Not in Our Town


This lesson uses Facing History's publication Choosing to Participate. The Reading "Not in Our Town" (pp. 67-74) tells the story of how the town of Billings, Montana responded to intolerance in their community. This reading and the accompanying website www.niot.org can be used to help students explore issues such as hate crimes, civic participation and universe of obligation. The website also hosts a five-minute movie describing this story.



  • Journal: Before students read “Not in Our Town,” ask them to respond to the following questions in their journals, “What is a “hate crime?” Identify situations in history or current events that you think match this definition.”  According to the U.S. Department of Justice, a hate crime is “a criminal offense committed against a person, property, or society that is motivated, in whole or in part, by the offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or ethnicity/national origin.”  You can share this definition with students and discuss how it compares to their own ideas about hate crimes. Do they think this definition is too broad? Too limited? Just right? After reading, “Not in Our Town,” students can discuss how the crimes discussed in this story fit the U.S. legal definition of a “hate crime.”
  • Storyboard: After reading “Not in Our Town,” use the Storyboard teaching strategy to help students visualize and make sense of this story.  Students can share the storyboards in small groups. After you have checked that all students understand the basic ideas of the reading, the questions, “What strikes you most about this story? What scene or square of your storyboard most stands out to you?” can be used to start a discussion.
  • Silent Conversation: Once students have read “Not in Our Town,” use the Silent Conversation teaching strategy to structure students’ discussion of themes in the text.  We suggest using the following quotations:

At a meeting, temple officers chose not to speak out. Says Tammie, “They seemed to feel that to acknowledge a problem or identify ourselves as being different would make us stand apart.” Tammie refused to stay silent. (2)

In the spring of 1993, after a conversation at a town meeting, Tammie, Margaret, and several others formed the Billings Coalition for Human Rights. “This wasn’t a Jewish issue, it was a human rights issue,” says Tammie. “We wanted to make the community aware of what was going on.” (3)

That week, hundreds of menorahs appeared in the windows of Christian homes in Billings. ‘It wasn’t an easy decision,’ says Margaret. ‘With two young children, I had to think hard about it myself. We put our menorah in a living room window, and made sure nobody sat in front of it”…Some, nervous about jeopardizing their families, checked first with Wayne Inman, the chief of police at the time. ‘Yes, there’s a risk,’ he told callers. ‘But there’s a greater risk in not doing it.’  (5)

It’s estimated that as many as 6,000 homes in Billings had menorahs on display. “All along, our coalition had been saying an attack on one of us is an attack on all of us,” says Margaret MacDonald. “And God bless them, the people of this town understood.” (6)

I mean, what have we done so far? Come up with a plan. Make a few phone calls. Put up menorahs. That’s all we did. Pretty simple stuff, actually. But you have to build the sentiment, to forge the real feeling that goes deep. We did something right here, and we will do it again if we have to. If we don’t, there are people who would break every window in Billings, and we would look out those windows and see ourselves. (8)

  • Not in our Classroom: www.niot.org  has a section called “Not in our classroom” where students share stories of what they have done in their schools and neighborhoods to protest against hate crimes and intolerance.  Encourage students to review these stories, selecting one that stands out to them to share with the class.  Students can consider what they could do in their lives to stand up to injustice, and they even might consider becoming a NIOT group or adding their stories to the NIOT website. 
  • Gallery Walk: Once students have read “Not in Our Town” and visited www.niot.org ask them to identify several pictures and images that stood out to them. Then, have them consider what pictures and images would most accurately represent their school or neighborhood communities – what would these images show about the place’s identity? Who is “we” and who is “they? How do you see the community’s history? Who chooses to participate? Have students create or find images that they think help answer these questions.  You can use the Gallery Walk teaching strategy to help students view these images in preparation for a discussion about tolerance, membership and belonging in their own community. Students can upload their images to www.niot.org.

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