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Teaching Guide: Exploring Ida B. Wells and Anti-Lynching Activism

This teaching guide helps instructors use a specific primary source set, Ida B. Wells and Anti-Lynching Activism, in the classroom. It offers discussion questions, classroom activities, and primary source analysis tools. It is intended to spark pedagogical creativity by giving a sample approach to the material. Please feel free to share, reuse, and adapt the resources in this guide for your teaching purposes.

Discussion questions

  1. Examine the title pages of Southern Horrors and A Red Record. Compare the use of imagery, color, and text. What do you think Wells was trying to convey to her audience? How do you think she wanted her readers to feel when they saw her publications?
  2. What do you interpret the title A Red Record to mean? In what ways does Wells employ irony in the pamphlet’s subtitle, “Respectfully submitted to the Nineteenth Century civilization in ‘the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave’”?
  3. Using the court record from Wells’ lawsuit against the railroad company and her portrait from 1893, imagine Wells in the scene that she recounts on the train and, later, in a courtroom providing the recorded testimony. What does Wells’ testimony reveal about her character?
  4. In the illustration from The College of Life, the caption below Wells’ portrait reads “Lecturer, Defender of the Race.” In what ways did she fulfill this role?
  5. What does the Harper’s Weekly cartoon reveal about the motivation(s) of the Ku Klux Klan? In what way is lynching part of the Klan’s strategy?
  6. Using the lynching announcements that were reprinted in The Crisis, the photograph of a lynching, and the letter from A. M. Middlebrook, explain what each reveals about the relationship between the state government, the local police, and local white citizens when it came to the practice of lynching.
  7. Lynchings were sometimes planned, public events that people came to watch. Using the lynching announcements that were reprinted in The Crisis and the photograph of a lynching, explain why the “committee of Ellisville citizens” and other white groups or individuals wanted these events to be public. Why do you think the men, women, and children who attended wanted to watch? What would it have felt like to be an African American citizen of Ellisville, Mississippi or Columbus, Georgia at this time?
  8. What does her address say about what Ida B. Wells hoped to achieve with her speaking tour in England and Ireland?
  9. What does the letter by Ida B. Wells to Albion Tourgee reveal about their relationship? Analyze what this letter and the address reveal about public perception of Ida B. Wells. How do you think she felt about pushback she received from the media or other reform leaders?
  10. Read the introduction to Wells’ A Red Record online. Compare the introduction to The Tragedy of Lynching. Do you think Milton and Raper had read Wells’ work as part of their research? How are their approaches and tones different from hers?

Classroom activities

  1. Ask students to select one of the specific instances of lynching in the set: the John Hartfield lynching, one of the cases included in A Red Record, or the lynching mentioned in A. M. Middlebrook’s letter. Ask students to conduct outside research on each case or the context for the case by learning more about the time and place in which it occurred. Ask students to write a short speech from Ida B. Wells’ perspective responding to the lynching they selected. Host a mock community meeting at which students deliver their speeches.
  2. Read the Equal Justice Initiative’s article about Mamie Lang, who was present during John Hartfield’s lynching. Lead a class discussion comparing the perspective of Lang and her family with the perspective expressed in the local newspaper excerpts. Ask students to reflect on this case and differing perspectives in a creative project (a poem, spoken word piece, drawing, painting, song, etc.).

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