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LEARNING GUIDE TO:

THE GHOSTS OF MISSISSIPPI

One of the Best! This movie is on TWM's short list of the best movies to supplement classes in United States History, High School Level.

SUBJECTS — U.S./1945 - Present, Diversity, the Law; & Mississippi;
SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Courage; Justice;
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Trustworthiness; Responsibility; Citizenship.
Age: 13+; MPAA Rating -- PG-13 (for a strong scene of violence and for racist dialogue); Drama; 1996; 123 minutes; Color. Available from Amazon.com.

Description: This film recounts the retrial and conviction of the assassin of Civil Rights leader Medgar Evers, some 30 years after the murder.

Rationale for Using the Movie: Ghosts of Mississippi provides students a deeper look into the Civil Rights Movement by illustrating the dangers of Civil Rights work and the legal system in Mississippi in the segregationist 1960s. It shows a widow's perseverance and crusade for justice, as well as a prosecutor's commitment to righting an old wrong. The film also describes Mississippi's shift over time from a state known for racism to one that would afford justice to the family of a slain Civil Rights activist.

Objectives/Student Outcomes Using this Learning Guide: U.S. history classes: The movie is a valuable addition to a list of works to be read or watched as homework to explore the genre of historical fiction. See TWM's Historical Fiction in Film Cross-Curricular Homework Project. The discussion questions and assignments set out below are appropriate for history students who watch this movie.)

ELA classes: Ghosts of Mississippi affords students from which to research important ideas and exercise valuable writing or verbal presentation skills.

Possible Problems: Moderate. The film is honest in its portrayal of the violence, obscenities and racial slurs that dominated the Civil Rights struggle in the south. For a more complete description of the possible problems, click here.








 


LEARNING GUIDE MENU


Rationale and Objectives
Possible Problems
Parenting Points

Using the Movie in Class:
      Introduction to the Movie
      Discussion Questions
      Assignments

SUPPLEMENTAL MATERIALS
IN A SEPARATE DOCUMENT


Helpful Background

Additional Discussion Questions:
      Subjects (Curriculum Topics)
      Social-Emotional Learning
      Moral-Ethical Emphasis
            (Character Counts)

Additional Possible Problems

Other Sections:
      Bridges to Reading
      Links to the Internet
      Selected Awards & Cast
      Bibliography



WORKSHEETS: TWM offers the following worksheets to keep students' minds on the movie and direct them to the lessons that can be learned from the film. Teachers can modify the worksheets to fit the needs of each class. See also TWM's Historical Fiction in Film Cross-Curricular Homework Project and Movies as Literature Homework Project.



Click here for TWM's lesson plans to introduce cinematic and theatrical technique.


SUGGESTIONS FOR USING GHOSTS OF MISSISSIPPI IN THE CLASSROOM


Introduction to the Movie: Tell the class that both Myrlie Evers and the prosecutor, Bobby DeLaughter served as consultants to the movie and that it is true in all of its important facts. For a more complete description of the relatively few historical inaccuracies, click here.

Discussion Questions:

After the film has been watched, engage the class in a discussion about the movie.

1.  Prosecutor DeLaughter asserted that reopening the wound left by the Medgar Evers' assassination and retrying a 70 year old man, cleansed the wound and allowed it to heal, rather than to fester and poison future generations. Do you agree with his assessment or do you think that the retrial unnecessarily opened old wounds? Suggested Response: Answers will vary. Most would agree that it is never too late to do justice. There were still racists in Mississippi in 1989, when this case was tried for the third time, but the fact that a jury convicted de la Beckwith proved that the Mississippi justice system had been reformed and by 1989 could deliver justice.

2.  What did the assassination of Medgar Evers have in common with the tradition of lynching that had taken the lives of thousands of black people over the years since the Civil War? Suggested Response: Answers will vary. Lynching was a particular kind of murder that had the intention of fomenting fear among black southerners. Evers' murder did not use a rope but shared the intention of lynch mobs in that it was designed to stop civil right activism in the south.

3.  What factors had changed over time in American society that may have influenced both the efforts to prosecute the case against de la Beckwith and the eventual guilty verdict? Suggested Response: All well reasoned answers are acceptable. Students may suggest that the many victories of the Civil Rights Movement, coupled with new generations coming into power, put the old values and prejudices in the background. They may suggest that mass media, changes in music, film and attitudes propelled from the 60's youth movement had a powerful reach into the thinking of the people of Mississippi.

For additional discussion questions, click here.




Assignments:

Any of the discussion questions can serve as a writing prompt. Additional assignments include:

1. This film captures the truth of the Evers' murder and in most respects is strikingly accurate. There are a few historical inaccuracies. Choose three of the following list of inaccuracies and write a brief paragraph on why you think the film's writers chose to distort some details used to tell the story. Conclude your paragraph with an opinion about whether you, as the screenwriter, would have been creative with the facts:

  • The window of prosecutor DeLaughter's car was not smashed and painted with a swastika;
  • The meeting in the courthouse men's room between de la Beckwith and prosecutor DeLaughter didn't happen;
  • While there was a telephone threat that the DeLaughter house would be bombed, the DeLaughters did not flee their home in panic;
  • It was District Attorney Peters and not Delaughter who cross-examined the alibi witness, a powerful part of the courtroom drama;
  • DeLaughter's parents were generally supportive of him in the investigation and he was never a member of a country club;
  • DeLaughter didn't sing "Dixie" to his daughter to put her to sleep;
  • The news conference after the verdict took place in an empty courtroom, not on the court house steps.
2. Research the biographies of Evers and two other important Civil Rights workers who were instrumental in the progress made in the south during these important years. Find information and site, at least three sources, either on the Internet or in books for each person you research. Seek common factors in their lives that seem to foreshadow their activism in the struggle for rights long denied blacks in the south. Write an essay on the common characteristics that you find.

3. Create a well researched time line of specific incidents in which you calculate the changes in the South between 1963, the year of Medgar Evers' birth, and 1989, the year that de la Beckwith was finally found guilty of murder. Write a conclusion that suggests the importance of these years in terms of changing Mississippi to a state in which Medgar Evers' widow and family would receive justice.

See additional Assignments for use with any Film that is a Work of Fiction.



 

MOVIES ON RELATED TOPICS: All other films in the U.S. History and Culture/Civil Rights Movement section of the Subject Matter Index. There is a made for television film based on Myrlie Evers' book called "For Us the Living: The Medgar Evers Story" Directed by Michael Schultz.





BUILDING VOCABULARY: cross-examination, exhume, swastika.
Click on the link for a discussion of Segregation and Its Corrosive Effects in the Learning Guide to "A Force More Powerful".








Select questions that are appropriate for your students.










Are you concerned that time will be wasted if you are absent from class? Worry no more  .  .  .   Check out TeachWithMovies' Set-Up-the-Sub.







Parenting Points: Tell your child that this film is true in most of its facts.







Reminder to Teachers: Obtain all required permissions from your school administration before showing any film.

Teachers who want parental permission to show this movie can use TWM's Movie Permission Slip.












PHOTOGRAPHS, DIAGRAMS AND OTHER VISUALS:   Photographs of Signs Enforcing Racial Discrimination: Documentation by Farm Security Administration-Office of War Information Photographers from the Library of Congress.




This Learning Guide written by James Frieden and Mary RedClay.




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