Media Resource

BackStory: Blackstory

The Civil Rights Memorial Mural at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. Photograph by Carol Highsmith. Mural by the Liberation Summer Project.
Photo caption

The Civil Rights Memorial Mural at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. Photograph by Carol Highsmith. Mural by the Liberation Summer Project.

The BackStory episode "Blackstory" includes some of the show's best content on Black history. Note: This episode discusses anti-Black violence, including lynching, and includes racial slurs.

Below, find comprehension questions and EDSITEment resources for each segment of the podcast.

Respectfully Yours, Gainer Atkins (00:50-12:40)

Comprehension Questions

  • What are some characteristics of newspaper coverage of lynchings in the United States?
  • How did the federal government often respond to African Americans who sought justice for lynchings?
  • What risks did African American who complained about lynching face?
  • What challenges do historians like Kidada Williams face when researching lynchings and attempts to secure justice for victims?
  • How did the lynching of Charles (Charlie) Atkins affect his father and community? What perspective does Gainer Atkins's letter offer that is absent from newspaper accounts?

EDSITEment Resources

A Racial Cleansing in America from "Scene on Radio" (12:50-27:01)

Comprehension Questions

  • How has knowledge of the racial expulsion in Corbin been communicated from generation to generation, despite its almost complete erasure from the public record?
  • What is lost by the erasure of race riots and racial expulsions from the historical record?
  • How do residents of Corbin feel their town should move forward to become a more inclusive place for Black people?

EDSITEment Resources

The lesson plan African-American Soldiers after World War I: Had Race Relations Changed? (grades 9-12) addresses the 1919 Chicago race riots with primary source materials in Activity 3. Students can place these riots into conversation with the expulsion of African Americans from Corbin, both as event and as part of the historical memory of these locations.

The Extraordinary Korla Pandit (27:04-37:30)

Comprehension Questions

  • Why did John Roland Redd change his name and identity?
  • Why do many people feel that African Americans who passed as another racial identity give up culture and traditions? What do Pandit's relatives say on this topic?

Additional Resources

Learn more about passing with this article from NPR.

MLK: From Activist to Icon (37:45-51:05)

Comprehension Questions

  • What is meant by King's "posthumous rehabilitation"?
  • What are some of the factors that contributed to changing popular perceptions of King after his death?
  • Which of King's messages were easier for white Americans to embrace? Which were more difficult?
  • Why was King "safer dead than alive," according to Clayborne Carson?
  • How has King been used by those on the conservative side of the political spectrum?

Discussion Questions

This segment provides a jumping-off point for students to interrogate not only what they hear about Dr. King in popular celebrations of his legacy, but also what they have encountered, and will continue to encounter, in their own educational careers. Below are some questions and resources that begin to challenge the sanitized image of Rev. King.

  • Who benefits from a "domesticated" image of  King?
  • Two aspects of King's legacy that receive much less attention than his most famous actions and speeches are his opposition to the Vietnam War and his campaign for economic justice—indeed, King was working on the Poor People's Campaign immediately before his assassination. The King Institute at Stanford has a lesson plan about King's opposition to the war, and the Smithsonian Institution and National Museum of African American History and Culture have resources about the SCLC's Poor People's Campaign. Why do you think these parts of King's legacy are not discussed as frequently as speeches like "I Have a Dream" or the Selma-to-Montgomery march for voting rights?
  • King's "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" goes beyond the ideas of interracial harmony expressed in his "I Have a Dream" speech. Who does King identify as the greatest obstacle to the civil rights movement in this letter? Why?

EDSITEment Resources

About BackStory

Founded in 2008, BackStory is a weekly podcast that explores the historical roots of current events. Hosted by a team of historians of the United States, the show features interviews with other scholars and public historians, seeking to bring U.S. history to life. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the show do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Learn more at the BackStory website.