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Lesson Plan To Kill a Mockingbird: A Historical Perspective

Students gain a sense of the living history that surrounds the novel To Kill a Mockingbird. Through studying primary source materials from the Library's digital collections and other online resources, students of all backgrounds may better grasp how historical events and human forces have shaped relationships between black and white, and rich and poor cultures of our country.

This unit guides students on a journey through the Depression Era in the 1930s. Activities familiarize the students with Southern experiences through the study of the novel and African American experiences through the examination of primary sources.


Students will be able to:

  • learn about the history of African Americans in the South through analysis of historical and literary primary source photographs and documents;
  • demonstrate visual literacy skills;
  • master research skills necessary to use Library of Congress digital collections;
  • distinguish points of view in several types of primary sources;
  • demonstrate the technique of recording oral histories; and
  • write creative works that reflect the themes of racism, compassion, and tolerance in To Kill a Mockingbird.

Time Required

Four to five weeks

Lesson Preparation


Optional Timeline Activity

At any time during the study of To Kill a Mockingbird, the creation of a timeline can enhance students’ understanding of the story’s sequence of events. In addition, whenever historical events and people are referenced in the text of To Kill a Mockingbird, the timeline gives students an opportunity to physically organize that information.

The timeline can span the years from 1890 to 2000. It should be large enough to be seen from any part of the room. For our purposes, the timeline was oriented horizontally across the front of the room, divided into decades, and color-coded so that literary happenings could be distinguished from historical events.

During the portion of the book that recounts Tom Robinson’s wait for his trial and the formation of a mob outside the jail, the timeline is especially effective for demonstrating to students how pervasive and longstanding the record of violence against African-Americans has been.

Students should go to the home page of African American Perspectives: Materials Selected from the Rare Book Collection and enter the Timeline of African American History, 1852-1925 for 1881-1900 and 1901-1925.

Ask students to note the number of lynchings that take place during those years on black cards with white tags and attach them to the timeline. When the students have attached all the black cards to the timeline, ask them to calculate the total number of lynchings that took place between 1880 and 1925. Ask students how the crime of lynching relates to the story and how it impacts Tom Robinson.


Lesson Procedure

I - Historical Understanding of Setting (2 days)

1. Students view photographs from Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives. (Students should be given time to browse this collection, then select one photo for careful analysis.)

  • They should search for:
    Selma, Alabama
    Eutaw, Alabama
    Greensboro, Alabama
  • After browsing through these images, students should select one photo for careful analysis. Students analyze the photograph, recording their thoughts on the Primary Source Analysis Tool. Before the students begin, select questions from the teacher’s guide Analyzing Photographs and Prints to focus and prompt analysis and discussion. If time allows, students should browse some of the other photographs in this collection.

2. The Prints and Photographs Division of the Library of Congress also has a collection of images entitled "Photographs of Signs Enforcing Racial Discrimination: Documentation by Farm Security Administration-Office of War Information." Ask students to read the information explaining the nature of the photo collection then review the photographs. They should select one. Students analyze the photograph, recording their thoughts on the Primary Source Analysis Tool. Before the students begin, select questions from the teacher’s guide Analyzing Photographs and Prints to focus and prompt analysis and discussion.

II - Exploring Oral History (3 days)

  1. Ask an oral historian to speak to the class on the value of oral history as a research tool and as a vehicle for passing history from one generation to the next.
  2. Review with students the concepts of open and closed questions and what kinds of questions best serve the oral historian.
    Note: Explore Your Community: A Community Heritage Poster for the Classroom, by the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, has pointers for conducting oral history interviews.
  3. Take the students online to American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940 and read about the collection. Begin with the Introduction.
  4. Download and print "I's Weak an' Weary" from American Life Histories, 1936-1940. The class should read this document and determine voice, time, and place.
  5. Working in groups of 2 to 3 students, ask students to read one of the oral histories suggested below. Students analyze the oral history, recording their thoughts on the Primary Source Analysis Tool. Before the students begin, select questions from the teacher’s guide Analyzing Oral Histories to focus and prompt analysis and discussion.
    Suggested readings:
  6. From the oral histories reviewed, ask students to create an original work, either a found poem or an interpretive reading, from the materials they have reviewed. They may use one or a combination of readings. They must capture the voice of the selection and perform their original material in an open mike setting.

III - Writing Connection (1 day)

Students create a "Town Poem" from their observations of the photographs in Lesson II.

