In this six-lesson unit, students will explore the history and legacy of the murder of Emmett Till. In particular, they will consider how Till’s murder and the courageous choices of his mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, inspired a generation of activists to work towards racial justice. Students will then reflect on the lessons this history holds as we work to achieve racial justice and how it might inform their civic choices.
What can we learn from the murder of Emmett Till as we work to achieve racial justice in America today?
Students will understand the history and continued legacy of racial violence in the United States.
Students will explore how activists have used the media to push for racial justice.
Students will develop their capacity for civic engagement.
This unit supports a multiple-week exploration of the history and legacy of the murder of Emmett Till and includes:
Videos, readings, and handouts used throughout lessons
1 unit assessment
Preparing to Teach
A Note to Teachers
Before teaching this unit, please review the following information to help guide your preparation process.
This unit introduces students to the brutal murder of a teenage boy and also covers the history and legacy of racial violence and injustice in the United States. It is crucial that students have the opportunity to process individually and together the emotions and questions this history evokes. It is especially important for you to look at students’ work and their participation in class discussions for evidence of how they are processing what they have encountered in this lesson. If necessary, follow up with individual students to offer support, or set aside additional class time for students to talk through and articulate their thoughts and feelings about this challenging history. We also recommend that you do the following:
Preview each resource in the unit before you share it with your students. Let students know in advance when they are about to encounter material that some may find upsetting. If necessary, omit resources that you believe will be too explicit for your students.
Briefly review the class contract with students before beginning the unit. This will help to reinforce the norms you have established and the idea of the classroom as a safe space for students to voice concerns, questions, or emotions that may arise. If you have not created a class contract, we strongly recommend engaging the class in a contracting activity before beginning the unit.
This unit is focused less on the details of Emmett Till’s murder and more on the impact of the tragedy, which inspired a generation of civil rights activists and continues to reverberate in the present. It is important to emphasize this framing for students and to reflect it in the way you approach teaching the unit. We recommend that you teach all of the lessons in the designated order, if possible. However, if you do not have time to do so, we advise you to focus on lessons that cover the impact of Till’s murder on the civil rights movement and on contemporary movements for racial justice (Lesson 5 and Lesson 6). Regardless of how many lessons you are able to teach, please read the unit in its entirety and review all of the content so that you understand the context and are making informed decisions on which lessons to use.
Throughout the unit, students will consider the impact of trauma on those who witnessed the photographs of Emmett Till in Jet magazine, as well as entire generations of African Americans who could identify with Till. Based on their identities, their experiences, and their exposure to current events and activism, students will enter this classroom discussion with wide-ranging levels of background knowledge about the murder of Emmett Till and contemporary racial justice cases. Some students in recent years may have participated in protests and local activism or followed along with media coverage of such cases, while others may not be aware of these cases.
Therefore, be prepared for your students to have a range of responses to the history and contemporary connections they will discuss in this lesson. Creating and reviewing a class contract is an important tool for helping to ensure that students with a variety of backgrounds and lived experiences can learn together in a respectful environment.
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Explore Mamie Till-Mobley’s courageous decision to show the public Emmett Till’s body through an open-casket funeral and photos in Jet magazine and consider why Emmett’s death generated widespread determination to pursue racial justice.
The Emmett Till & Mamie Till-Mobley Institute and Facing History & Ourselves would like to offer a special thank you to the partners, collaborators, and student advisors who made critical contributions to this curricular unit. They include colleagues from within the Till Institute as well as the Emmett Till Interpretive Center, the Alluvial Collective and students from across Mississippi.
Abby Jo Flowers
Dr. Marvel Parker
Dr. Earl Watkins
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