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Cultural Conflict in the 1920s: Race Relations

By Andrew Otocka

Racial tension exploded during the 1920s with the resurgence of the Klu Klux Klan, segregation laws being challenged and lynching an all-too-common activity. Have students examine primary sources to discover the cultural challenges of America at this time in history.

This lesson is intended for a high school class with 88 minutes allotted for the lesson. Modify as you see fit.

Bell Activity - Have students read a summary of the 1896 Supreme Court case Plessy v. Ferguson. (Click on the link).

Students should explain the impact of the ruling upon African-Americans in their journals.

Harlem Renaissance Poetry Readings - Have students choose poems from various Harlem Renaissance poets. An exhaustive list of poets can be found here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harlem_Renaissance#Poetry

A selection of poems can be found here:

http://articles.usa-people-search.com/content-poetry-of-the-harlem-renaissance.aspx

and here:

http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/5657

and here:

http://www.livebinders.com/play/play?id=59683

Students should rehearse and recite these poems to each other, then discuss what each poem is about and what it reveals about the author and his/her experiences. As a class, discuss the Great Migration and how race had become a much more immediate issue for many Americans. Discuss both de facto and de jure segregation and how the courts had consistently upheld segregation's legality.

Ku Klux Klan members march down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. in 1928 The Klan - Have students watch clips from the movie "Birth of a Nation", which can be found at You Tube. Searching the title will produce both individual clips and the entire movie.

Before class, google image search "klan march on washington 1925". Select as many images as you like and use them to discuss the Klan, how it saw and portrayed itself. Mention the fact that the original Klan had been almost exterminated during Reconstruction, but had resurrected itself as a response to the immigration of the 1910's and 1920's.

NAACP Report on Lynching - Have students read from page 202 -204 in the report.

Discuss the frequency of racial violence in the United States during the decade, where the NAACP came from, and how the organization attempted to address the violence.