The Great Depression and Religion in Mississippi Lesson Plan

Karla Smith


The widespread suffering caused by the Great Depression rendered religious agencies in Mississippi unable to help those in need. As the income of workers fell by 40 to 60 percent, donations traditionally used to fund religious aid for those trapped at the bottom of society also plummeted. Most religious leaders and agencies in Mississippi called for and subsequently welcomed the various social aid programs created by President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. As the New Deal took effect, however, state religious leaders held mixed emotions and opinions concerning the program’s success in the state. Most white clergy continued to support the relief and recovery programs of the New Deal, although many worried that federal aid would undermine Jim Crow segregation. Black ministers in Mississippi responded more cautiously to the New Deal as many program benefits were denied to Black southerners, particularly domestic workers, sharecroppers, and tenant farmers. A minority of White ministers feared that the implementation of the New Deal meant that local churches had permanently given up their social and moral authority to an expanded federal government, a fear that would continue to grow among white southern ministers in the coming decades.

Curricular Connections

US History: 1877 to Present

  • US.6.3 - Analyze President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal as a response to the economic crisis of the Great Depression, including: the effectiveness of New Deal programs in relieving suffering, achieving economic recovery, and promoting organized labor.
  • US.6.4 - Evaluate the impact of Franklin D. Roosevelt on the presidency and the New Deal’s impact on the expansion of federal power.

Teaching Level

Grades 7 through 12


  • Mississippi History Now article, “The Great Depression and Religion in Mississippi”
  • Character Analysis Worksheet
  • Classroom board
  • Computer
  • Index cards or unlined paper cut into squares
  • Internet access
  • Resource books
  • PowerPoint
  • Data Projector


The students will:

  1. Determine the role religious agencies played in assisting people in need in Mississippi both prior to and after the Great Depression.
  2. Examine the widespread suffering caused by the Great Depression from the viewpoint of different population groups in Mississippi.
  3. Evaluate how New Deal programs impacted different population groups in Mississippi.

Opening the Lesson

Prior to the start of class, the teacher will list the following questions on the board:

  1. What would families do to survive and attempt to recover?
  2. If that fails, where would they go for help?
  3. When that help runs out, where would they go next?
  4. And next?

To open the lesson, the teacher will ask students to consider the following scenario of a family living in Mississippi in 1931 during the Great Depression. Next, the teacher will read the scenario listed below to the class. 

It is 1931. Your house burns down. A month later, you contract malaria, and you cannot work. Your family’s life savings has been lost in a bank failure. Your family has almost nothing left to eat.

Next, the teacher will ask students the questions listed on the board prior to the start of class. The teacher will record the student responses on the board. After the class discussion, the teacher will tell the students that they will have an opportunity to study how different populations in the 1930s were affected by the Great Depression and the New Deal.

Developing the Lesson

  1. Each of the characters listed below will be placed on separate index cards or pieces of paper that are card size. The set of cards will be duplicated based on the number of student groups to ensure that each student group receives a card. The students should be aware that these are real scenarios from Mississippi in the 1930s.
    • A Black male sharecropper living and working on a plantation in Coahoma County with a wife and five children.
    • A Syrian woman living in Greenwood. Her husband is dead, and she is raising her high school-aged son on her own.
    • A Black small business owner in Mound Bayou, whose customers are predominately local Black farmers. You, your wife, and your two children live in a small house beside your store.
    • A White male wage laborer in Bolivar County. You have a wife and four children who travel with you looking for work in the cotton fields.
    • A White female minister in Natchez, who is a wife and the mother of two children. She and her husband preach at a local holiness church and scratch out a living on their small farm.
  2. Next, students will be placed in groups of three or four. One member from each group will select one of the character cards mentioned above. Depending on the number of student groups, more than one group may have the same character.
  3. The teacher will instruct the student groups to research their assigned character. Students will use various books and Internet sources to complete their character analysis. Along with the current article, “The Great Depression and Religion in Mississippi,” students will also use other articles from the Mississippi History Now website for their research. Other articles suggested for student research are listed at the bottom of this webpage.
  4. Some of the research questions for the character analysis should include the following:
    • What types of survival strategies or resources were available to your character prior to the Great Depression? Were these same strategies available during the depression? If no, why were they not available?
    • What types of survival strategies or resources were available or may have been used by your character in the early years of the Great Depression?
    • Which New Deal programs might have been available to your character? Would those benefits have been limited in any way depending on your character’s race or occupation?
      Attached to the lesson plan is a worksheet that students can use to record their research notes.
  5. The teacher will tell the students that they will be required to create a PowerPoint on their character analysis research that will be shared with the class. The students should include a slide in the PowerPoint that list the resources used for the assignment. A slide on the geography of the area where their character resided should also be included in the PowerPoint.

Closing the Lesson

The students will present their research projects to the class.

Assessing Student Learning

  • Class participation
  • Group activity
  • Research notes
  • Presentations


  • Students can research local, state, and national leaders during the Depression.
  • Students can conduct further research on the programs included in the New Deal.
  • Students can research local, state, and national resources available to those in need today.
  • The teacher can use Mississippi History Now articles mentioned in this lesson plan to create a unit on the Great Depression.

Other related Mississippi History Now articles

Karla Smith is the Social Studies Department Chair at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College’s Jefferson Davis Campus.