Two Novels of Race Relations

Two novels I taught this year were To Kill A Mockingbird and A Gathering of Old Men. Prior to and during reading these novels, I had the kids look at some songs, poems, and historical context. Here are a few of my favorite things concerning the race relations in the novels.

Prior to reading To Kill A Mockingbird I assigned my students items, ideas, people, and events from the 1930s, which the kids researched and presented to the class through the classroom bulletin boards. Then students could read these and I could refer to them throughout the novel. Here are my related posts on these with a description of the project using The Great Gatsby and some pictures of the bulletin boards.

Before reading A Gathering of Old Men, which is set in the 1970s though it feels like the 1930s, I took the students through a PowerPoint detailing race relations in the South. I included Plessy v. Ferguson, Brown v. Board of Education, lynchings, the Emmett Till story, a brief synopsis of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., and then showed the students a clip from Remember the Titans and one from Soul of the Game to illustrate race in sports.

Next I started using one of the following one at a time (one a day for a week), and we discussed how these items matched the themes of the novels and the experiences of the characters:

  • Strange Fruit by Billie Holiday — play the song while the kids read the words. Powerful!
  • “Song for a Dark Girl” by Langston Hughes — sorry about no link, but it’s a powerful song as well as poem
  • “Share-Croppers” by Langston Hughes — excellent poem for Gathering especially
  • A clip from Eyes on the Prize about Emmett Till
  • Master P’s “Black and White” — a modern connection never hurts

I included a few other things as well, but these are the crux of the unit. I’d love to add to my repertoire, so what do you use for literature dealing with race relations?

4 thoughts on “Two Novels of Race Relations

  1. drpezz Post author

    Ha! I love that film as well. We watched it after school one day because I had to get parent permission slips from students. Great minds… 🙂

  2. Ben A.

    Sounds like a great unit! I also really like using Mississippi Burning, as well as In the Heat of the Night. About To Kill a Mockingbird and A Gathering of Old Men, I’ve found some great resources (unit/lesson plans, resource packs, etc.) at on both books that are downloadable and easy to use. The more help the better, I think.


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