Directions for students:

Create an imaginary town based on the photographs you viewed from the Library of Congress collections.

  • Take emotional possession of the town.
  • Rely on your impressions and your subjective observations.
  • Let your imagination give each person, building, object its own story.
  • List assumptions, hunches, observations and feelings.
  • What are the town secrets?
  • What is the mood or tone of the town?
  • Write a poem about your town in the second person.
  • You have never been to this town, but write as though you have lived there all your life.

IV - Getting into the Novel (3 days)

  1. After reading the first three chapters of the novel, students should refer back to their notes on the photographs they viewed from Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives and "Photographs of Signs Enforcing Racial Discrimination: Documentation by Farm Security Administration-Office of War Information."
  2. Review Harper Lee’s descriptions of Maycomb and discuss pictures from the collection that could be scenes from Maycomb.
  3. Ask students to reflect on the oral histories studied in Activity II and compare the language, colloquial expressions, and the vocabulary unique to the Depression Era and the Deep South to the style and dialogue in To Kill a Mockingbird.
  4. The first ten chapters of the novel focus on the Arthur (Boo) Radley story line with only hints of the racial unrest building around the Tom Robinson story line.
    • Ask students to identify examples of discrimination against Arthur Radley.
    • Draw contrasts and parallels between that discrimination and the discrimination directed toward African Americans in earlier readings.
  5. Begin a list of the foreshadowings of racial tension that will grip Maycomb during the Tom Robinson trial.

V - Mob Justice (4-5 days)

  1. Read Chapter 15 of To Kill a Mockingbird
  2. Read an excerpt, "Clippings from Some of our Leading Southern Papers," from A Sermon on Lynch Law and Raping preached by Rev. E.K. Love, D.D., at the First African Baptist Church, Savannah, Georgia.

    Clippings from Some of our Leading Southern Papers

    NOTE: This is an excerpt. The full text of A sermon on lynch law and raping : preached by Rev. E.K. Love, D.D., at 1st. African Baptist Church, Savannah, Ga., of which he is pastor, November 5th, 1893 can be found in African American Perspectives: Materials Selected from the Rare Book Collection

    Excerpt begins ...

    {Begin page no. 13}


    "At first lynch law was only resorted to as a punishment for felonious outrages upon women. But the spirit of lawlessness never stands still. Give it an inch and it will take a mile. The men who delight in lynching have grown bolder, and they now murder the kinsmen of a criminal who refuse to reveal his hiding place, and whip a woman for the crime of being true to her religious convictions, and burn gin houses because their owners will not hold their cotton until the price reaches ten cents. All this would indicate that our civilization is only skin deep. There is an inexhaustible layer of barbarism just under the surface, and a mere scratch reveals it.-- Atlanta Constitution.

    "Mob law is breeding a race of savages. The young men and boys who engage in this bloody business will as surely grow up to be blood thirsty and cruel as the tiger will become a man eater after tasting human blood. Unless these scenes shall end and the rule of law be restored, the mob will drive all the better class of people from the South and give it over to outlawry and ignorance. The evil has progressed so far that none but a blind man can be insensible to the enormity of the peril that hangs like a black cloud over the Southern States. The prevailing conditions are surely tending to a crisis of blood and horror. The earnest, thoughtful, and patriotic men of the South must give themselves to the work of redemption as to a task appointed of God and blessed with His benediction. -- Memphis Daily Commercial

    The Roanoke Times denies that Roanoke, during the recent popular outbreak against the lawful authorities was a mobbed-ruled city, and characterizes the statement of the Index-Appeal , and other papers to that effect as false.

    The Times should be more careful in the choice of its language at a time when it has everything to palliate and nothing to gain by controversy. Its attempted vindication is neither ingenious nor ingenuous. If a city is not mob-ruled when a mob takes a prisoner from the lawful authorities, and hangs and burns him, and then creates a state of terror, such as to cause officials and other persons to seek safety in

    {Begin page no. 14}

    flight and concealment, in the name of common sense when is a city mob-ruled and what is mob-rule?-- Petersburg, (Va.) Daily Index Appeal

    It will not do to say that such cases of violence are due to any fear that justice will not be done. There was no question that these two murderers, if caught, would be tried speedily and punished justly. But that was not what the mob wanted. They wanted the sight of blood. It was the instinct of cruelty which actuated them. They were not civilized much less were they Christian people. They were savages, barbarians! We talk of Kurdish atrocities, of African cannibalism, of Indian tortures, but nothing more atrocious or horrible is enacted anywhere by any savages on the face of the earth. Are we a nation of barbarians?-- New York Independent

