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Blewett Lee: Mississippi’s Forgotten Legal Pioneer - Lesson Plan

Overview

In 2015, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) designated Mississippi State University (MSU) as host of the National Center of Excellence for Unmanned Aircraft Systems. The “unmanned aircraft” at the center of this study are more commonly referred to as “drones.” The choice of MSU, however, was fitting for another reason that was not cited in the FAA’s initial press release announcing its selection. MSU’s connection with legal aviation began a century ago through one of the university’s first graduates, Blewett Harrison Lee. Blewett Lee was a remarkably creative attorney whose breadth of interests and force of opinion led to his being one of the most important legal authorities in Mississippi history. Although his rightful place in the annals of aviation law has been largely overlooked, Lee played an integral part in the development of some of the original laws pertaining to the operation of early “flying machines.” In many ways, Blewett’s career and influence in the field of aviation law mirrors the tandem advance of both law and technology across the nation during the twentieth century.
The only child of Confederate Lieutenant General Stephen D. Lee and Regina Harrison Lee, Blewett was born in Columbus, Mississippi, one year following the end of the Civil War. He became one of the earliest graduates of Mississippi Agricultural and Mechanical College (Mississippi A&M, now MSU). After earning his degree at Mississippi A&M, he went on to earn a second degree from the University of Virginia, and later, a law degree from Harvard Law School. Blewett had a long and successful legal career that included serving as a legal assistant (what we now call a “clerk”) for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Horace Gray, as chief legal counsel for the Illinois Central Railroad, one of the most powerful corporations in the nation, and as a law professor at both the University of Chicago and Northwestern University. Despite his prominence as an attorney within the railroad industry, Blewett’s greatest accomplishments were achieved within a brand new field of transportation: aviation. Nearly a century later, Blewett’s work is still cited today as a viable model for current drone regulations.

Curricular Connections

Mississippi Studies Framework: Competencies 1, 3, and 5

Common Core

RH.1-2; WHST. 1

Teaching Level

Grade 7-12

Materials/Equipment

Objectives

The student will:

  1. Summarize the main points of an informative non-fiction article.
  2. Compose a persuasive essay.

Opening the Lesson

The teacher will place the diagram below on the board or project onto a screen:

Blewett Lee Diagram

The teacher will ask for student volunteers to answer the following questions:

  1. What do you know about any of the terms listed on the diagram?
  2. How are the terms related?

Once the students have discussed answers to the questions above, the teacher will tell the students that they will learn in class about the connection between the terms and names on the diagram and a Mississippian named Blewett Lee.

Developing the Lesson

  1. The teacher will instruct the students to read the Mississippi History NOW article, “Blewett Lee: Mississippi’s Forgotten Legal Pioneer.” Students will be encouraged to annotate the article as they read. Next, the students should re-read the article in order to complete the Main Ideas Worksheet.
  2. Once the students have completed the Main Ideas Worksheet, the teacher will lead a class discussion about the Mississippi History NOW article, “Blewett Lee: Mississippi’s Forgotten Legal Pioneer” by asking for student volunteers to share answers from their Main Ideas Worksheet. The teacher will record the student responses on the board. During the class discussion, the teacher emphasize the article’s reference to Blewett Lee as “one of the most important legal authorities in Mississippi history.”
  3. The teacher will allow students to work with a partner or place the students in groups of no more than three for the next portion of the lesson. The teacher will instruct the students to write a persuasive essay about Blewett Lee. The essay should persuade the reader to support Blewett Lee’s contributions to the legal system. Students can use the quote mentioned previously from the Mississippi History NOW article, “one of the most important legal authorities in Mississippi history,” or compose an original thesis.
  4. The teacher will distribute to the students a copy of the Persuasive Writing Organizer to brainstorm ideas for their persuasive essay. The teacher will explain to the students how to organize their persuasive essay. The students can use the Mississippi History NOW article about Blewett Lee as well as other resources to write their persuasive essay.
  5. As another lesson option in addition to writing the essay, student groups can present their persuasive argument in a PowerPoint presentation to the class.

Closing the Lesson

The teacher will ask the student groups to share their persuasive essay/presentation with the class. The teacher will ask each group follow-up questions at the end of their presentation.

Assessing Student Learning

  • Class participation
  • Main Ideas Worksheet
  • Persuasive Writing Organizer
  • Persuasive essay and/or PowerPoint presentation

Enrichment

  • Research the administration of Stephen Dill Lee at Mississippi Agricultural and Mechanical College (now Mississippi State University)
  • Take a tour of Mississippi State University
  • Invite a guest speaker from the new National Center of Excellence for Unmanned Aircraft Systems at Mississippi State University to speak to the students
  • Take a tour of The Stephen D. Lee Home & Museum in Columbus, Mississippi, as well as the James T. Harrison House and the Hickory Sticks property (also in Columbus, Mississippi, shown in the photographs which accompany the main article on Mississippi History NOW).
  • Research topics in aviation history
  • Research the use of drones

Other Mississippi History NOW articles featuring lesser-known, but influential Mississippians:

Sarah Anne Ellis Dorsey: A Woman of Uncommon Mind

Isaiah T. Montgomery, 1847-1924

Isaiah T. Montgomery, 1847-1924

Fox Conner: A General’s General

Lucy Somerville Howorth: Lawyer, Politician, and Feminist

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

ADDITIONAL LESSON PLANS ON MISSISSIPPI HISTORY:

MDAH Website

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