials by making copies of the STUDENT MATERIALS (see attached) for each of your students.
When using media, provide your students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, a specific task to complete and/or information to identify during or after viewing of video segments, Web sites, or other multimedia elements.