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Author: Melissa Janczewski Jones, Mississippi College
Audience: College Mississippi History course


Teaching Philosophy:

When students are exposed to history, especially American history, they are presented with and expected to learn important names, dates, and events, all in concise chronological order.  While this approach to teaching history is not necessarily incorrect, it often fails to establish a connection between the students and the material.  Unfortunately, without this connection, history can appear boring and lacking in relevance.  Nothing, however, could be further from the truth.  The paramount duty of any history teacher is to maintain the relevance and importance of history as a vital discipline at all costs.  In order to help to forge the connection among the teacher, the material, and the students, I believe that history should be presented as a mystery with each uncovered fact representing more enticing truths and discoveries yet to come.  The more truths and facts we uncover (as teacher and class, in tandem, in this quest), not only do we learn history, but more importantly, we learn about ourselves, both individually and collectively.

History allows us to explore and to seek to understand where we come from as people.  The more we understand about ourselves and about people and cultures other than our own, the more we are capable of engaging with intelligence and sensitivity important topics such as beliefs, traditions, values, practices, mores, religions, laws, languages, diets, etc.  History allows individuals and societies to appreciate their places of origin, their struggles, and their triumphs as people.  Furthermore, by knowing the history of our own society, we are better equipped to understand the history of other societies and potentially identify commonalities.  History, more than any other subject, has the power to provide context for our lives.  Ultimately, if we seek to understand history, we seek to better know ourselves and our place in the world.

When I start each new semester, I often ask my students what “history” means to them.  If a student complains that history is boring or not worth learning, I view these comments as a personal challenge, and I try to change that student’s perception prior to the end of the semester.  I like to think that I present and teach history differently than most other history instructors.  I tend to see history as a loosely-fitted series of time segments that can shift and even overlap with other segments. Each segment does, however, have certain characteristics, such as unique themes, obstacles, challenges, and outcomes that connect the years within the segment and also distinguish a particular segment from its preceding and subsequent segment.  While I do not necessarily believe that certain segments of history are more important than others, I do believe that it is extremely important that certain segments of history are taught more diligently and with greater attention than others.  Simply put, certain time segments have had a great collective impact on American history, whether positively or negatively.

I often tell my students that I do not believe that history repeats itself, but I do believe that history is connected and that it is our job, collectively as a class, to find and identify those connections.  This is primarily accomplished by listening to historic voices.  I caution my students that we need to be careful which voices we listen to in history as well as in the everyday world.  In studying history, we ought not only listen to the powerful voices (i.e. political leaders, white men, the wealthy, political leaders, military leaders, businessmen, bankers, lawyers, judges, landowners, clergymen, etc.).  I believe that history can be better taught by paying closer attention those who have historically held less powerful voices (i.e. Native Americans, slaves, indentured servants, immigrants, women, freedmen and freedwomen, children, common soldiers, prisoners, etc.)  Those with historically weaker voices have typically had to struggle harder to be heard.  Nevertheless, their voices have contributed to the landscape and fabric of American society just as vitally (perhaps even more so) than those whose voices were more easily heard.

To me, it is important that my students see the struggles which have existed throughout history and that they are then able to relate these struggles to their own lives and experiences.  I believe that if students can tap into the themes and challenges that are present at various points in history, then history can become alive, important, connected, and ultimately, memorable for students.  My goal as a teacher is not just to teach, but to inspire, to be vulnerable about my own personal challenges (which is not always easy), and above all else, to make sure that my students know that I care about them as individuals, not merely as students.  To be an effective teacher, I must make a connection with each student in the classroom and to try to ensure that these connections survive and extend well beyond the classroom.  The more that I as a teacher can inspire students trust their own knowledge and to value their own capabilities, the more they will feel challenged to seek ways to contribute and to offer solutions to our common society.

Rationale & Goals:

For the fall semester of 2017, I will be teaching Mississippi History (HIS 340).  This class is typically taken by junior and senior history or social studies education majors who have already completed both survey courses in United States history.  One of my goals for this class is to help students understand the varied people groups who contributed to state history and to guide students to a better understanding about certain segments of Mississippi history and how those segments have influenced and continue to influence the future of the state.  One such pivotal segment is Reconstruction (following closely by the Rise of the Jim Crow South).  Within this segment, lays the beginnings of the public education system in Mississippi.

