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The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow A Century of Segregation
Jim Crow Stories
A National Struggle
Interactive Maps
Tools and Activities
For Teachers


Teen Leadership
Introduction Lesson 1 Lesson 2
Overview Teacher Activities Extensions and Connections Student Materials

Lesson Plan 1: What a Character!
Rosie the Riveter poster

1) Ask your students to explain to you what a "symbol" is. (A symbol is anything that suggests or stands for something else.) Ask your students to identify common symbols with which they are familiar. (Student answers will vary.) Ask your students if they think it is possible for a person to be a symbol. (Student answers will vary). Can they provide you with any examples of people who have a symbolic function? (Student answers will vary.) Can individuals become so separated from their identities that they begin to represent an idea, a feeling, or a time? How? (Student reactions will vary.)

2) Explain to your students that another word for symbol is "icon," and that, during the course of this lesson, they will be examining several different characters from throughout American history which have become icons. After researching these iconic characters, students will examine the rise of one of the United States' most notorious icons.

3) Divide your students into five groups. Assign each group one of the following American icons: Uncle Sam, Rosie the Riveter, Smokey Bear, Uncle Tom, or Ronald McDonald. Explain to the groups that, using the Internet, they will be responsible for researching the derivation and development of their American icon.

4) Distribute one copy of the "What a Character!" Research Sheet to each student. Provide your students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, asking your students to use the bookmarked Web sites on each computer to complete their research and answer the questions on the Research Sheet. Each member of the group will then be responsible for presenting one aspect of that American icon's "life and times" (i.e., each student in the group will be responsible for reporting the answer to at least one question on the Research Sheet).

5) Allow the students 20-25 minutes to complete their research and record their findings. Distribute the "What a Character!" Report Form to each student, and ask students to record the information their fellow students present. Ask each group to present their findings. Ask the "Uncle Tom" group present LAST, as they will be providing you with a segue into the next portion of the lesson.

6) During the students' presentations, consider asking the following questions for further discussion:

Uncle Sam
  • Where might you see Uncle Sam in today's media?
  • Is the image of Uncle Sam always used positively?
  • What other symbols are used to demonstrate patriotism?
  • Who might use this icon in a negative way? Why?
African American wartime worker
Rosie the Riveter
  • How is the image of Rosie the Riveter different from other "traditional" images of women?
  • Why do you think this icon is not as present today as Uncle Sam?
  • Have you ever seen images of Rosie the Riveter? Where?
Smokey Bear
  • Is Smokey the Bear a relevant icon today? Why?
  • Some individuals disapprove of this icon. Do you agree or disagree with them?
  • How is Smokey Bear similar or different from Uncle Sam?
Ronald McDonald
  • What is the primary purpose or use of this icon?
  • It's been said that Ronald McDonald is the most recognizable character in the world after Santa Claus. Do you agree? Why or why not?
  • Do you think this icon is always used positively? Why or why not?
Uncle Tom
  • Have you ever previously heard of this icon? Where?
  • How is this icon different from the other icons we have examined?
  • This icon is often seen as controversial. Why?
  • Why might people be offended by this icon?
  • How has this character changed from a literary figure to a negative icon?
7) Following the "Uncle Tom" presentation, ask your students to summarize the roles iconic characters have played throughout history. (Iconic characters have been used to represent ideas, philosophies, social and cultural movements, and as marketing devices.) Ask your students if these icons are always "positive" figures, symbolizing positive ideas. (Your students should point out that many of these icons can be used negatively, and that some represent negative ideals to different people at different times.)

8) Explain to your students that you will now be taking a more in-depth look at another iconic character, who, like "Uncle Tom," represents a turbulent and controversial time and idea.

Learning Activity
1) Inform your students that the next iconic character they will be examining is named "Jim Crow." Ask your students if they are familiar with this character, or the time period it represents. (Student answers will vary.) Ask your students if they have any predictions, based on the name "Jim Crow," as to what the character might represent. (Student answers will vary.)

