Mr. Streit

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Civics - Unit on Race


  • What knowledge, skills, and dispositions (intention to act) does a person need in order to be a powerful civic actor in our democracy and in our community?
  • How will I use my rights and responsibilities to promote the common good in our democracy and community?

The Continued Struggle with Racism in the United States

"There is no evidence that the groups we commonly call 'races' have distinct, unifying genetic identities."

How did we get here?  
Where do we go from here?
1619 - Slavery Begins in the United States

In August of 1619, a journal entry recorded that “20 and odd” Angolans (West Africa), kidnapped by the Portuguese, arrived in the British colony of Virginia and were then were bought by English colonists.  Scholars note that the arrivals were technically sold as indentured servants. Indentured servants agreed, or in many cases were forced, to work with no pay for a set amount of time, often to pay off a debt and could legally expect to become free at the end of the contract. Many Europeans who arrived in the Americas came as indentured servants. Records  indicate that some of them did eventually obtain their freedom.  Read more: History: Black History Milestones

Watch The Uncomfortable Truth Documentary (available on Amazon Prime)

Description:  When the son of Civil Rights Hero, Joan Trumpauer Mulholland, dives into the 400 year history of institutional racism in America he is confronted with the shocking reality that his family helped start it all from the very beginning. A comprehensive and insightful exploration of the origins and history of racism in America told through a very personal and honest story.

1676 - Inventing Black & White
Bacon's Rebellion

The events in Jamestown, Virginia were alarming to the planter elite, who were deeply fearful of the multiracial alliance of [indentured servants] and slaves. Word of Bacon’s Rebellion spread far and wide, and several more uprisings of a similar type followed. In an effort to protect their superior status and economic position, the planters shifted their strategy for maintaining dominance. They abandoned their heavy reliance on indentured servants in favor of the importation of more black slaves.  Read more: Facing History: Inventing Black & White &  PBS: Race - The Power of an Illusion
"The race problem in America was a deliberate invention of men who systematically separated black and white in order to make money."
- Lerone Bennett, The Road Not Taken
1705 - Virginia's First Slave Codes
1793 - Cotton Gin 

While it was true that the cotton gin reduced the labor of removing seeds, it did not reduce the need for slaves to grow and pick the cotton. In fact, the opposite occurred. Cotton growing became so profitable for the planters that it greatly increased their demand for both land and slave labor. In 1790 there were six slave states; in 1860 there were 15. From 1790 until Congress banned the importation of slaves from Africa in 1808, Southerners imported 80,000 Africans. By 1860 approximately one in three Southerners was a slave.  Read more: PBS: Virginia's Slave Codes (1705) & National Archives: The Effects of the Cotton Gin

Watch PBS: Slavery and the Making of America Documentary (available on Amazon Prime)

Description: This four-part series documenting the history of American slavery from its beginnings in the British colonies to its end in the Southern states and the years of post-Civil War Reconstruction. Drawing on a wealth of recent scholarship, it looks at slavery as an integral part of a developing nation, challenging the long held notion that slavery was exclusively a Southern enterprise. At the same time, by focusing on the remarkable stories of individual slaves, it offers new perspectives on the slave experience and testifies to the active role that Africans and African Americans took in surviving their bondage and shaping their own lives.  Preview and read more:

1790s - 1850s
Slavery and Racism Get Worse

White elites/plantation owners begin to fear slave uprisings/revolts and so a more brutal form of slavery and racism evolves. As the Abolitionists Movement evolves, so do the demands to end slavery with some progressive ideas of equality.  And thus, white society responds even more harshly and slavery becomes even more racist, despite the fact the U.S. Congress had outlawed the Transatlantic Slave Trade in 1807.   

Watch The Long Shadow Documentary (available on Amazon Prime)

Description: When filmmaker and investigative journalist Frances Causey, a daughter of the South, set out to explore the continuing racial divisions in the US, what she discovered was that the politics of slavery didn't end with the Civil War. In an astonishingly candid look at the United States' original sin, The Long Shadow traces slavery's history from America's founding up through its insidious ties to racism today.