    "We do not believe that there is any section of the South, however small, where mob law is endorsed by public sentiment; and yet the men who make up murderous mobs go unpunished. Law-abiding men are in the majority everywhere, and yet they permit the lawless to defy the authorities and treat the State with contempt. Why is this the case? The reason is plain and humiliating. Good men are cowards while bad men are aggressive. The good submit with a protest, while the bad run rough shod all over opposition. It is time for southern manhood to wake up. We boast of our chivalry and we have a right to. Our people have a history to be proud of, but every heroic deed of the past but brands with deeper disgrace the howling mobs, who, safe in their numbers, attack and murder defenseless men. If our laws do not punish crime we should mend them. We certainly should not turn over our temples of Justice to men who are unworthy to enter them except to receive punishment for their crime.-- Jacksonville, (Fla.) Daily Times-Union

    I confess that as a citizen of the South I feel very much humiliated when I read such as this about my home and these are but a few out of many such things that are being said about the South.

    II. Mob violence inexcusable and all matters should be determined in a lawful assembly

    There was no need of lynching the Apostles. The Ephesians had everything their own way. The Apostles had, at most, but few friends in Ephesus, and perhaps none, who would interpose for them in a public way. There was scarcely an Ephesian who was not in some way personally interested in the cause to which the Apostles were defendants; hence any jury that might have been selected would have been prejudiced against the defendants, and upon any technical grounds that the law could have been made to sanction, would have brought in a verdict of guilty. They had the privilege of, and they were honor bound to try them by their law. There might have been some excuse for lynching had they been compelled to try them by alien laws. If, as the Jews said to Pilate on the trial if Christ, they could have truthfully said, "We have a law, and by our law he ought to die," then there might have been an excuse for lynching. Lynching could have

    {Begin page no. 15}

    been and can be defended on no other ground than that punishment by law is impossible. It will not do to say that the provocation is such that the lynchers are justifiable. That dishonors our education, disgraces our civilization, slanders our Christianity, disrespects our law, undermines our government, and declares our people to be a set of ungovernable, ferocious brutes, hinders the development of the greatness of our country and as blind Samson at the festival at Gaza, throws down our temple of liberty upon its votaries.

    If when a man is arrested for rape, a mob is raised to rescue him from the clutches of the law, then should a counter mob be raised and kill the wretch rather than have him escape justice, then it would be far more more excusable.

    In this country, situated as the Negroes are, a case of lynching is never justifiable. If the woman assaulted is white, there can be no possible escape for the Negroes. The Judge is white, the jury is white, the lawyers are white, the Sheriff is white, the Jailer is white, and as Doctors Broadus and Haygood say, race blood will assert himself,--the Negroes must die. It will not do to say that our people are so weak, vicious, brutal, satanic, and uncivilized that they have no faith in their own laws, which they, themselves, have made, and cannot wait with even enough patience for their courts to convene to try their criminals, that they prefer to stain their hands in human blood in unlawful assemblies. To say this is to admit that it is unsafe to live among us, and that we resort to murdering and the most heartless outrages for amusement; that we determine no trying cases in a lawful assembly; that we respect law so long as it suits us and when we are not mad; but when the trying provocation comes, as Dr. Haygood puts it, we get "insane for the time," and hence it must follow that we are not responsible for our action under this spasm of "insanity."

    The Lord only knows how far this "insanity" business will go, and He alone knows to what extent it has and will injure this country and especially our lovely southland, the paradise of the globe. Just how much this "insanity" argument palliates our awful crimes in the eyes of the civilized world, Dr. Haygood is better prepared to say than I am. If these burnings and murders are put on the "insanity" doctrine for a defense, I plead for a house of correction for the many hundreds of spasmodic "insane" people that abound in our favored country. I plead not for the criminals. I have no pity for them. I plead that these matters should be determined in a lawful assembly.

    Brute force is a dangerous element in any government. It is destructive to prosperity, happiness, and liberty and is the parent of no good. Every good citizen should discard and unite to exterminate it. The Almighty has ordained that matters of difference should be adjusted in a lawful assembly, that reasonable men should implead reasonable men before reasonable men in a lawful assembly.

