Providing context is such a crucial part of any reading experience, and TKAM is certainly no exception. Last week we worked with Langston Hughes' "The Bitter River," (I could only find a electronic version in PDF) which, among other things, makes reference to the lynching of two 14-year-old boys in Mississippi as well as to the Scottsboro boys, on whom we read an article earlier in our unit.
This week we watched a segment from Democracy Now! on the Pullman Porters, the first black labor union in America. The students were surprised to learn about how A. Phillip Randolph
was such an important yet unsung figure in the civil rights movement. They wondered why the Pullman Porters chose to trust Randolph with leading their unionizing efforts, as he had tried and failed in this pursuit in other industries. I didn't have an answer for them beyond the idea that perhaps they found Randolph to be a passionate and dedicated man in whom they felt they should place their trust.
I'm finding that while contextualizing the novel is harder than I thought it might be--in part because I hadn't anticipated my students would have such limited background knowledge--they are faring well when it comes to identifying themes that link the events and ideas we're learning about. Next year, I'd really like to bring some contemporary issues into the picture--redlining, Amadou Diallo and police brutality/profiling, and a greater emphasis on marginalization in general.
UPDATED: Thanks, Ms. X., for the idea. I ended up scrapping my plans and creating a lesson on Diallo, using the song as a connection to both the article and the book. It was by all accounts a total success. I was so impressed with them.