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Aaron Henry: A Civil Rights Leader of the 20th Century lesson plan


Aaron Henry, the son of a Mississippi sharecropper who later became a prominent Clarksdale businessman, committed his life to the struggle for civil rights at the local, state, and national levels. After service in the segregated United States Army during World War II, Henry returned home to his native Mississippi and started his mission to secure equal rights for African Americans. During the Civil Rights Movement, Henry led voter registration drives, and helped organize a statewide mock election in which he was “elected” governor of the state. He also held leadership roles in organizations such as the NAACP and COFO. Henry went on to serve Mississippi as a legislator in the Mississippi House of Representative from 1979 to 1996. Aaron Henry’s legacy to his state and country is evident in the changes that came about as a result of his passion and desire for social justice and equality.


Mississippi Studies Framework: Competencies: 1, 3, and 4.


Grades 7 through 12



The students will:

• Construct a timeline about the life of Aaron Henry.
• Examine Aaron Henry’s leadership qualities.
• Compose a reflective essay on the leadership of Aaron Henry.


Teacher will ask the class to name leaders of the Civil Rights Movement during mid-20th century and record the names mentioned on the classroom board. The teacher will guide the discussion toward mentioning the names of state leaders to ensure that Aaron Henry’s name is listed on the board. The teacher will inform students that over the next several days they will study the civil rights contributions of Mississippian Aaron Henry.


The teacher will instruct the students to read the Mississippi History Now article about Aaron Henry. As the students read the article, they should create a timeline that lists major events in the life of Aaron Henry. Once the students complete their timelines, the teacher will facilitate a class discussion about the life of Aaron Henry. During the discussion, the teacher will ask for student volunteers to share information from their timelines.

In small groups of three or four students, students will discuss leadership qualities exemplified by Aaron Henry. Once the students have discussed these qualities, they will record five qualities on a diagram like the one found at the end of the lesson plan. Branching down below each leadership quality box, the students should list several examples where Henry demonstrated that quality. Each group member should create their own diagram. Once the students complete the diagrams, the teacher will ask for student volunteers to share examples from their diagrams.

The teacher will ask each student to write an essay about the Aaron Henry leadership quality they admire most. Students can use examples from the Mississippi History Now article.


The teacher will ask for student volunteers to share their essay with the class. This portion of the lesson can also lead into a discussion of Henry’s significance in the Civil Rights Movement.


• Class participation
• Timelines
• Diagrams
• Essays


  • Students can create a resume for Aaron Henry.
  • Students can search online for and analyze the oral history of Aaron Henry found in the digital Civil Rights Collection, McCain Library and Archives, at The University of Southern Mississippi.
  • Students can research organizations or groups such as the NAACP, SCLC, COFO, SNCC, CORE, and MFDP to learn more about their role in the Civil Rights Movement.
  • Students can research education benefits available to American military veterans.

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