Teaching TKAM: The Hard History of Lynching

If you teach To Kill A Mockingbird, you should teach the truth about lynching.

For the past two years, I have taken the opportunity of this book to tell students about my work with the Montgomery County Lynching Memorial Project. I give a presentation to all four sections of English that includes definitions of lynching, historical background including Black resistance to racial terror, and of course, the work of the Equal Justice Initiative and its grassroots partners like MoCoLMP. I emphasize the connections that lynching has modern injustices like police brutality and Black Lives Matter, as well as the remembrance and reconciliation processes in which I have had the honor to participate.

While the near lynching scene in TKAM is often taught as Scout’s “brave moment”, learning the truth about lynching allowed my students to see that she was more ignorant and lucky than brave, that Atticus was so very naïve about his hometown, and that Jem was the one who really knew what was up (have I mentioned I teach TKAM as a dystopia? More on that later). More importantly, it takes that scene at the jail out of the deep South of Alabama and places it right outside our doorstep. Because in Rockville, Maryland mobs of local residents really did snatch two men out of the county prison and there was no small child who stopped them.

If you live in a county with a lynching memorial project, contact them to see what educational materials they might have to share with you. If you live in or near Montgomery County, Maryland drop me a line, and I will gladly offer you a version of the presentation below:

AND if you are teaching about lynching, don’t forget to teach about Black resistance to lynching. I recommend this Crash Course Black History video on Ida B. Wells hosted by Clint Smith III, who wrote about our work in the Atlantic. You can never talk too much about Ms. Ida B. Wells, a hero for her time and ours.

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