Discussion Questions: 
  • What is bias? What is implicit bias? What is the difference?
  • Do you have bias or implicit bias? Why or why not?
Open the Harvard University: Implicit Bias Test 
  1. Select the Race IAT test.
  2. What were the results?
  3. Were you surprised at the results? Why or why?
  4. What does it mean if your results weren’t not what you expected?
  1. Read Step 1.
  2. While you watch The Long Shadow Documentary answer the Discussion Questions under Step 2. 
  3. Be prepared to discuss next class.
  4. What questions did the film raise for you? What are you interested in learning more about?
1860s - 1915 
Civil War & Reconstruction

The Civil War erupts almost immediately upon the election of Abraham Lincoln.  The Civil War becomes the war to end slavery when President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, as the nation approached its third year of bloody civil war. The proclamation declared "that all persons held as slaves" within the rebellious states "are, and henceforward shall be free."  Even before the Emancipation Proclamation African-Americans fight for their freedom.  After the Emancipation Proclamation over 175,000 African-Americans will enlist to fight to preserve the Union of the United States. Slavery is not officially over until the conclusion of the Civil War and the ratification of the 13th Amendment.  And for a brief moment in history it appeared the United States would finally resolve it's continued struggle with racism with the passing of the Civil War / Reconstruction (13th, 14th & 15th) Amendments. This "moment in the sun" will be short lived and promises made during the Civil War like 40 Acres and Mule will be destroyed by white elites trying maintain "order".  Even worse, as progress seemed possible, racism evolves once again with the rise of hatred and the birth of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK).   Or as African-American leader and founder of the NAACP, W.E.B. Du Bois once stated. "the slave went free; stood a brief moment in the sun; then moved back again toward slavery." A large number of African-Americans stayed to work on the plantations they were once slaves on.  Slavery by another name is replaced by sharecropping.  African-Americans will be officially abandoned with the death of Reconstruction, known to history as Compromise of 1877.  Sharecropping and Jim Crow laws cement another century plus of economic and systematic racism.  In 1905, author and white supremist, Thomas Dixon, published a profoundly influential book titled, "The Clansman".  A decade later Dixon's friend, film director, and fellow white supremacist, D.W. Griffith produced the movie Birth of Nation based on the book.  The success of the movie was extraordinary.  Within a decade of its release the KKK claimed four to five million men as members, or about fifteen percent of the national voting population.  To emphasise the importance of Jim Crow, the evolving systematic and economic racism, President Woodrow Wilson premiered the film in the White House and stated, "It's like writing history with lightning. My only regret is that it is all so terribly true."  To further emphasize the point between 1915-1930 over 700 Confederate monuments were erected, largely in the South. 

Watch New Orleans Mayor Denounces Confederate Nostalgia in Stirring Speech Defending Monument Removal (Video) and answer the Confederate Monuments Discussion Questions:

  • Should the Confederate monuments and statues be removed? Why or why not?
  • What do these monuments and statues represent to our African-American population?
  • Are the Confederate monuments and statues part of our history and should be preserved?
  • If you believe they should be removed, where do you draw the line? Example: Statue of Christopher Columbus in Lincoln Park in Chicago


Watch PBS: Birth of a Movement Documentary (available on Amazon Prime)

Description: In 1915, Boston-based African American newspaper editor and activist William M. Trotter waged a battle against D.W. Griffith’s technically groundbreaking but notoriously Ku Klux Klan-friendly The Birth of a Nation, unleashing a fight that still rages today about race relations, media representation, and the power and influence of Hollywood. Birth of a Movement, based on Dick Lehr's book The Birth of a Movement: How Birth of a Nation Ignited the Battle for Civil Rights, captures the backdrop to this prescient clash between human rights, freedom of speech, and a changing media landscape.

