I have always taught the case of Emmett Till when covering Civil Rights/Justice System because this story represents one of the most tragic cases in history, and Emmett’s murder helped to direct the Civil Rights Movement in a way that led to progression and equality.
It doesn’t matter how many times I show The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till to my students, the reactions are always the same: shock, horror, disgust, anger, sadness. The fact that a boy their age could walk into a store and be kidnapped, beaten, tortured, and murdered ruthlessly the same day shocks them to their core. Seeing Emmett’s body in the unopened casket forces some to close their eyes and look away while others stare, mouth agape, pain on their faces.
As a teacher, this is the reaction that I want, to see that empathy as they watch Emmett’s mother as she describes her son’s body, that Emmett’s body could be smelled blocks away. “How could anyone do that to a kid?” “I don’t understand how the men weren’t charged.” These are the same confusions and questions that appear every year. Sadly, in 2016, we still don’t have many answers.
I recently came across an article from Upworthy, “More than 6 decades after his violent death, the story of Emmett Till Lives On,” and it reminded me of Emmett and how no matter how many years I teach, I will always share his story. The article goes beyond Emmett’s life and murder and discusses where we are today. Amidst current violence, race relations do not appear to have improved since Emmett’s time, but his death wasn’t in vain.
The article states that Keith Beauchamp, director of the documentary mentioned above, wants to direct a feature length film about Emmett Till–and I am so hopeful that he does. If you have time, check out some of the video diaries that Beauchamp received on Twitter for #MyTillMoment (@MyTillMoment). They are breathtaking, and they will become a part of my lesson plan.
Here is my outline for my Justice System/Civil Rights Unit. Honestly, this unit took several months with my college prep class because I wanted to be thorough and honest. Reading a novel and a play connected well together. You could also add in Monster if you wanted a YA book. We watched both the Emmett Till documentary and the Juvies documentary (both have guided questions to accompany the film). As far as breaking down the time, teaching Mockingbird took about a month, each of the documentaries took one ninety minute class period, the play took about a week, and the articles for Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, etc. were interspersed throughout the unit.
The Justice System
To Kill a Mockingbird
Deaths of Emmett Till, Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Walter Scott, Eric Harris, and Freddie Gray
A Lesson Before Dying
Based on the novel, current events, the play, and the documentaries, write a two page, double-spaced essay in which you discuss the justice system and your opinion of it, using the texts as credible evidence to support your assertions.
Questions to consider:
What do these four things have in common? (Racism, prejudice, police, murders, teens)
How was justice served? Lawfully or unlawfully?
What are some solutions? Cameras? Juries?