Reconstruction is arguably the most misunderstood and inaccurately-taught segments of state history and national history.  The teaching of Reconstruction must be corrected because an accurate understanding of Reconstruction holds the key for students’ ability to understand both the antebellum and the postbellum periods and how both of these periods are inexorably linked to the future of the United States as a whole.  In order to properly understand colonial history, Constitutional history, slavery, cotton, immigration, industrialization, Indian removal, racism, Jim Crow, the civil rights movement, etc., one must understand Reconstruction.  Across the former Confederacy, the period of Reconstruction is typically dated from 1863 to 1877.  However, for Mississippi history, this period covers 1863-1875.

From my time at the Holtzclaw Institute in the summer of 2017 hosted by Hinds Community College – Utica Campus and sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts, I seek to incorporate the vision, work, and legacy of William Henry Holtzclaw in Mississippi within Unit #14, “Reconstruction and Redemption, 1863-1875,” and Unit #16, “The Rise of the Jim Crow South, 1890s.”  Within Unit #14, I will point out to students that even prior to the legal attainment of freedom in the state some slaves were already pursuing an education where possible.  Students may also be surprised to learn that education was sought after and obtained by some slaves prior to the end of the war in several locations within the state.  To this end, students will read Neil R. McMillen, “Isaiah T. Montgomery, 1847-1924 (Part I),” Mississippi History Now, an online publication of the Mississippi Historical Society, posted online February 2007. http://mshistorynow.mdah.state.ms.us/articles/55/isaiah-t-montgomery-1847-1924-part-I  Students will also read Walter G. Howell, “Sarah Dickey: Indomitable Mississippi Educator,” Mississippi History Now, an online publication of the Mississippi Historical Society, posted online December 2016.  http://www.mshistorynow.mdah.ms.gov/articles/409/sarah-dickey-indomitable-mississippi-educator

It will be stressed that prior to Civil War, no public school system existed in Mississippi.  However, it was the persistence by freedmen who became involved within the state’s political affairs who were instrumental in the creation of the state’s first system of public education for both black and white Mississippi children.  Students will be asked to read the following from Mississippi History Now concerning the 1868 and 1890 Mississippi Constitutions:

  1. Article VIII, Section 1 of the Mississippi Constitution of 1868 (http://mshistorynow.mdah.state.ms.us/articles/102/index.php?s=extra&id=269)
  2. Article VIII, Section 207 of the Mississippi Constitution of 1890 (http://mshistorynow.mdah.state.ms.us/articles/103/mississippi-constitution-of-1890).
  3. Students will also read Christopher M. Span, From Cotton Field to Schoolhouse: African American Education in Mississippi, 1862-1875 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009): 3-19. The aforementioned excerpts from Span’s book allow students to appreciate the level of political involvement and accomplishments by freedmen during the creation of the state’s first public school system and the level of interracial cooperation and success before black student education began to be circumscribed throughout Mississippi public schools during the 1880s.

One of my goals in teaching this section will be for students to realize just how transformative and forward-thinking the Reconstruction period was for black Americans in Mississippi, especially within education.   Not only did black Mississippians benefit from more educational opportunities during this time, but freedmen and freedwomen were the actual catalysts for creating change and educational opportunities more than any other group of people.  For instance, Spann argues that:

This generation of formerly enslaved African Americans was not a powerless citizenry forced, like their descendants, to accept the laws and dehumanizing status quo of Jim Crow Mississippi.  On the contrary, formerly enslaved African Americans in Mississippi were an empowered group that contributed to the pursuit of education not only on their own behalf but for all children in postbellum Mississippi. (Span, 5)

Students should be encouraged to ponder “what might have been” if the Mississippi Constitution of 1868 had been allowed to continue.