    The officers of the law are just as much opposed to these crimes as those who compose these lawless mobs. Lynching is as much a violation of the law as raping. There should be a resort to law however atrocious the crime charged may be, as it then would be less likely that the innocent would be killed. It cannot be denied that the lynchers sometimes have killed the wrong man. This could and would have been avoided in a painstaking, lawful assembly. However enraged a people may be at the assault upon a woman, surely they do

    {Begin page no. 16}

    not want to kill the innocent and this can best be avoided in a lawful assembly.

    There can be nothing more horrifying to a refined, honest, fair-minded, law abiding, upright Christian gentleman than the riddling with bullets, hanging and burning of an innocent man, and yet this is possible under a system of lynch law. Indeed I regret to state that this has occurred. The lynchers can hardly justify themselves by saying that the man confessed his crime. He did not do so in a lawful assembly nor in the presence of lawful witnesses. For these men, themselves, were assembled for the purpose of committing an unlawful act. Before the bar of civilized opinion, they stand charged of the foulest murder known to the annals of history, and hence, I gravely doubt that they are competent witnesses.

    The great American liberty-loving people will not wait much longer for these outrages to stop. They will arise in their majesty and might and demand a halt to these savage outrages.

    The action of these mobs show that they are not after a mere punishment of these crimes, but that they are seeking in the most barbarous manner, revenge. For they hang, shoot and burn. Either one of these deaths is barbarous enough. I think that no tribunal on earth would give sentence for more than one of these at the time and yet our civilized, Christian people give all of them at once. This shows that these men are utterly unprepared to take the law into their hands. If they are justifiable in one case, they would be justifiable in all.

    Pushing this argument further to its logical conclusion we would have no need for courts to administer the law, for Legislatures, nor Congress to make laws, and hence every lawful assembly would be destroyed in our country and every man would be a law unto himself and would punish crime as his senseless passion might dictate. Indeed, no man in this country would be safe.

    Law is that principle which governs a people and regulates their affairs and promotes their truest. Wise and equitable laws, fairly interpreted and impartially administered, will meet every emergency of a people. Happily for us, we can boast of such laws and there is absolutely no need to over-ride them. Lynch law is a sad reflection upon the courts. The lynchers in effect say that the officers of the law are unreliable; dishonest and cannot be relied on to punish criminals in accordance with their oath. Surely the lynchers will not presume to say that they know more about the law than the officers of the law. I ask, therefore, in all seriousness, what is the objection to the law taking its course? I have yet to see or hear a reasonable excuse for lynching and surely a thing for which not a single reason can be given ought to be abandoned.

    III. We are in danger to be called in question for our conduct

    Webster says, "Lynch law is the practice of punishing men for crimes or offences, by private, unauthorized persons, without a legal trial. The term is said to be derived from a Virginia Farmer, named Lynch, who thus took the law into his own hands."

    Chamber's Encyclopaedia.-"Lynch-law, the name given in the United States of America to the trial and punishment of offenders in popular assemblies without reference to the ordinary laws of the country. This barbarous mode of administering justice has always

    {Begin page no. 17}

    more or less prevailed in every country in times of great popular excitement, and has been necessarily resorted to in countries newly settled, where the power of the civil government is not yet sufficiently established. The name is derived by Webster from a Virginia farmer; but a more interesting history is found in the story of James Lynch, mayor of galley about 1495, who in the spirit of Brutes with his own hand, hanged his son from a window for murder."

    "Lynch-law, a common phrase used to express the vengeance of a mob, inflicting an injury and committing an outrage upon a person suspected of some offense."

    The lynchers in effect say that our country is newly settled and is not yet sufficiently strong to punish its criminals. The silence and inactivity of our authorities beg the question and in effect say that while they very deeply deplore these outrages, the outlaws being in the majority they are powerless. This is an admission that the vicious, lawless class out number our good citizens. Would not every good citizen blush to admit this? Can our country afford this admission? Does it not hold up our people in an awful light? Is there not obliged to be a reaction which will call us in question for these things? It is not true that the authorities can not find out who commit these crimes. There is scarcely any effort upon the part of the lynchers to conceal their crimes nor themselves. The papers publish detailed accounts of these lynchings and lynchers and all but call their names. How came they by this information? It is bosh to say that the detectives with these clews could not hunt down the guilty parties. In the case where a boy raped a woman in South Carolina it is said that the woman's husband kicked his eyes out and, I think, called his name. If this man had personally encountered this boy and done this, I would starve on a jury before I would bring in a verdict of guilty. But he had a mob and did this. They took him from an officer of the law and killed him, and this was lynch.

