Breaking The Racial Barriers

Essential Questions

  • What does it mean to belong to a group? How does a person know when he or she belongs?
  • How does group membership shape the way we see the world and the way the world sees us?
  • What are the conditions that make integration possible, and what gets in the way?

Learning Objectives


  • Students will consider the importance of group collaboration.
  • Students will understand the significance of an integrated group during the civil rights era.
  • Students will understand Gordon Allport’s conditions for intergroup cooperation.
  • Students will write from another perspective in order to relate to others.

Common Core Anchor Standards for Reading (R), Writing (W), and Speaking and Listening (SL)


Students will write from the perspective of one of the group’s members, using the RAFT (Role, Audience, Format, Topic) strategy.


In this lesson, students will be introduced to Booker T. & the M.G.'s, who were both an independent act and the Stax house band, session musicians who worked in the recording studio with many of the label’s stars. Despite performing in an era when much of the South, including Memphis, was segregated, Booker T. & the M.G.'s was a racially integrated band. Students will learn how the group members’ passion for music overcame the societal pressures seeking to force them apart.

Guiding Questions

  • What societal pressures did the members of Booker T. & the M.G.'s have to confront?
  • What were some specific challenges the band faced?
  • How did the band persevere despite the racial tensions of the time?



  1. Warm-up
    • To begin a lesson on the power of group membership, particularly the power to define who may belong, ask students to think about a time when they or someone they know participated in a group despite the expectations of or pressures from peers, parents, or society. What challenges did the situation present? What were the benefits? We recommend taking time to reflect on those questions in a journal before opening up to a discussion. You might consider a Think-Pair-Share strategy.
  2. Analyzing the Music
    • Watch the the video The Stax Music Academy Performs "Green Onions." Ask students their initial reactions. What does it remind you of? What stands out?
    • Ask students to identify as many instruments as possible, by both sound and sight. How do the different instruments in the song play off each other? Listen for both solos and times when everyone is playing together. What effect would isolating just one instrument have on the song? What would this song sound like it were performed by just one person? Would it be the same song?
  3. Historical Context
    • After students have had a chance to focus on the music, deepen the discussion by showing the video Musicians Booker T. & the M.G.'s. In this clip from Respect Yourself: The Stax Records Story students will be introduced to the band. Have the students listen to discussions of what held them together. What words do they use to describe their relationships? How do they talk about race and what it meant to be an integrated group in a time of segregation? What, if anything, is surprising?
    • To give students a deeper understanding of the context in which the band wrote “Green Onions,” distribute the reading “Green Onions” Historical Background. You may find it helpful to use the Chunking teaching strategy with this particular resource. If you feel your class needs more guidance, you might ask students to answer the text-dependent questions located at the bottom of the reading.
    • Psychologist Gordon Allport studied prejudice and how to resist it. One of his most important ideas, the contact hypothesis, suggests that bringing people from different groups together can help reduce prejudice if certain conditions are met. Present those conditions to your students, summarized in the reading Gordon Allport’s Contact Hypothesis. Which of these conditions was met when Booker T. & the M.G.'s got together? Which issues may have presented challenges? Consider other efforts launched at that time that aimed to bring groups together (e.g., school integration, integration of the armed forces). Which of Allport’s conditions was met in those situations?
  4. Outcomes
    • After listening to the band describe what it meant to be an integrated group in a time of segregation, tease out the conditions that helped the band form a successful collaboration. Does that list of conditions look like Allport’s? What are the important features of a successful group? What is necessary to make all members feel they belong? Have you ever felt like you were making a positive contribution to a group? Have you ever felt that positive collaboration was impossible? What got in the way? How did you respond? How do you wish you’d responded?
    • Inform students that Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis not far from the Stax Records studios. Out of respect, Stax closed for several days, but tensions were still high when the artists returned to work. Ask students to reread then summarize the paragraphs in which Steve Cropper describes being harassed outside of the Stax studios. Consider having students use the RAFT (Role, Audience, Format, Topic) strategy, writing from the perspective of Cropper or another band member. They might consider what could have been done before, during, or after one of the tense moments to defuse the situation. Ask students to share their writing with one another.

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