2) Tell your students that you will now be watching a video to explore the Jim Crow character. Insert THE RISE AND FALL OF JIM CROW, Episode 4 into your VCR. COVER THE SCREEN of your television so that your students cannot see the video footage. Provide your students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, asking them to listen carefully to the short song at the beginning of the tape, and to gather any available information about Jim Crow based on the song's lyrics. PLAY the tape from the very beginning of the episode until you hear the last line of the song, "My name Jim Crow," and you see a drawing of an African-American man in a floppy top hat. STOP the tape and REWIND to the beginning. Ask your students if they can make any predictions about Jim Crow based on the short song. (Students may say that the song sounds like a nursery rhyme or children's song, that the singer is a man, that the singer is using some sort of dialect, and that the singer is not using "standard" English.)

3) UNCOVER the television screen. Tell your students that you will be showing them the same video again, but this time, without sound. Provide your students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, asking them to watch the video and make a prediction about what the Jim Crow character might symbolize, and with which time period he might be associated. TURN DOWN the volume on your television. PLAY the tape from the beginning of the episode until you see black-and-white film footage of an African-American man carrying a handwritten sign with the words "Down with Jim Crowism." STOP the tape and REWIND to the beginning of the episode. Ask your students if they have any predictions on the Jim Crow character based on the video footage. (Students will predict that the character has something to do with racism and segregation. Students may remark on the "Colored Only" signs and drinking fountains, the photograph of the two lynched men, and the footage of the Ku Klux Klan.) Ask your students if they saw the sign the man was carrying that read "Down with Jim Crowism." Do they have any predictions on what "Jim Crowism" might be?

4) Tell your students that they will be examining the same video clip again, but this time, they will have the benefit of both seeing the video and hearing the audio. Provide your students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, asking them to identify the year that Jim Crow was "born." PLAY the video from the beginning of the tape until you hear the narrator say, "In 1833, Jim Crow is born," and you see the sheet music for a song called "Zip Coon." PAUSE the video. Ask your students what year Jim Crow was born. (1833.)

5) Provide your students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, asking your students to identify who Jim Crow was. PLAY the video from the pause point until you hear the narrator say, "created by a white man to amuse white audiences," and you see two men in top hats and tails dancing with canes. PAUSE the video. Ask your students who Jim Crow was. (Jim Crow was an invented character -- a negative, stereotyped portrayal of a black man -- created by a white man to amuse white audiences.) Remind your students that the film referred to the Jim Crow character as a "malicious minstrel caricature." What do the words "malicious," "minstrel," and "caricature" mean? Consult a dictionary if necessary. (Malicious means "marked by ill will or spite;" a minstrel is "a performer performing songs and jokes, usually while impersonating African-Americans," and caricature is "an exaggerated or ludicrous portrait.")

6) Explain to your students that you will now be examining the origins of Jim Crow in more detail via the use of a Web site. Distribute the Jim Crow Media Interaction Sheet to Your Students. Ask your students to log on to the "Who Was Jim Crow?" Web site at http://www.ferris.edu/news/jimcrow/who.htm. Provide your students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, asking your students to read through the brief essay on the site and answer the "Who was Jim Crow?" questions on the Media Interaction Sheet. Allow your students 10-15 minutes to complete their research.

7) Discuss your students' answers to the questions on the Jim Crow Media Interaction Sheet.

Question 1. Who was the actor that originated the "Jim Crow" character?
Answer 1. Thomas Dartmouth "Daddy" Rice

Question 2. What was blackface makeup, and how did minstrel shows portray Blacks?
Answer 2. White performers applied burnt cork to their faces to appear black; minstrel shows portrayed Blacks as singing, dancing, grinning fools.

Question 3. How was the term "Jim Crow" used from the 1830s to 1850s? At the end of the 19th century?
Answer 3. From the 1830s to 1850s, was used as a racial slur. By the end of the 19th century, it was being used to describe laws and customs that oppressed blacks.