    The grand jury of Roanoke, Va,. has broken this monstrous monotonous farce of "We, the jury, find that the deceased came to his death by gun- shots in the hands of parties unknown to the jury," and indicted a number of persons and among them, the chief of police. This is a healthy beginning.

    The downfall of the Roman Decemvirate was due to outrages and unlawful conduct. Notably among them was the case of Virginia, the daughter of Virginius. This beautiful girl was just blooming into womanhood and was betrothed to Ieilius. Appius Claudius, the Decemvir, lusted after her. He planned to get her. With this view he ordered M. Claudius to seize her and claim her for his slave. The trial would be before him and he had planned to render a decision in favor of M. Claudius with the understanding that he would secretly turn her over to him. She was claimed and seized by this man on her way to school. The trial came before Appius and he decided that she should be delivered to M. Claudius until her father should appear and prove her his daughter. This was to be the next morning. Her father was in the army twenty miles from Rome. Appius sent a secret message to the general in the army not to grant Virginias leave of absence. His friends, meanwhile, had sent him word. When Appius' messenger got to the army Virginius was half way to Rome.

    {Begin page no. 18}

    The people all knew this was contrary to the law which Appius himself had framed. The people clamored for justice. Icilius and the uncle of the girl argued boldly against the legality of the judgement and Appius fearing a tumult among the people, ordered that she be left in their hands upon the condition that they give bail to bring her before him the next morning and that if her father did not appear he would give her to her pretended master. His intention was to get him away. Virginius seeing Appius' intention, asked to be allowed to take the girl aside to inquire closely of her if he was her father, that if he was not he could bear her loss more easily. This was granted and he took her off a piece, snatched up a butcher's knife and said to her "by this means only can I keep thee free," and stabbed her to her heart. He returned waving the bloody knife Appius ordered him arrested, but the people were in sympathy with Virginius and made way for his escape. He returned to the army, told his story and immediately the soldiers left their Decemviral generals and marched to Rome. The city was surrounded by them; the senate was immediately called and appointed a committee to negotiate terms of peace with the Plebeians.

    The Plebeians demanded
    1st. That the Tribunalship should be restored and the Comitia Tributa recognized.
    2nd. That the right of appeal to the people against the power of the supreme magistrate should be secured.
    3rd. That full indemnity should be granted to the movers and promoters of the late secession.
    4th. That the decemvirs should be burned alive.

    The senate committee agreed to all but the fourth. They said that was unworthy of a free people. That it was a piece of tyranny as bad as the worst acts of the late government. That it was needless because if any one had any reason of complaint against the late Decemvirs, they might proceed against them according to law. The wisdom of these words had the desired effect and the Plebeians withdrew their fourth demand. This is exactly my contention. I do not deny that a great crime has been committed nor that it should not be punished by death, but that we should proceed according to law. It will be seen that this violation of law and the blood of Virginia overthrew the Decemvirate of Rome. The Tribunalship was established and Virginius was elected on of the Tribunes. He singled out Appius and had him put in prison and refused him bail unless he could prove that he did not assign Virginia to be a slave until she proved that she was free. This was impossible and he was thrown into prison where he killed himself. Then followed the execution of Oppius and when others were about to be executed M. Duillius came forward and said "Enough has been done to vindicate justice and to uphold freedom. Further punishment would bear the semblance of revenge and make it much more difficult to reconcile the two parties." I submit that enough of this unlawful and inhumane murdering has been done to vindicate the pride and morality of the South. Enough has been done to show that rape has aroused the indignation of a chivalrous. Virtue-loving people. Enough has been done to vindicate outraged justice. O, that a Duillius would appear at this terrible crisis to utter such words of wisdom. We are willing to bury the past and hope for the future because God knows that enough of this bloody work has been done. What it has not vindicated it cannot vindicate.

    {Begin page no. 19}

    What it has not accomplished it cannot accomplish. The terror it has not excited it cannot excite. It is enough of that kind of business and I pray you, my countrymen, in God's name, to stop and stop now.

