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Philadelphia, Mississippi: A Story of Racial Reconciliation Lesson Plan


In the summer of 1964, three young civil rights workers were murdered in Philadelphia, Mississippi. The murders of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner brought national attention to this small Mississippi town. The struggle for justice in relation to these murders continued for forty years. In 2004, 1,500 citizens from the community of Philadelphia came together and issued a clear and direct call for justice in solving these crimes. As a result, the case was reopened, and in 2005, the ring leader of the murders was convicted. The community of Philadelphia, Mississippi, has continued to seek redemption for racial injustices of the past and to promote racial reconciliation for the future.


Mississippi Studies Framework: Competency 4


Common Core Standards: RI.1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 8; WHST.1, 2, 4, 6; and SL. 1-6


Grades 9 through 12



The students will:

  1. Utilize close reading strategies to understand a text.
  2. Examine the main points and supporting details of a text through discussion groups.
  3. Compose an essay using a formal style.


  1. Each student should be provided a copy of the Mississippi History NOW article, “Philadelphia, Mississippi: A Story of Racial Reconciliation.”
  2. The teacher will instruct the students to read the Mississippi History NOW article and make annotations as they read the article. The students can read the article silently or be placed in groups of no more than three or four and take turns reading the article to their group members. The teacher may need to review annotating strategies with the students.
  3. After students have read the article, the teacher will ask the students if they discovered any vocabulary terms that they did not understand. At this point in the lesson, the teacher will assist students in understanding the vocabulary terms that were unfamiliar to them. The following terms are potential vocabulary that students may not understand: (1) Freedom Summer; (2) Ku Klux Klan; (3) Citizen’s Council and (4) Reconciliation.
  4. After the unfamiliar vocabulary is discussed with students, each student should be given a copy of the speech analysis worksheet found at the end of the lesson plan. The students will complete the worksheet independently. Once students record evidence for the first main point, they should summarize the information. These steps will be repeated for all four of the main points made in the speech.
  5. Once the students complete the worksheet, the teacher will divide the class into four groups. Regardless of class size, the class should be divided into four groups in order to participate in a “fishbowl” discussion.
  6. Each group should be assigned one of the main points from the speech analysis worksheet. A circle of desks or chairs should be placed in the center of the classroom. Each student in the first group should take a seat in the circle of desks. The students in the other three groups should gather their desks around the circle of desks. The students in the circle or “fishbowl” should discuss their evidence from the speech which supports their assigned main point. Every student must participate in the discussion. Students in the group cannot make additional comments until all members of the group have shared. The other three groups outside the circle should add notes to their speech analysis worksheet based upon listening to the “fishbowl” discussion. Students outside the discussion should also make observations about evidence that was not shared in the discussion or common trends among the evidence that was presented during the discussion.
  7. Once the first group completes their discussion, the other three groups will take turns in the “fishbowl” to discuss their assigned main point.
  8. Once the “fishbowl” discussions are complete, the teacher will respond to any students’ questions or observations about the article and/or the “fishbowl” activity.
  9. The teacher will instruct the students to write an essay about the reconciliation efforts made by the citizens of Philadelphia, Mississippi. In the essay, students should trace the significant events that lead to racial justice, reconciliation, and redemption in Philadelphia, Mississippi. The students should conduct research beyond former secretary of state Dick Molpus’ speech analyzed earlier in this lesson. Additional resources can be located in the suggested reading at the end of the Mississippi History NOW article as well as through other internet searches. The students can be required to complete their research and essays outside of class. Teachers may need to review with students the components of a formal style of writing as well as how to cite evidence used to support points made in the essay.


The teacher will allow student volunteers to share portions of their essays with the class.



  • Research and analyze news articles about Freedom Summer in Mississippi.
  • Compare and contrast the “Remarks by Secretary of State Dick Molpus,” given during the ceremony for the twenty-fifth anniversary of the civil rights murders of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner, and the “Call for Justice,” made by the Philadelphia Coalition during the ceremony for the fortieth anniversary of the civil rights murders.
  • Research the murders of James Chaney, Michael Schwerner, and Andrew Goodman and trials held to seek justice for the death of these young men.
  • Follow up this lesson plan with other Mississippi History NOW articles and lesson plans about the civil rights era in Mississippi.

Karla Smith is the Social Studies Department Chair at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College’s Jefferson Davis Campus.



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