Anthropologist Margaret Mead once argued against the improbability of one person bringing about major changes in society. Rather, she asserted, one person’s dedication and commitment was normally the only way change would come. Few would argue that Mississippi became a vastly different state as the result of the life and work of Medgar Wiley Evers, a pioneer in the state’s Civil Rights Movement. To examine the current number of African-American voters and elected officials in Mississippi is to begin to realize the significant political changes that have taken place in the state during the last half of the 20th century. Numerous evidence also exists to indicate that increased social, educational, and economic opportunities for Mississippi’s African-American population continue to move the state toward racial equality. Although Medgar Evers was a quiet, humble man, he rose to prominence as a civil rights advocate. To him belongs much credit for improving the quality of life for all of Mississippi’s citizens. While not so much focusing on the specific details of his work, this lesson encourages students to:
- consider the events of Mr. Evers’s early life and how they impacted his development;
- examine the beliefs and values that formed the basis of his work;
- reflect on the merits of individual efforts to bring about positive changes.
Mississippi Studies Framework: Competencies 1, 3, and 5.
Grades 4 (with modifications) through 12.
MATERIALS AND EQUIPMENT
- Mississippi History Now article
- Butcher paper
- Construction paper
- Colored pencils/pens for brochure
- record major events in Medgar Evers’s life;
- identify and interpret defining factors and events that led to Evers’s work as a civil rights leader; and
- determine Mr. Evers’s core beliefs about civil rights and the Civil Rights Movement.
OPENING THE LESSON
Ask students if they are familiar with the movie, Ghosts of Mississippi. Let them share with the class what they know about it. Tell them that this lesson will help them understand the person on whose life the movie was based. They will also become aware of the motivation that caused him to live his life as he did.
DEVELOPING THE LESSON
- Ask students to read the Mississippi History Now article on the life of Medgar Evers and list major events in his life. They will then construct a timeline to place these events in chronological order. (Students may wish to talk with grandparents or other relatives to identify someone in the family who grew up during the same time period. It will be interesting to include the events in their life on the same timeline so that students can relate the time to their own families.)
- Teacher will lead a large group discussion to determine that students know the basic events of Mr. Evers’s life and to let students parallel the lives of their family members who lived at the same time (if applicable).
- In small learning groups, students will discuss Mr. Evers’s life and determine those significant factors that led him into civil rights work. Students will list the factors on butcher paper or construction paper. Each group will continue its discussion, and can be encouraged to consider specific issues Mr. Evers would have felt strongly about (examples: education, voting rights, etc.)
- Students will write individual essays indicating their understanding of the objective and supporting the group's conclusions on Evers's beliefs. As an optional writing assignment, students can choose a significant event in Mr. Evers's life and examine how this affected his activism.
- Ask the students to read the article again, this time looking for Mr. Evers’s core beliefs about civil rights and the Civil Rights Movement. They will list these in their notes.
- Again, in small groups, have students compare their lists and reach consensus on important factors in Mr. Evers's life and his core beliefs. They will then prepare a campaign brochure, pretending that Mr. Evers is running for the position of president of the NAACP. The booklet should be designed and illustrated around the core beliefs. What specific issues would Mr. Evers campaign on? These should be listed in the brochure.
CLOSING THE LESSON
- Allow students to discuss the murder of Mr. Evers and the subsequent legal action that resulted in the conviction of Byron De La Beckwith in 1994. Ask them to explain how the 1994 court decision caused a “domino effect.” Lead them to think about the influence of Mr. Evers’s life and to write an essay considering how Mr. Evers’s chose to live his life even after exposure to the atrocities , injustices, and threats of a segregated society.
- Using the Mississippi History Now article and other resources , cite evidence to support or reject the assertions:
- “The legacy of Medgar Evers is everywhere present in the Mississippi of today. This peaceful man...was a prominent voice in the struggle for civil rights in Mississippi.”
- “...It is the ghost of Medgar Evers that reigns ... over everything that has happened in the state of Mississippi since 1963, having planted the seeds from which emerged the changing perspectives of its beleaguered modern-day society.” (Willie Morris, The Ghosts of Medgar Evers, p. 265.)
ASSESSING STUDENT LEARNING
- Small group/large group participation
- Campaign brochure
- Writing activities
EXTENDING THE LESSON
- Students may wish to view the movie “Ghosts of Mississippi” with their parents.
- A visit to the Medgar Evers home/museum in Jackson, Mississippi, would be an enriching field experience.
- Using other sources, students should research specific incidents in Mr. Evers’s life such as his first attempt to register to vote, his application to attend law school at the University of Mississippi, and physical harm and dangers (beatings, fire bombs) he experienced.
- Research the life’s work of Mr. Evers‘s wife, Myrlie Evers.
- Sewell, George A. and Dwight, Margaret L. Mississippi Black History Makers, University Press of Mississippi, Jackson, 1984.
- Morris, Willie, The Ghosts of Medgar Evers, Random House, New York, 1998.