Question 4. Who were the typical characters in minstrel shows?
Answer 4. Mr. Tambo, Mr. Bones, and Mr. Interlocutor.

Question 5. Other than minstrel shows, where were racist caricatures found?
Answer 5. In novels, sheet music, and theatrical plays.

8) Return to the video. Provide your students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, asking your students to identify how Jim Crow laws divided the nation by the middle of the twentieth century. PLAY the tape from the previous pause point until you again see the black-and-white footage of the African-American man carrying the sign that reads "Down with Jim Crowism," and you hear the narrator say, "inviting the scorn of the entire world." PAUSE the tape. Ask your students how Jim Crow laws divided the nation by the middle of the twentieth century. (Jim Crow divided the North from the South, and turned neighbor against neighbor.) Ask your students how transgressions of Jim Crow were often punished? (With death.) Ask your students how long ago Jim Crow was in place throughout the United States. (The video references the "middle of the twentieth century," so less than 50 years ago.)

9) Provide your students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, asking your students to identify some of the restrictions on African-American life during the Jim Crow era by listening to the testimonies of people who lived through it. PLAY the tape from the previous pause point, until you see the African-American man with brown glasses, and you hear him say, "... someone would have to bring this change about." STOP the tape. Ask your students to identify some of the restrictions on African-American life during the Jim Crow era. (There were often no facilities, such as bathrooms or drinking fountains, for laborers; there was segregated seating on buses and in other public places.) Remind your students that the last speaker on the tape remarked that "someone was going to have to bring about" a change. Ask your students if they can identify any of the people who proved instrumental in bringing about change. (Students will most likely name seminal figures of the Civil Rights movement, such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks.)

10) Ask your students to log on to the "What Was Jim Crow?" Web site at http://www.ferris.edu/news/jimcrow/what.htm. Provide your students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, asking students to list 10 laws from the Jim Crow era on the bottom of their Jim Crow Media Interaction Sheet. Check for comprehension and students' answers. (Student answers will vary.)

11) Ask your students how the figure of Jim Crow is different from, or similar to, the other iconic characters they have studied in this lesson. (Student discussion will vary.)

Culminating Activity

1) Ask your students to again state how iconic characters have been used throughout the history of the United States. (Again, iconic characters have been used to represent ideas, philosophies, social and cultural movements, and as marketing devices.) Ask your students what "Jim Crow" came to symbolize. ("Jim Crow" was a character who became synonymous with life in the segregated South, and the legal and social devices that sustained and promoted racism.)

2) Ask your students what significant events, trends, social, and or cultural movements are happening today. (Student answers will vary, but may include threats of terrorism, corporate corruption, the environment, plummeting stocks, reality television shows, etc.) Could you represent this idea, trend, or movement with an iconic character? (Student reactions will vary, but they will hopefully say "yes!")

3) Select one current event or trends that you would like to explore as a class. How could this idea or trend be personified? What attributes would an iconic character representing this idea need? Decide on a name for the character. How would you go about designing this character? Enlist one of your more artistic students to take ideas from the class and create a preliminary design. Caution your students to steer clear of stereotypes or biased ideas ... they are not creating Jim Crow or Uncle Tom-like icons. For example, an anti-terrorism character should be a "Watchful Walter" or "Sensible Sawyer," rather than a distorted caricature of Muslim extremists.

4) After creating your iconic character as a group, distribute the "Create-An-Icon" worksheet to your students. Ask each student to create their own iconic characters based either on current events and trends, or other periods in history. Again, caution students to steer clear of stereotypes and bias. Students should use the "Create-An-Icon" sheet to remain on-task. Students not comfortable drawing their characters should feel free to create collages of pre-existing images.

Assessment Activity
As an assessment of this lesson, ask your students to create multimedia and/or oral presentations of their "invented" iconic characters. During the presentation, students should present:

  1. the current issue or historical period their character represents;
  2. their rationale for their character's design or look;
  3. the ways in which their character is similar to, or different from, other iconic characters examined in this lesson.



Teacher Activities
Extensions and Connections
Student Materials

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