1915 to 
Civil Rights Movement (1950s - 1960s)

Hatred and racism in the South becomes increasingly violent with events like the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot and the thousands of African-Americans were killed in lynchings and other public acts of racial terror. In response, over 5 million African-Americans become fed up with Jim Crow and the continued struggle with racism in the South and migrate to the North.  Known to history as the Great Migration or the Black Migration. Most migrate to cities like Chicago, Detroit, Pittsburgh, and Harlem in New York City.   In the Northern cities, African-Americans will not escape racism but rather find a different type of racism, urban segregation, a systematic and more economic racism or hidden racism. Dr. Martin King Jr. would later name it a "polite racism", stating, "police misconduct in the North was rationalized, tolerated, and usually denied...Leaders in Northern and Western states welcomed me to their cities, and showered praise on the heroism of Southern Negroes. Yet when the issues were joined concerning local [economic] conditions, only the language was polite; the rejection was firm and unequivocal.” Despite the "hidden or polite racism", African-American culture, Jazz, and Harlem Renaissance become evidence of African-American self-determination. Still, little progress is made in the continued struggle with racism in the United States.  That will change when a young Chicago boy named Emmett Till will be brutally murdered sparking the start of the Civil Rights Movement.  Some progress was made during the Civil Right Movement including the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  But progress was slow and met with tremendous difficulties including the assassination of several important Civil Rights leaders including Medgar Evers, Freedom Summer Murders, Malcolm X, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.Robert F. Kennedy, and Fred Hampton 

Watch I Am Not Your Negro (available on Netflix and Amazon Prime)

Description: In 1979, James Baldwin wrote a letter to his literary agent describing his next project, Remember This House. The book was to be a revolutionary, personal account of the lives and successive assassinations of three of his close friends-Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. At the time of Baldwin's death in 1987, he left behind only thirty completed pages of his manuscript. Now, in his incendiary new documentary, master filmmaker Raoul Peck envisions the book James Baldwin never finished. The result is a radical, up-to-the-minute examination of race in America, using Baldwin's original words and flood of rich archival material. I Am Not Your Negro is a journey into black history that connects the past of the Civil Rights movement to the present of #BlackLivesMatter. It is a film that questions black representation in Hollywood and beyond. And, ultimately, by confronting the deeper connections between the lives and assassination of these three leaders, Baldwin and Peck have produced a work that challenges the very definition of what America stands for.  

1970s - 2000s 
The Post-Civil Rights Era
As the 1960s end, the aim of the post-civil rights activists becomes more focused, direct, and aimed at expanding equality.  The post-civil rights activist becomes more inclusive to other movements like the LGBTQ+ Movement and the protection of rights of all minorities and immigrants. The focus was political as well as economic equality. A growing conservative movement defended the arrangements they sought to challenge. The laws passed by President Nixon's War on Drugs expanded the depths of inequality and significantly contributed to surging black incarceration rates that put the United States on par with some of the most repressive nations of the world. The Conservative platforms of President Reagan and President George H.W. Bush expanded the War on Drugs.  As the Cato Institute states, "The U.S. War on Drugs, like the ill‐​fated war on alcohol (Prohibition) of the early 20th century, is a prime example of disastrous policy, naked self‐​interest, and repeated ignorance on the part of elected officials and other policymakers. From its inception, the drug war has repeatedly led to waste, fraud, corruption, violence, and death."  For decades, the War on Drugs targeted low socio-economic areas in our country and more specifically African-American and Latino neighborhoods.  Read more: Race and the Drug War

Then in 1991, the world witnessed Rodney King, an African-American, severely beaten by the LA police.  Unfortunately, this is a story that should resonates with all of us.  It is a story far too common.  It is the same story or precursor to that of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Jacob Blake, and countless others.  Unfortunately, the explosion of anger and violence is also part of a familiar story in our present or modern history.  Read more: NPR: When LA Erupted In Anger: A Look Back At The Rodney King Riots

Watch 13th Documentary (available on Netflix)

Description: The film begins with the idea that 25 percent of the people in the world who are incarcerated are incarcerated in the U.S. Although the U.S. has just 5% of the world's population. "13th" charts the explosive growth in America's prison population; in 1970, there were about 200,000 prisoners; today, the prison population is more than 2 million. The documentary touches on chattel slavery; D. W. Griffith's film "The Birth of a Nation"; Emmett Till; the civil rights movement; the Civil Rights Act of 1964; Richard M. Nixon; and Ronald Reagan's declaration of the war on drugs and much more.  Open the 13th Documentary Discussion Guide while watching. 