    When Appius planned this outrageous, unlawful course with Virginia, he did not dream that he would be called in question for it. The entire Decemviral body was called in question for their conduct and paid for it dearly. Alexander, Caesar, Nebuchadnezzer, Belshazzar, Antiochus, the Maccabees, Herod and a host of others too numerous to mention were called in question for their conduct. This country has been called in question for traffic in human slavery. When the slaves were not profitable at the North, the North shipped the slaves to the South, and later on the North endeavored to shift the responsibility to the South. But when the day of retribution came, the North in common with the South was called in question for this sin and both sacrificed much property, millions of dollars, and the blood and lives of hundreds of thousands of as noble men as any country ever produced. It was an awful calling in question. It was a bloody answering. This country has not yet fully recovered from that terrible judgment. I tell you, my friends, a just God lives and presides over the destiny of nations, and we are in danger to be called in question for these days of uproar. May the mighty God of Jacob pity our nation and a loving heaven smile gently on our country for Jesus' sake. AMEN.

    ... Excerpt ends.

    • How are Love's comments on mob behavior reflected in Tom Robinson’s experience?
  3. Read an excerpt from The Blood Red Record : a review of the horrible lynchings and burning of Negroes by civilized white men in the United States, as taken from the records with comments by John Edward Bruce from African American Perspectives: Materials Selected from the Rare Book Collection.

    The Blood Red Record

    NOTE: This is an excerpt. The full text of The blood red record : review of the horrible lynchings and burning of Negroes by civilized white men in the United States : as taken from the records : with comments by John Edward Bruce ... can be found in African American Perspectives: Materials Selected from the Rare Book Collection

    Excerpt begins ...

    {Begin page no. 7}

    According to the Chicago Tribune, which kept a daily record of lynchings for the year 1900, 117 persons were lynched, of whom only eighteen were charged with rape--the only crime which white men at the South say for which Negroes are lynched. The Chicago Conservator, another influential newspaper, has rearranged the record given by the Tribune in the following order:

    Charge of Murder.
    January 9, Henry Giveney, Ripley, Tenn.
    January 9, Roger Giveney, Ripley, Tenn.
    March 11, Unknown Negro, Jennings, Neb.
    March 24, Walter Cotton Emporia, Va.
    March 27, William Edward, Deer Creek Bridge, Miss.
    April 16, Moses York, near Tunica, Miss.
    April 28, Mindee Chowgee, Marshall, Mo.
    May 4, Marshall Jones, Douglas, Ga.
    May 13, Alexander Whitney, Harlem, Ga.
    May 14, William Willis, Grovetown, Ga.
    May 14, Unknown Negro, Brooksville, Fla.
    May 14, Unknown Negro, Brooksville, Fla.
    May 22, Calvin Hilburn, Pueblo, Colorado.
    June 10, Unknown Negro, Snead, Fla.
    June 17, Nat Mullins, Earl, Ark.
    June 21, Robert Davis, Mulberry, Fla.
    July 12, John Jennings, Creswell, Ga.
    July 26, Robert Charles, New Orleans, La.
    September 11, Unknown Negro, Forest City, N.C.

    {Begin page no. 8}

    September 11, Thomas J. Amos, Cheneyville, La.
    September 7, Frank Brown, Tunica, Miss.
    September 14, David Moore, Tunica, Miss.
    September 14, William Brown, Tunica, Miss.
    October 9, Wiley Johnson, Baton Rouge, La.
    October 23, Gloster Barnes, near Vicksburg, Miss.
    November 16, Preston Porter, Lymon, Col.
    December 16, Bud Rowland, Rockford, Ind.
    December 16, Thomas Henderson, Rockford, Ind.
    December 19, Unknown Negro, Arcadia, Miss.
    December 20,--Lewis, Gulf Port, Miss.

    Plot to Kill Whites.
    April 22, John Hughley, Allentown, Fla.

    Suspected Robbery. June 17, S.A. Jenkins, Searcy, Ark.

    June 5, W.W. Watts, Newport News, Va.
    March 4, George Ratliffe, Clyde, N.C.
    March 10, Thomas Clayton, Hernando, Miss.
    March 26, Lewis Harris, Belair, Md.
    April 3, Allen Brooks, Berryville, Ga.
    April 20, John Peters, Tazewell, W. Va.
    May 4, Henry Darley, Liberty, Md.
    May 7, Unknown Negro, Geneva, Ala.
    June 3, Dago Pete, Tutwiler, Miss.
    June 23, Frank Gilmore, Livingstone Parish, La.
    July 23, Elijah Clark, Huntsville, Ala.
    July 24, Jack Hillsman, Knoxville, Ga.
    August 13, Jack Betts, Corinth, Miss.
    August 19, Unknown Negro, Arrington, Va.
    August 26, Unknown Negro, S. Pittsburg, Tenn.
    October 19, Frank Hardeneman, Wellaston, Ga.

