Teaching Primary Sources: The Jim Crow Museum at Ferris State University

Protestors, July, 1963

Hi all,

As I’ve been working on my bibliography for this week’s digital toolbox assignment, I’ve been thinking a lot about the challenge of working with primary sources in the K-6 classroom — where to find them, how to adapt them, and how to teach them. I’m particularly interested in figuring out how to pull together a collection of documents that will sustain a class through an entire unit.

The topic I chose for my bibliography is racial segregation and the rise of Jim Crow laws (USII.4c), typically taught around 6th grade (I think), and I came across a resource that speaks to many of the above questions. The Jim Crow Museum at Ferris State University is home to a large collection of lesson plans and teaching materials, as well as artifacts and primary source documents, that not only cover the Jim Crow era, but slavery and the Civil Rights movement as well.

What I particularly love about this resource is that the museum’s collection goes in-depth into both the history of Jim Crow racism (the section on origins is fantastic in terms of the range of documents — though you, of course, want to choose your documents with awareness and sensitivity and adapt them for the classroom accordingly), and the history of resistance to Jim Crow. The Battling Jim Crow section contains work by artists who respond to, critique, and re-contextualize the images of the Jim Crow era, and I can imagine any number of creative lesson plans that could be developed using the art highlighted there. There’s also a very thoughtful post on how the museum’s staff feel about working with objects that are hateful; the post brings into view the work of curators and museum educators, and I think it could be really cool to talk about that kind of thing in the classroom.

Anyhow, this is just what I’ve been reading this week. I’d love to hear about any primary source resources you’ve found while working on your bibliographies. What topics have you chosen and where have you found the best teaching materials?

6 thoughts on “Teaching Primary Sources: The Jim Crow Museum at Ferris State University

  1. Vivian, I am so interested in your chosen topic of study and look forward to seeing the Toolkit in its final form at the end of the class. I believe it will truly serve as an incredible resource for us all as future educators.

    I have not delved into my topic just yet but honestly hadn’t given enough weight to the idea of including Primary Sources until this past week’s class and subsequent assignments. I think I am the “reluctant reader” who was intimidated, as a student, by Primary Sources and therefore have shied away from that tool; however, now, learning its importance and significant role in education, I am inspired to go outside of my own comfort zone and explore the resource to better assist in my teaching. Thank you!

  2. Vivian,
    Thank you for sharing this timely and helpful resource. I especially love the post you shared about curators and museum staff and their response to dealing with hateful artifacts. That is an interesting viewpoint that I have never heard before and was excited to read. I think that it is so important to consult primary documents when addressing slavery, the Civil Rights Movement, and of course, Jim Crow Laws. It is important to consult multiple viewpoints since we discussed that every textbook version of history often sheds light on only a single viewpoint. I want my students learning about these heavy and important topics to be able to empathize, and view history with critiquing eyes that vow to do better and learn from these dark times during our history. We also have a unique viewpoint as teachers being academically shaped during the pandemic and things like the Black Lives Matter Movement. We have a lens from our own history in which to share about current injustices and experiences we have witnessed firsthand. An image of the Robert E. Lee Monument would be a great discussion point for students learning about Civil Rights, slavery and how we got to where we are today. These are all heavy and even uncomfortable subjects, but it is our duty and honor as educators to guide our students academically and personally so that we can help raise a generation that learns from the past, sees our world for what it is, and dares to try to be and make the difference. Thank you for sharing the resources you found! I look forward to seeing everyone’s portfolios and the resources everyone has collected.

  3. Hello! For my Bibliography, I initially chose SOL standard 2.4, which focuses on “important” American historical figures that Virginia has decided children should know. These figures are Christopher Columbus, Benjamin Franklin, Abraham Lincoln, George Washington Carver, Helen Keller, Thurgood Marshall, Rosa Parks, Jackie Robinson, Cesar Chavez, and Martin Luther King, Jr. However, I really struggled finding age-appropriate books that also addressed the problematic and often complex nature of many of these figures. As a teacher, I want to be honest about history, but I also must acknowledge that I am working with children. Race conscious teaching is important, but certain brutal details are not appropriate. Regarding primary sources, some of Lincoln’s speeches or other relevant works are better suited for older children. Although I do intend to come back to this topic for literature and primary source search, I ended up instead choosing the topic of Virginia Studies, specifically SOL VS.2g, which focuses on American Indians from Virginia—their contributions, history, and current presence.

    As I research Native American resources, I also think about finding, adapting, and teaching primary sources. Inspired by your Ferris State University Jim Crow Museum options, I explored primary sources regarding American Indians. I found this, which is a VDOE sponsored list of resource links. These links lead to timelines, archives (including images, documents, etc.), artifact information, an encyclopedia, and more. One link I explored is the Virginia Indian Archive, which shows Virginia specific artifacts. Although I found many national Native American children’s books and resources, this was helpful for Virginia specific teachings. As for teaching materials, the Jamestown and Yorktown Settlement Victory Center offers a lesson plan about analyzing primary sources.

    Thanks for sharing the resource you found and for encouraging us to further explore primary sources and additional resources!

    I realize that the hyperlinks are not registering in the comment post, so here they are.

  4. Hi Vivian,

    First of all, I wanted to express my appreciation for your blog. One part of your blog that really stuck out to me was when you mentioned the “very thoughtful post” that provided a very real aspect in teaching history which is the strong emotions that people have towards historical pieces. I believe its important for teachers to welcome their students honest thoughts and feelings about historical pieces. Moreover, by being open and honest, students and teachers can learn from others perspectives and biases that can be applied when analyzing primary and secondary sources.

    Regarding primary sources for my annotated bibliography and digital resources, I am still working towards making finalizations on which I’d like to use. More specifically, my digital toolbox is for second grade, so I’ve been looking for primary sources on Martin Luther King, Jr. Through the VDOE website, I stumbled upon a variety of resources (click on the following link) https://www.doe.virginia.gov/instruction/history/index.shtml Scroll down to the “Elementary School Instructional Resources” category. As I am focusing on Martin Luther King, Jr., I clicked on the “Civil Rights Education,” which brought me to the following website: http://brownscholarship.virginia.gov/resources.asp After further exploring the webpage, it helped guide me in a more clear direction towards primary sources to help with my bibliography. Nevertheless, I still need to ensure that the material is grade-level appropriate. I hope this can help guide you in a clearer direction as well!


  5. Hi Vivian!

    Thank you for sharing your bibliography plan and the Ferris State University website; it was both fascinating and horrifying. With Black History Month just one day away, I like how you chose to make your first toolbox assignment about Jim Crow Laws and how things have changed (in a positive direction). Further, given the political climate around race/racism and equality in the education department, I think it was a bold choice that emphasizes the importance of teaching such concepts when others believe it is wrong.

    While I haven’t gotten too in-depth with my bibliography (I’m starting it right after this), I will most likely focus on Ancient Greece or Ancient Egypt as they are some of my favorite Social Studies units in the 3rd-grade!

  6. Hi Vivian! Thanks for a great post! I am focusing on Virginia Studies (4th grade) for my toolbox and decided to focus on the unit: Colonization and Conflict: 1607 through the American Revolution! I initially chose this grade to focus on this year because Virginia Studies is my absolute favorite (big VA colonial history nut). To find my primary sources, I used both the Colonial Williamsburg and Colonial Jamestown websites! They offer amazing first-hand content for students and teachers alike! I linked both here for you if you want to check them out!


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