2008 - Present
Two Historic Elections
The 2008 election of President Barack Obama the nation’s first African-American president raised hopes that race relations in the U.S. would improve, especially among African-American voters. But to be fair, after eight years as President of United States, the legacy of President on race relations in the United States is complicated.  Here are two different arguments:  

1) The positive: Just how many young African-Americans have altered the trajectory of their lives because of the example set by Obama?  Read more: BBC: Barack Obama legacy: Did he improve US race relations?
2) The negative: Following a spate of high-profile deaths of African-Americans including Laquan McDonald, Michael Brown, the ensuing Ferguson Riots/Unrest in Missouri, and the 9 African-Americans killed while attending church in Charleston, South Carolina by Dylan Roof. Many Americans described race relations as generally bad. Read more: PEW Research: How America Changed During Barack Obama’s Presidency

Then, businessman and TV personality, Donald J. Trump is elected as the 45th President of the United States in 2016.  Prior to his election, Donald J. Trump made a rare political stance by amplifying the radical and untrue "Birther Conspiracy" of then President Barack Obama.  A ridiculous idea that he now employs against Vice-Presidential candidate Kamala Harris.  It is hard to argue that race relations and the continued struggle with racism in the United States have gotten any better since the election of President Trump. Whether it is how President Trump handled the Charlottesville protests, stating "you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides" or the record high over 1,000 hate groups operating in the United StatesNPR states, "Two-thirds of Americans say President Trump has increased racial tensions."

Read The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander [Book Preview]

Description: The New Jim Crow is a stunning account of the rebirth of a caste-like system in the United States, one that has resulted in millions of African Americans locked behind bars and then relegated to a permanent second-class status—denied the very rights supposedly won in the Civil Rights Movement. Since its publication in 2010, the book has appeared on the New York Times bestseller list for more than a year; been dubbed the “secular bible of a new social movement” by numerous commentators, including Cornel West; and has led to consciousness-raising efforts in universities, churches, community centers, re-entry centers, and prisons nationwide. The New Jim Crow tells a truth our nation has been reluctant to face.  While reading consider the following Advocates for Human Rights: The New Jim Crow Discussion Questions

8 Minutes and 46 Seconds Won't Be Ignored

On May 25, Minneapolis police officers arrested George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, after a deli employee called 911, accusing him of buying cigarettes with a counterfeit $20 bill. Seventeen minutes after the first squad car arrived at the scene, Mr. Floyd was unconscious and pinned beneath three police officers, showing no signs of life. By combining videos from bystanders and security cameras, reviewing official documents and consulting experts, The New York Times reconstructed in detail the minutes leading to Mr. Floyd’s death. The video clearly shows officers taking a series of actions that violated the policies of the Minneapolis Police Department which turned fatal, leaving Mr. Floyd unable to breathe, even as he and onlookers called out for help. Days after Mr. Floyd’s death, the Police Department fired all four of the officers involved in the episode, and murder and manslaughter charges against Derek Chauvin, the officer who can be seen most clearly in witness videos pinning Mr. Floyd to the ground. Mr. Chauvin, who is white, kept his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds, according to the criminal complaint against him. Additional video shows that Mr. Chauvin did not remove his knee even after Mr. Floyd lost consciousness, and for a full minute after paramedics arrived at the scene. (Courtesy of the NY Times)