    {Begin page no. 9}

    December 8, Daniel Long, Wythe county, Va.
    December 21, Unknown Negro, Arkadelphia, Ark.

    Attempted Assault.
    March 18, John Bailey, Marietta, Ga.
    March 18, Charles Humphries, Lee county, Ala.
    April 19, Henry McAfee, Brownsville, Miss.
    May 11, William Lee, Hinton, W. Va.
    May 15, Henry Harris, Lena, La.
    June 9, Simon Adams, near Columbia, Ga.
    June 11, Senny Jefferson, Metcalf, Ga.
    June 27, Jock Thomas, Live Oak, Fla.
    July 6, John Roe, Columbia, Ala.
    September 10, Logan Reoms, Duplex, Tenn.
    September 12, Zed Floyd, Wetumpka, Kan.
    October 2, Winfield Thomas, Eclectic, Ala.
    October 18, Fratur Warfield, Elkton, Ky.

    Race Prejudice. July 25, Unknown Negro, New Orleans, La.
    July 25, August Thomas, New Orleans, La.
    July 25, Baptiste Fileau, New Orleans, La.
    July 25, Louis Taylor, New Orleans, La.
    July 25, Anna Mabry, New Orleans, La.
    July 25, Unknown Negro, New Orleans, La.
    July 25, Silas Jackson, New Orleans, La.
    October 24, James Suer, Liberty Hill, Ga.
    October 24, James Calaway, Liberty Hill, Ga.

    Giving Testimony.
    March 23, Luis Rice, Ripley, Tenn.

    Attacking a White Man.
    May 1, Henry Ratcliff, Gloucester, Miss.
    May 1, George Gordon, Albin, Miss.
    September 8, Grant Weley, Thomasville, Ga.

    {Begin page no. 10}

    Suspicion of Murder.
    June 10, Askew, Mississippi City, Miss.
    June 10, Reese, Mississippi City, Miss.

    Complicity of Murder.
    June 10, John Sanders, Snead, Fla.
    December 17, John Rolla, Booneville, Ind.

    Unknown Offenses.
    June 27, Jordan Hines, Molina, Ga.
    June 20, James Barco, Panasoffkee, Fla.

    No Offense.
    May 7, Unknown Negro, Amite, Miss.

    April 5, Unknown Negro, Southampton county, Va.
    December 28, George Faller, Marion, Ga.

    Suspicion of Arson.
    January 11, Rufus Salter, West Spring, S.C.
    Aiding Escape of Murderers.
    January 16, Anderson Gause, Henning, Tenn.

    July 9, Jefferson Henry, Greene's Bayou, La.

    Making Threats.
    March 4, James Crosby, Selo Hatchel, Ala.
    June 12, Seth Cobb Deyall's Bluffs, La.

    March 22, George Ritter, Canhaft, N.C.

    {Begin page no. 11}

    May 26, Unknown Negro, West Point, Ark.
    October 8,--Williams, Tiponville, Tenn.

    September 21, George Bickham, Ponchatoula, La.
    September 21, Charles Elliott, Ponchatoula, La.
    September 21, Nathaniel Bowman, Ponchatoula, La.
    September 11, Charles Elliot, Ponchatoula, La.
    September 21, Isaiah Rollins, Ponchatoula, La.

    Attempt to Murder.
    June 12, John Brodie, Lee county, Ark.
    November 15, Unknown Negro, Jefferson, Texas.
    November 15, Unknown Negro, Jefferson, Texas.
    November 15, Unknown Negro, Jefferson, Texas.

    Threats to Kill.
    February 17, William Burts, Basket Mills, S.C.

    May 16, Samuel Hinson, Cushtusha, Miss.
    October 30,--Abernathy, Duke, Ala.