The story of Holtzclaw will be taught during Unit #16, The Rise of the Jim Crow South, 1890s.  As mentioned previously, the prior readings should give students a glimpse of the educational state of affairs in Mississippi prior to the arrival of William Henry Holtzclaw.  Given the advent of segregation within the public system of education beginning in the 1880s and completed in the 1890s, a school for training teachers planned by Holtzclaw was desperately needed.  By teaching the legacy of Holtzclaw, my hope is that students will be inspired first, as they learn about his incessant struggles as he sought to find a home for his teachers’ school in Mississippi, and second, as he sought to elevate African American education in central Mississippi during very trying times.  By the turn of the twentieth century, abundant, cheap, reliable, and uneducated black labor was in demand above all else.  This was also during the height of anti-black rhetoric by Mississippi leaders such as Governor James K. Vardaman (the “Great White Chief”) and respected scientist, Alfred Holt Stone.

Although Holtzclaw arrived in Mississippi after the end of the Reconstruction era and well into the Jim Crow era, it is important that students understand the unique challenges he faced as he tried to create his school.  It will be important that students make the connection between continued challenges of black education in the 1890s and 1900s and the expectation of white landowners for a continuous, cheap, reliable, uneducated, black labor supply within a system similar to that maintained by the white antebellum establishment.  In other words, students must understand black education still represented a threat to white hegemony and white landowners who still demanded cheap and uneducated black labor.   To help students see the rhetoric faced by Holtzclaw as well as his struggles to start his school, students will read the following:  a portion of Jacqueline Jones’s A Dreadful Deceit: The Myth of Race from the Colonial Era to Obama’s America (New York: Basic Books, 2013): 191-200, which includes the racist rhetoric of James K. Vardaman.  Students will also read James C. Giesen, “The Truth About the Boll Weevil,” published by Mississippi History Now, in March of 2015, which touches on the perceived threat black education poised for whites on the continued availability of a cheap, reliable black workforce in the Delta.  Finally, students may also be assigned a portion of William Henry Holtclzw, The Black Man’s Burden (New York: The Neale Publishing Company, 1915): 67-97.  These three excerpts, read together by students, will allow students to see past the fictional racist differences touted by whites at the time and into the true economic motivations held by white landowners and farmers who wanted to hold onto cheap black labor at any and all costs rather than potentially loose such black workers to the opportunities of the education system. This is ultimately the overall purpose of this unit, i.e. that often what whites in the postbellum South claim as their rationale, if oftentimes more sinister and has a base economic agenda.  My hope is that students of Mississippi will begin to see that the narrative of “race” is never clear but exceeding prevalent, even in the postbellum state.  Further, as students begin to see just how entrenched white hegemony has been in the state, the tendency will be to stop merely looking and hoping past it, and instead, properly address it.  The rights that African Americans and others fought for in the 1960s were the very same rights that black Americans were assured by the United States government less than 90 years earlier.  While history may not repeat, it can regress, perhaps even more easily, as it can progress.  My aim for this unit is for students to see Mississippians like Holtzclaw who insisted, persisted, and ultimately wrought change.  As evidenced by the existence of Jim Crow in Mississippi and other former Confederate states, the advancement of time does not always equate with progress.


Class – Day #1

Unit #14 – Reconstruction and Redemption, 1863-1875

The instructor should complete lecture associated with Unit #14, and show portion of film on either “Worse Than Slavery” and/or “The 13th”

Assigned Readings to Be Read Prior to Next Class (copies will be provided via Moodle)

  • Neil R. McMillen, “Isaiah T. Montgomery, 1847-1924 (Part 1),” published by Mississippi History Now, February of 2007.
  • Walter G. Howell, “Sarah Dickey: Indomitable Mississippi Educator,” published by Mississippi History Now, December 2016.
  • Article VIII, Section 1 of the Mississippi Constitution of 1868.
  • Christopher M. Span, From Cotton Field to Schoolhouse: African American Education in Mississippi, 1862-1875 (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2009): 3-19.

Brief Questions for Students Related to Assigned Readings

Students should write/type their answers to these questions and bring them to class on the following day.  (Students will be asked to give the responses to their written questions out loud in class on the following day, and students will be assigned a participation grade for full completion of the assignment.)

