Previous lessons in this Civil Rights pre-unit will introduce basic concepts so that students will be prepared to apply Harry S. Truman's WWI and presidential experiences to his decision to desegregate the military in 1948 and move into the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s. They will also have a working knowledge of executive powers. On the first day, students will explore documents pertaining to segregation and on the second day, they will look at letters regarding opinions about desegregation.
l Next, students will be placed in groups and given time to research the contributions of black soldiers in WWI and WWII through library time, homework, and/or provided with the aforementioned documents.
l Each group will create a timeline or flowchart showing when each document was created as well as the broader context or historical period (Great Depression, FDR elected, Pearl Harbor, etc)
l Each group member should provide 2 summaries of war efforts by minorities, one from WWI and one from WWII, as well as one example of Jim Crow or segregation. (No one in the group can have the same story.)
l Students will then answer the following questions in regards to the documents provided:
- Using facts from your research, why would black soldiers be angered having segregated units in the military?
- Using your knowledge of early 20th century society, why would (some) white soldiers be hesitant to serve with them?
- Do you think Truman thinks the contributions of black soldiers are a positive or a negative in the military?
- As president, you are Commander in Chief but you are also elected to do what the citizens want.
a. Which “group” will be easier to please?
b. Which group do you want to keep happy?
c. What will you do if the military or the citizens rebel?
If time remains, end with an article on the Isaac Woodard case (or begin the 2nd
class period with it).
Then for the second class period:
l Students will free write an answer the following pre-written “bell ringer” question that states: “Can the President do whatever s/he wants? Why or why not?”
l Students will be led in a think-pair-share activity to converse about the checks and balances placed on the executive branch, and then they will share their answers with the class.
l If time ran out on the first day, share Isaac Woodard documents. Otherwise, review desegregation and civil rights stories from previous class period.
l The groups will be given a copy of Truman's 18 August 1948 letter to Ernest W. Roberts. After reading, they will answer the following questions:
l What event does “living eighty years behind the times” refer to?
l What is “social equality?”
l What does Ernie think about integration? What does Truman think about it?
l What does this quote from the third paragraph tell us about Truman?
“I am not asking for social equality, because no such thing exists, but I am asking for equality of opportunity for all human beings and, as long as I stay here, I am going to continue that fight.”
l Then students will look at correspondance to the President giving individual's opinions (for example, see Dagen and Winston letters).
l Show Episode 14 of Decisions
Then groups will be given Executive Order 9981 and will answer the following questions:
l How did President Truman's beliefs about black people change during his lifetime?
l Do you think it was hard for President Truman to decide to desegregate the military?
l Why would he do it if he personally (at that time) did not believe in social equality?
l What was happening in the country that was changing Harry S. Truman's mind and about segregation?
l Why would a president have to make decisions he might not completely agree with?
Finally, as independent practice, students will complete a short essay incorporating material from the lesson:
“Do you think it is better to have the Constitution give us rules about what the Executive Branch can do or to have a king who can make whatever rules he wants? Why?” Which one is better if you aren't the President/King? Use facts from our study of civil rights and types of government to support your answer.