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The Clinton Riot of 1875: From Riot to Massacre Lesson Plan


On September 4, 1875, the city of Clinton, Mississippi, experienced a traumatic event. Violence began at a Republican political rally attended primarily by freedmen and their families. After several days of racial violence, as many as fifty people were killed, most of whom were African American men. The Clinton Riot served as the initiation of the infamous Mississippi Plan and the beginning of the end of Reconstruction in Mississippi. Bringing recognition to this significant and painful event has been challenging throughout the years because there are vastly different versions of the story. On September 4, 2015 (the 140th anniversary of the Clinton Riot), the city of Clinton publicly recognized the historical importance of this event by holding a symposium on racial reconciliation and dedicating two new historical markers.

Curricular Connections

Mississippi Studies Framework: Competencies 1, 2, and 4

Common Core Standards

RH.1; WHST.2, 3, and 9

Teaching Level

Grades 7 through 12



The students will:

  1. Summarize an article by citing evidence from the text;
  2. Analyze an historical event;
  3. Conduct a debate about an historical event; and
  4. Compose a reflective response about an historical event.

Opening the Lesson

The teacher will ask the students the following questions:

  1. What is a riot?
  2. What is a massacre?
  3. What is the difference between a riot and a massacre?
  4. What was the cause of the Clinton Riot?
  5. How could there be different versions of the story?
  6. How could the name “Clinton Riot” or “Clinton Massacre” affect what others perceive about this event both then and now?

Once the students are given opportunity to respond to these questions, the teacher will ask a student to look up the definition for each of these terms and read them to the class. The teacher will explain to the students that today in class they will begin the study of a violent event that occurred within their own state. The teacher will explain that while the deadly event in Clinton has historically been referred to as the Clinton Riot, newspaper reporters and other eyewitnesses called it a massacre.

Developing the Lesson

  1. The teacher will distribute to the students a copy of the Mississippi History NOW article, “The Clinton Riot of 1875: From Riot to Massacre.” The teacher may also distribute a copy of the script for the “Voices of the Clinton Riot”, a dramatic reading which contains primary sources. The teacher can chose to have the students act out the script as a play or allow the students to read the script as an additional article. The students will also be given a copy of the article worksheet. Suggestion: The teacher should review the period of Reconstruction in Mississippi with the students prior to this lesson plan.
  2. As the students read each section of the article, they should complete the chart on the central idea worksheet. Once the students complete the chart, they should be assigned partners in order to compare their worksheets. At this time, the students may make changes to the information on their charts if they wish.
  3. Once the students have collaborated with their partners, the teacher will lead a class discussion about the article by asking student volunteers to share information from their charts.
  4. For the next portion of the lesson, the teacher will place a sign on the wall in each of the four corners of the classroom in order to conduct a Four Corner Debate. Each sign should display one of the following words: Strongly Agree; Agree; Disagree; and Strongly Disagree.
  5. The teacher will ask the students if they think the event they studied about in the Mississippi History NOW article meets the definition of a riot or a massacre. Once this question has been asked, students will be instructed to move to the corner that contains the label that best identifies their answer to the question. Students should be allowed to take their article worksheet to the corner.
  6. Once the students have moved to one of the four corners, the teacher will ask students in each of the corners why they believe that the chosen label best identifies their perspective. Students should be allowed to use their worksheets to defend their perspectives. Once some of the students in each corner have been allowed to defend their positions, the teacher will ask the students if they would like to change corners. If any students change corners, the teacher will ask those students why their perspective changed. Once the four corner debate has come to a close, the teacher will ask the students to return to their desks.

Closing the Lesson

The teacher will write the following questions on the board:

  1. What is your opinion about the Mississippi History NOW article studied in this lesson?
  2. How do you feel about the issues and events described in the article?
  3. Why is it important to study this event?

The teacher will ask students to compose a response to teach of the questions. To close the lesson, the teacher will ask for student volunteers to share their answers to these questions.

Assessing Student Learning

  • Class discussion
  • Article worksheet
  • Four Corner Debate responses
  • Written answers to questions


  • The students can be allowed to perform the attached script for the “Voices of the Clinton Riot.”
  • Further research on Reconstruction in Mississippi can be conducted.
  • Students can participate in a field trip to various historical sites in Jackson related to Reconstruction, including a visit to the nearby Clinton Riot historical marker.

Follow up this lesson with other Mississippi History NOW articles

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



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