    It should be borne in mind that this list represents the number of Negroes killed by mobs of white men for alleged crimes, and not by any legal process of law, which a white man charged with crime would demand as his right under the Constitution. Trial by jury is never denied any white criminal, even though he should assassinate the President of the United States. The disposition to be fair to white men who go wrong, even when they steal $620,000, or when, like brute beasts, three or four of them unite in outraging a helpless mill girl, and after violating her person murder her--is an American characteristic. The Alvord defalcation and the Paterson scandal are cases in point. Has any Negro, living or dead, committed

    {Begin page no. 12}

    a greater robbery than Alvord, or a more fiendish, brutal or cowardly murder, combined with rape, than the young white men at Paterson, N.J., who have recently been convicted by a jury of their peers for the outrage upon and murder of Jennie Bosschieter? Have any of the Negroes who have been lynched and roasted by white mobs in various parts of the country, North and South, had the advantages of social culture and refinement--of educating themselves and improving their opportunities that were possessed by either Alvord or the four highly-respectable young white men who have just been convicted of the brutal crimes charged against them? We do not offer in extenuation of crime the ignorance of Negroes who commit crime. Nor do we seek to palliate or condone their offenses against society and against the law of the land. We have merely referred to these cases to show that crimes of the character described are not confined to a particular race or class that the educated and refined criminal can be more brutal and vicious than the ignorant criminal, or, at least, equally so. He has the advantage of the ignorant man in mental resources and low cunning, and when once the sleeping devil within him is aroused he is just as human, just as fiendish and blood-thirsty as the most depraved criminal that ever expiated his crime on the gallows or suffered martyrdom at the hands of a civilized and christianized mob of the best citizens.

    ... Excerpt ends.

    • Students should discuss how this article emphasizes the danger that Tom is in and the hopelessness of his case.
  4. Optional Timeline Activity.
    • At any time during the study of To Kill a Mockingbirdcreating a timeline can enhance students’ understanding of the story’s sequence of events. In addition, the timeline gives students an opportunity to physically organize historical events and people mentioned in the novel.
    • The timeline can span from 1890 to 2000. It should be large enough to be seen from any part of the room. For our purposes, our timeline was positioned horizontally across the front of the room, divided into decades, and color-coded so that literary happenings could be distinguished from historical events.
    • During the portion of the book that recounts Tom Robinson’s wait for his trial and the formation of a mob outside the jail, the timeline is especially effective for demonstrating to students how pervasive and longstanding the record of violence against African-Americans has been.
    • Students should use African American Perspectives: Materials Selected from the Rare Book Collection and enter the Timeline of African American History, 1852-1925 for 1881-1900 and 1901-1925.
    • Ask students to note the number of lynchings that occur during those years on black cards with white tags and attach them to the timeline. When the students have attached all the cards to the timeline, ask them to calculate the total number of lynchings that took place between 1880 and 1925. Ask students how the crime of lynching relates to the story and how it affects Tom Robinson.
  5. Ask students to read Eleanor Roosevelt's letter against lynchings. They should consider the following questions:
    • What is her position on the issue of lynching?
    • What is the tone of her letter?
    • What words or phrases strengthen her argument?
  6. After students have read the assigned primary source documents, ask them to compose a "Letter to the Editor" to express their own perspectives regarding prejudice and violence.
    • If their letter is in response to one of these historical documents, they should assume the writing style and tone of that specific time period.

VI - Pulling it all Together

Students should complete one or more of the following activities:

  1. Newsletter

    Create a newsletter covering the trial of Tom Robinson, prepared by students in small groups. The newsletter should chronicle the events of the Robinson trial as well as cover related articles on similar issues of actual occurrences during the same time period.
  2. Oral History Interview

    Observe an oral history interview of a member of their community conducted by an experienced oral historian. After the interview the students can write an account of the interview. (This exercise prepares the students to launch into a research project in which they will be taking oral histories of community members.)

    The power of To Kill a Mockingbird has much to do with the authentic voice and simple honesty of its narrator.  As a culmination to the study of this novel, it is helpful for students to realize that the intolerance described by Scout exists in every community and in every era.

    Consider whether there are people in your community who have experienced prejudice during their lifetime. Look for individuals with an historical perspective on social attitudes and behaviors regarding prejudice. Invite them to take part in an oral history interview conducted in front of the class and ask their permission to tape the interview.

    Prior to the oral history interview date, arrange for someone who has a background in oral history to explain the interview process to the students and to help generate questions for the interview. The day of the interview make both an audio and video recording of the interview.

    Leave time for students to ask the community member any follow up questions that arose while they listened to the interview. If you plan to retain the tapes for future viewing or for creative writing opportunities, be sure to obtain written permission from the interviewee.

Lesson Evaluation

Student evaluation may be based on:

  1. Completion of all writing assignments:
    • town poem
    • found poem
    • editorial
    • response to oral history interview
  2. An objective test on the novel; and
  3. Active participation in all class discussions.


Kathleen Prody & Nicolet Whearty