KKK in our town? What?

We started a new project today on racism and African-American Civil Rights. I thought I would share the process of our entry event. First without any explanation we watched this story on Youtube.

Part 1

Part 2

We then had a discussion about them and how racism still exists “in parts of the United States.” My students also pointed out that it depends on “where you are, especially in the south.”

Next students took the White/Black preference test from Harvard. This test measures whether you have a preference for European Americans or African Americans. I am not sure how accurate it actually is, but that alone led to a rich discussion afterwards. We did talk about the philosophical basis of the test and whether or not students thought it was valid. Either way we agreed that it was possible to have biases at times without realizing it.

The final step to our entry event was for students to view this slideshow. We have just finished a project on the Great Depression and looked at many primary source photographs. We have been talking about doing the work of a historian and looking for clues to history from the pictures.

Students were engaged with the pictures and it turned out that for those who noticed the date on the photograph that a quick Google search brought them to an article about them.

When we talked about them as a class most students were very surprised to learn that the “parade” was in Grand Rapids, our city. Many students did not realize the KKK was active in Michigan or even in the north. Others were surprised that there were women members and that their faces were showing. Some students expressed concern that they had never been taught about this before.

The progression of these activities drew students into the topic and we definitely had them hooked. Now we moved into sharing our Driving Questions and had students generate Essential Questions (this is what we call “Need to Knows”). We are finishing the year with a theme on rights so we have a theme question on top of the Driving Questions. Also to frame the question: “Who is an American?” I used a couple of quotes to give them some context. Here is a screenshot of the Google Doc. The top part in green is our state standards. Students each take a line underneath and add their own questions generated from both the state standards and the entry events.


We have not shared with students yet, but their final product will be a web page on a local Civil Rights place/event. We then hope to make a walking tour of Grand Rapids Civil Rights places with QR codes that link to their webpages. We are excited for students to leave this project with a lasting impression that racism is part of the history of the North and Grand Rapids in particular. We also want students to realize that racism is still among us but that they can make a difference in sharing with others the great progress that has been made in the past.