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"Own Your History"

A leadership course on the creative edge



17. The “Other America:” Poor and Working Class Whites and Identity Politics–1890-1960


From the colonial period on, a significant number of American white people of British or European heritage have been poor and lacking the land, education, skills, or opportunities for advancement. Poor and working class whites gave impetus to Populism in the 1890s and to insurgent “white identity” political movements supporting Huey Long, George Wallace, and most recently Donald Trump.

White identity movement attitudes have tended to include mixtures of regionalism, clannishness, racism, xenophobia, fear, and class resentments. Especially during periods of economic disruption and distress, movements have coalesced around feelings that the country is not working for them. These attitudes have shaped deep divisions running through American society, as so powerfully demonstrated in 2016. A complete, objective history requires an understanding of the many Americans who join in such identity politics and the attitudes that continue to have profound effects on American politics.


How did the circumstances, fears, and aspirations of poor and working class white Americans between 1890 and 1960 fuel white identity social and political movements? What have been the effects of such movements on American politics?


  • Historical activity – Legislative-type hearing with witnesses telling their stories, aspirations and proposals for the future: Populism, KKK, White sharecroppers, 1930s insurgents, poverty in the 1950s
  • Historical and Personal Activity: Poor White Inheritances and aspirations –1920s
  • Historical and Issue activity—Labels and Epithets—What’s in a Name?


18. Post-1970 Leadership and political effectiveness — organizing for change to end discrimination based on difference: America’s unfinished business

Civil rights movements since the 1960s have expanded to address discrimination and lack of rights in fact and law among a variety of Americans—African-Americans, Latinos, women, Native
Americans, LGBT. Parallel has been the growth of “conservative” religious, civil, and political groups and activities, which have used a variety of methods to pursue their goals.


What have been the strategies, tactics, goals of these movements and groups? What are models/methods for achieving equality and nondiscrimination, and for responding to conservative
groups, going forward?


(a) a roundtable debate among current civil rights activists;
(b) a roundtable debate among current conservative group leaders concerning goals, strategies, and tactics;
(c) a student developed workshop on leadership for positive change and reconciliation, including leadership tools they need

19. The “Other America:” Poor and Working Class Whites and Identity Politics–1960-Now



How have the circumstances, fears, and aspirations of poor and working class white Americans change after 1960 and change the nature of white identity social and political movements since then? What have been the effects of these movements on American politics?


  • Historical activity – Legislative-type hearing with witnesses telling their stories, aspirations and proposals for the future: Nixon southern strategy, George Wallace presidential campaigns, busing in South Boston, economic stagnation and the 2008 Great Recession, the Tea Party, Donald Trump
  • Historical and Personal Activity: Poor White Inheritances and aspirations –2010
  • Personal Activity: Dealing with Americans whose beliefs/views are antithetical in a way that respects each’s dignity as a person



20. LGBT Rights

Until recent decades, homosexual conduct was widely criminalized and considered immoral and; it was viewed as a “mental disorder” by the medical profession. Discrimination in employment, housing, military service, etc., was common. Since the 1990s, the rights of LGBT persons to equal protection have been increasingly recognized, culminating in the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges marriage equality case in the US Supreme Court.


(a) Role-playing for the 1960 arrest, conviction and consequences for Smith College professors found possessing materials deemed pornographic under US postal regulations.

(b) Re-creating the1970s debate within the American Psychological Association about the medical characterization of homosexuality;

(c) Role-play of the arguments on both sides in the US district court trial concerning Proposition 8 denying marriage equality in California.


21. A New Nation of Immigrants

cvxcv-300x167 The United States has always been a nation of immigrants (as FDR reminded the Daughters of the American Revolution in an address in the 1930s), but also has a long tradition of nativism and negative legal and political responses to successive waves of immigrants. The in-migration of Latinos in recent decades and the resultant dramatic increase in the Latino proportion of total US population has both revived this debate and led to significant demographic change, not only in the Southwest but also across the country.




(1) Congressional hearing on immigration law reform, 2013
(2) Sentencing hearing for an undocumented immigrant who re-entered the US in violation of a prior US court order (2014)

(3) Student small group project on immigration, law and practice in 2015.

22. Leadership and Reconciliation: Going forward after the Jordan Davis murder case

Like the recent events in Ferguson, MO, Staten I, NY, Cleveland, OH, Baltimore, MD, and Charleston, SC, the killing of Jordan Davis in Jacksonville, FL in 2013 (among other killings of young African-Americans) demonstrates a continued pattern of racial violence, both by ordinary citizens and police.


What does this killing and the responses of a range of persons in the community, and the outcome of the killer’s trials, teach us about the current state of race relations? What lessons can be learned? How could reconciliation emerge from these events?


(1) Students will first provide an individual response to the events, then engage in role playing to reflect the range of views in the community. (2) Students will consider how they might provide leadership for reconciliation in the aftermath. (3) Student project on race: “whiteness,” “blackness,” and ethnicity (Part III).

23. “News at 11” –Our Unfinished Business—The Perpetuation of Inequality and Discrimination in 2014

cbvcb-300x169The current news contains repeated examples of existing discrimination and inequality and thus evidences the reality of the country’s Unfinished Business in making real the Promise of America, first made by the founding Revolutionary Generation and repeatedly renewed by our leaders since then.


What aspect of Our Unfinished Business is most compelling to each student?


In the final module, the students, solo or in a group of 2 or more, will identify a recent or current example of inequality and discrimination and prepare a news report, interview, dramatic presentation, or other form of presentation about that example. A program in which the students’ presentations are given to a public audience could be the concluding activity. [If possible, post-OYH Course support could be available to help students develop initiatives addressing the problem highlighted in this final presentation.]

Following are categories and examples indicative of the scope of Our Unfinished Business; these are intended to be suggestive
, not limiting, for the students:

A. Economic activity and wealth disparity
1. Recent data on race, ethnicity, and income distribution and wealth ownership
2. Housing –public and private financing, sales practices, etc.

B. Education

1. No Child Left Behind – the Atlanta example
2. Efforts at school reform in Newark
3. 2014 California case brought by Students Matter
C. Law and Policing

1. Drug policy—arrests, sentencing
2. Stop-and-frisk
3. Policing – e.g. Ferguson and St Louis County, Staten Island, Cleveland
4. “Stand your ground” guns laws
5. Jailings for nonviolent offenses and deficiencies

us_flagD. Politics
1. Changes in voting laws
2. Apportionment and voting districts
3. Voter registration, grassroots organizing