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Walter Sillers and His Fifty Years Inside Mississippi Politics lesson plan


Walter Sillers’ position as a long-time politician in Mississippi afforded him a unique opportunity to influence the history and development of the state during the first half of the 20th century. Described early in his career as an “advocate of progress,” but later as part of the “Old Guard,” Sillers ultimately would be characterized as “the most important man in the state of Mississippi.” (Karl Wiesenburg) He used his extraordinary political instincts and skills to shape state policies of the civil rights era. Students will be encouraged to evaluate his role during these tumultuous times.


Mississippi Studies Framework: Competencies 1, 3, and 4


Grades 4 (with modifications) through 12


Mississippi History Now article on Walter Sillers


Students will:

• Construct a vertical category timeline to examine the major events and philosophies in Mr. Sillers’ life;

• Explain the influences that affected Mr. Sillers’ beliefs and positions;

• Determine lessons that can be learned from a study of Mr. Sillers’ life;

• Evaluate Mr. Sillers’ impact on the state’s history.


Teacher will lead a brief discussion on the makeup of the Mississippi Legislature. Students need a working knowledge of both houses and their presiding officers as well as the role of committees in enacting laws. Students should understand the governor’s limited role in the legislative process.


1. Display the name Walter Sillers in the classroom. Ask students to share anything they may know about him. Connect his role as a Mississippi legislator and Speaker of the House with your previous discussion, telling students that they will study the life of this powerful government official and will make some decisions regarding his place in the history of the state.

2. Ask students to read carefully the Mississippi History Now article, writing down important events in Mr. Sillers’ life. They will use this information to construct a category timeline.

3. Instruct students to make a vertical timeline, using two major categories on the left side of their paper. The two categories will be:

EARLY YEARS, 1916-1931

LATER YEARS, 1932-1960s

In each category, students will list chronologically the events of each time period.

4. Working with a partner, students will re-read the article searching for the particular philosophy or belief that caused Mr. Sillers to choose a certain course of action. Across from each prior entry (as possible), students will include the rationale for Mr. Sillers’ action by writing down either a belief system or a series of events that motivated his actions.

5. Teacher will lead a class discussion by asking questions relating to these two time periods. (Example: What evidence can you find that Mr. Sillers was a progressive? What evidence suggests that he was not? Can you explain this change in position?)

6. Ask students to think about lessons that can be learned from Mr. Sillers’s life. Even if they may disagree with his positions, encourage them to find some “learning lessons” that might be helpful. Place them in groups of three or four, and ask them to discuss this, making a list of what they decide. Have one “speaker” from each group share their learning lessons with the class.


Ask students to write a section on Mr. Sillers’ life for a “new” Mississippi History textbook. What would they include? How would they characterize his actions as a long-time legislator and political leader?


• Completion of category timeline
• Participation in class discussion and group activities
• Contribution to “learning lessons” list
• Writing assignment: Mississippi History textbook section


• Students may wish to research the two educational institutions most closely associated with Mr. Sillers: Delta State University and Mississippi Valley State University.

• Write an essay, putting yourself in the time that Mr. Sillers lived. Would you have acted differently (or the same) if you were in his position?

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