Black Lives Matter Movement

The historic events of 2020 have forced all of us to stop and think about the world we live in.  Is this really the world we want our children to grow up in? Don't all of our children deserve better and to live without fear.  Watching these events unfold has made me deeply sad.  As an educator, I have felt like I have done a decent job teaching the history of the United States' struggles with race relations.  But the tragedy of George Floyd has made me take a step back and ask myself am I really doing enough.  The answer is no. I believe this current situation has proven a lack of leadership or at least the lack of understanding by some of our leaders.  This makes teachers, especially history teachers, now more than ever, responsible for showing leadership.  What I do know, is we need hope, understanding, and compassion for one another. We need to have uncomfortable and difficult conversations.  We need not to rush to judgement against one another when one is angry or another doesn't understand.  Even as I write this, I know this means that I will make mistakes.  As a white man, I can try to understand, I can try to relate, but I can never really know what it feels like to fear the police. I recently watched this Black Parents Explain How to Deal with Police (Video) and was moved to tears. - Mr. Streit
Struggle with Race Relations Resources:
Resources for Discussing Police Violence, Race, and Racism With Students 

The Ugly History of Jon Burge

Whenever Chicago Police commander Jon Burge needed a confession, he would walk into the interrogation room and set down a little black box, his alleged victims would later tell prosecutors. The box had two wires and a crank. Burge, they alleged, would attach one wire to the suspect’s handcuffed ankles and the other to his manacled hands. Then, they said, Burge would place a plastic bag over the suspect’s head. Finally, he would crank his little black box and listen to the screams of pain as electricity coursed through the suspect’s body.  

Read more: Washington Post: John Burge costs Chicago $5.5 million

Part I:  Writing a Mission Statement for the Police

1.  Imagine that you are starting a new town.  All of the residents are working on figuring out different aspects of how the town will be governed.  Your class has been assigned to think about the police department.  Organize into groups of 4 to 6 students and write your own mission statement.
2.  Class Discussion: 
  • Is a police department necessary in today's world?  Why or why not?
  • What are the most important functions of the police?
  • Let's look closely at our mission statements.  What similarities do you see?  What words appear in several of the students?  What differences do you see?  What do you think accounts for the differences?
3.  Compare your mission statements with the mission statement of the Chicago Police Department (CPD).  
     The Chicago Police Department, as part of, and empowered by, the community, is committed to protect the lives, property, and rights of all people, to maintain order, and to enforce the law impartially.  We will provide quality police service in partnership with other members of the community.  To fulfill our mission, we will strive to attain the highest degree of ethical behavior and professional conduct at all times.  
  • Read each sentence of the mission statement carefully.  What does each sentence mean to you?
  • How is the CPD mission statement similar to the mission statement you wrote?  How is it different?
  • If you could change one thing in the CPD mission statement, what would it be?  Explain your choice.
4.  Share your changes you would make to the CPD mission statement.   Pay attention to the requirement that CPD administer the law impartially.  Consider the implications of this part of the mission statement in dealing with a diverse community.
5.  Remember history and literature are full of examples of people misusing their power.  Can you think of an example?  The Constitution gives us rights to help ensure that law enforcement and the courts cannot misuse their power.  In the next part of the lesson, you will be introduced to these rights.
Part II:  Balancing Act
1.  The Constitution protects a number of rights that help balance the power of the police.  Understanding these rights, often called the rights of the accused, can be very important in dealing with law enforcement.  Define the rights of the accused.  
2.  When you find out that someone has been arrested and accused of a crime, what do you think about that person?  Do you say to yourself, "I think that person is guilty" or "I think that person may be innocent"? Think of some of the causes or reasons for your assumptions.  
3.  Remember the justice system in the United States is based in the idea that a person is innocent until proven guilty.  To be sure that people are treated as though they were innocent until proven guilty, the Bill of Rights includes guarantees that ensure what is called due process under law.  Due process means the government must use fair procedures to determine guilt.  These ideas are protections against the government being able to abuse power.
4.  Review as a class  Rights of the Accused.  We will clarify any words you may not be familiar with.  
5.  Write a brief letter to a city decision maker explaining two ideas from this lesson that they think prospective police officers should learn about at the police academy and why those ideas are important for the police officers to understand.
6.  Share your letter with your groups from the first part of this lesson.
7.  Look up the appropriate address and mail it!