“Disfranchisement in the American South” Through Voices of Those Who’ve Lived It, Grades 9-12
High school Civics and Economics, Current Events, and US History teacher Brantley Barrow sees history, especially the history of our government and how it functions, as “an incredible weapon against corruption and the status quo political gridlock of Raleigh and Washington.” Thus, for him, it’s crucial that his students understand that the right to vote—and the power that this right can hold—wasn’t always available to everyone. In the lesson he created as a 2017 Carolina Oral History Teaching Fellow, Understanding Disenfranchisement in the American South, Barrow takes students all the way back to end of the Civil War and the ratification of the 15th amendment and all the way forward to methods of disenfranchisement today.
In this lesson, students travel around to different stations, each focused on a different historical method of voter disenfranchisement: 1) the Grandfather Clause 2) Literacy Tests 3) Poll Taxes, and 4) Intimidation. Beginning at station 2, students learn about how these disenfranchisement tactics functioned and impacted people on the ground through voices from the SOHP archive. To start, Executive Director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) Andrew Young discusses how registrars used the guise of literacy tests to keep even the most educated African American applicants—such as his younger brother, a graduate of Ohio University—from successfully registering to vote. Next, students hear from black South Carolina farm worker Larry H. Gooden, who describes how his father tried to convince other African-Americans to vote despite threats of poll taxes and loss of their land. Finally, Birmingham lawyer Glennon Threatt explains the intimidation techniques meant to keep African-Americans from even attempting to register to vote. Accompanying these interviews with photographs, poll tax receipts, and video clips, Barrow equips students with a variety of historical evidence for a guided class discussion after each station.
To complete the lesson, students create a Public Service Announcement on the importance of registering to vote and voting today. Students are required to use their newly acquired historical knowledge on disfranchisement to convince people to exercise their right to vote today. Recognizing that this still isn’t a right accessible to everyone, Barrow also provided materials for an optional discussion on racially motivated voter disenfranchisement today, including how photo-ID requirements reduce the number of black voters.