  • Questions for McMillen reading: When, how, and by whom did education begin on Hurricane Plantation?  Was there anything that surprised you about this reading?
  • Questions on Howell reading: When, how, and by whom did black education begin in Vicksburg, Mississippi?  Was there anything that surprised you about this reading?
  • Question for the Mississippi Constitution of 1868 reading: What did this section of the Constitution stipulate about public education?  Was there anything that surprised you about this reading?  What might the future of Mississippi looked like had this constitution been allowed to continue?
  • Questions for the Spann reading: When was Mississippi’s first public school started?  Who sponsored the first public school system?  Which student students could attend?  Was there anything that surprised you about this reading?


  • Readings Assignments (see above)
  • Internet access
  • Student laptops
  • Notebooks & pens/pencils


Class – Day #2

Unit #16 – The Rise of Jim Crow South, 1890s

Before beginning the lecture, the instructor should allow each student to share his or her findings about assigned readings and questions from the previous day’s class.  (Instructor may write some of the responses on the board for class viewing.)  The instructor should then ask students, generally, if they know when and/or why public education changed in Mississippi from the image gleaned from the previous readings, especially the section from the Mississippi Constitution of 1869.

The instructor should begin (and complete, if possible) the lecture associated with Unit #16, the Rise of Jim Crow South, 1890s (which will not necessarily cover the material included in the readings to be assigned at the end of Day #2).

Assigned Readings to Be Read Prior to Next Class (copies will be provided via Moodle)

  • Article VIII, Section 207 of the Mississippi Constitution of 1890.
  • William Henry Holtzclaw, The Black Man’s Burden (New York: The Neale Publishing Company, 1915): 67-97.
  • Jacqueline Jones, A Dreadful Deceit: The Myth of Race from the Colonial Era to Obama’s America (New York: Basic Books, 2013): 191-200.
  • James C. Giesen, “The Truth About the Boll Weevil,” published by Mississippi History Now, March of 2015.

Rather than answering questions, students will be asked to take notes on the readings assigned at the end of Day #2.  (Students should pay close attention to dates and sequencing of events.)


  • Readings Assignments (see above)
  • Internet access
  • Student laptops
  • Notebooks
  • Pens and pencils




Class – Day #3

Unit #16 – The Rise of Jim Crow South, 1890s

At the start of class, the instructor should allow each student to share his or her findings about the previous day’s assigned readings.  (Instructor may write some responses on the board.)  Instructor should ask students create groups of 4 for an additional in-class assignment.

Class Assignment in Groups of 4

The instructor should make sure that the students have access to their class notes from Units #14 and #16 as well as student questions and notes from the previously assigned readings.  Each student group of 4 will be given two assignments.

For the first assignment, students within each group will be asked to write a short essay in response to the following prompts:  What was the rhetoric of Governor James K. Vardaman and Mississippi scientist Alfred Holt Stone concerning the ability of blacks to achieve an education?  Both Vardaman and Stone were contemporaries of Holtzclaw.  What impact do you believe this rhetoric may have had on Holtzclaw’s ability to establish his school in Utica and to continue to operate it?

For the second assignment, students within each group will be asked to draw a timeline (with as much detail as possible) demonstrating the gain and loss of rights for freedmen and freedwomen following the Civil War.  Students should be mindful that this timeline will not represent an overall progression of those rights and that the timeline should indicate times of recession of those rights and privileges.  Students should handwrite these timelines, and if an overhead projector is available, the instructor should use the remainder of the class time to allow students to present their timelines using the overhead projector (or possibly with a laptop).


  • All student lecture notes & readings notes from Units #14 & #16
  • Internet access
  • Student laptops
  • Notebooks & pens/pencils
  • Overhead projector and screen (if possible)

Rubric for Grading Essay and Timeline

  • Each student will receive an individual homework grade for each of these assignments
  • Grades will be calculated from 0 (not completed) to 10 (meeting all objectives below)
  • Each of the following are requirements to be included in each assignment, as applicable:
    • Completed within the allotted timespan for the assignment
    • Student participated on an equal level with the group
    • At least 10 relevant facts/events/arguments included within each assignment
    • Assignment completed in a neat and legible fashion
    • Assignment made use of all relevant material from lectures & assigned readings
    • Inclusion of William Henry Holtzclaw and Utica Normal Institute in assignments
    • Assignments can be followed easily & matches with material learned in units
    • Assignments display accurate facts and/or timing of events listed
    • Assignments do not contain significant gaps of important information
    • Clear presentation of assignments to the class