Violence in America – from Lynchings to Police Brutality

Essential Questions:  

  • What motivates violence in America?
  • How have these motivations changed over time?

The Lesson:

In the history class I currently teach, we are briefly covering the trajectory of race relations in America (ie. what would become the United States) from the time the first slaves arrived in the colonies to the Civil Rights movement in the 1950s and 60s. This particular lesson would  fall somewhere following the death of Emmett Till as a lead-in to our unit on the Civil Rights Movement. The purpose of this lesson is to have students identify how race-based violence led to violence historically and examine how historical violence relates to an experience of violence in the United States today. This lesson will serve as an attention-grabber and primer for our lesson on the Civil Rights Movement and why the movement still matters today. Prior to this lesson, students will already understand the terms lynching and racism, as well as some of the causes of both.

I will conduct this lesson in the form of a Socratic Seminar – drawing on important details in each of the maps provided below. To begin, the class will engage in a discussion on the “Map of White Supremacy mob violence” created by Monroe Work Today. Using this map, I will begin by asking the students what they found interesting, novel, and important to our discussion on violence in America. Most notably, I’d form the discussion to help them notice the geographical and racially motivated nature of the lynchings as seem below (click on image).

Click on image to enlarge it and view in separate window.

Following our discussion on the racially motivated attacks throughout the country, I will guide the students to note that it appears these attacks first tapered off and then ended in the 1960s (leading up to our Civil Rights unit).

Then, I will show them this picture which comes Smithsonian Archives and was used in the 1963 March on Washington:

During this transition from racially motivated violence experienced in the pre-Civil Rights to racially motivated violence experienced during and after the Civil Rights era, I will show students famous images that highlight this police brutally (attack dogs and fire hoses). To end this lesson, I will conclude by asking students if they think these issues have been solved today – thus ending by showing them this map below which highlights the occurrences of people killed by police in 2018 and argues for the bias- or racially-motivated nature of many of these attacks.

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