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Orson Welles and the Story of Isaac Woodard: The Influence of the Media on Presidential Awareness and Decisions

Lesson Author
Required Time Frame
2 - 50 minute class periods
Grade Level(s)
Lesson Abstract
Students will examine primary and secondary source material to draw connections while working individually, cooperatively with a partner, and during whole-group discussion.

This lesson is aimed to illustrate the role the media plays in influencing presidential awareness and decisions. It also highlights the struggles facing America in the mid-twentieth century in terms of racism, discrimination, and race relations.

Lesson Objectives - the student will

The student will analyze primary and secondary resources to draw conclusions and make well-informed decisions about how the media impacts the awareness and decisions of a president.

The student will engage in individual, cooperative, and whole-group learning activities that engage in their ability to read, analyze, and draw conclusions about past historical events.

District, state, or national performance and knowledge standards/goals/skills met

American Government DESE Standards

T3S5B - Evaluate the intended and unintended impact of government decision-making on individuals, groups, and society.

T4S5B - Evaluate factors that shape public opinion on elections and policy issues.

T4S5C - Predict the consequences that occur when institutions fail to meet the needs of individuals and groups, when individuals fail to carry out their personal responsibilities.

Secondary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed

Isaac Woodard (1919-1992) - Review of the Woodard Attack -

“Orson Welles Sought Justice After Black Veteran Isaac Woodard Beaten, Blinded by Police 70 Years Ago” by Mike Teal - A recap of the role of Orson Welles and his role in broadcasting the story of Isaac Woodard. -

Primary sources needed (document, photograph, artifact, diary or letter, audio or visual recording, etc.) needed

Orson Welles - 7/28/1946 - Radio Broadcast over the blinding of Sergeant Isaac Woodard

Executive Order 9808 - Harry S. Truman - Order to Create a Commission on Civil Rights

Picture of Isaac Woodard in 1946 -

Video of President Truman telling the story of Isaac Woodard -

Fully describe the activity or assignment in detail. What will both the teacher and the students do?

Students will be tasked with a short writing prompt. “Explain the impact that Jim Crow Laws have left on the United States.”

After a few minutes, students will engage in a whole class discussion over the prompt presented to them. This discussion will introduce the defining differences in rights between the whites and blacks in the United States in relation to Jim Crow. If discussion stalls, the teacher can prompt at any point.

After the discussion meets its objective to examine the impact of Jim Crow, students will be shown the image of Sergeant Isacc Woodard, blinded. After a moment, students will explain what they see in front of them and how it might relate to American History immediately after WWII. Once the image is discussed, students will independently review the secondary source article reviewing the attack of Sergeant Isaac Woodard.

As students review the Woodard article, they will be prompted with several questions to answer.

Who is Isaac Woodard?
What prompted the removal of Woodard from the Greyhound bus?
Based on the article, was Woodard’s removal warranted?
Who is Linwood Shull?
Did Officer Shull act appropriately? Explain.
Based on the event, was justice served? Explain.

Students will discuss the answers with the teacher prompting the questions and extending the conversation when necessary to understand the severity of the actions of Linwood Shull.

As class concludes, students will be introduced to the role of Orson Welles in the story of Isaac Woodard with the second source about Welles first radio broadcast over Woodard’s story. This task will conclude the first periods material and establish Orson Welles as the focus at the beginning of the next period.

At the beginning of the second period, students will be tasked with a warm-up question.
Review the treatment Isaac Woodard received once being discharged from the service, how does his treatment illustrate race relations in the United States in the mid-twentieth century?

After the brief warmup and discussion over the prompt, students will listen to the first radio show by Orson Welles when he introduced the story of Isaac Woodard. While listening, students will need to write down a few instances of how Welles is using his media influence to promote the story of Woodard with citing examples. After the radio show, students will discuss the prompt as a whole class to understand the role the media can play in progressing issues into the public and political spotlight.

Students will watch the video where President Truman explains the attack of Isaac Woodard. While the video is short, it will move the discussion to how do these stories like Isaac Woodard’s impact of the presidency of the United States.

Once the class discusses the impact of Welles broadcast with Truman’s learning of the event, Truman’s Executive Order 9808 will be introduced. As a class, we will read the overview, and then students will be paired with a partner to read and determine how the executive order changed the status quo and its impact to modern day. To conclude class, each student pair will share what changed from Truman’s executive order and its impact to modern day.

Assessment: fully explain the assessment method in detail or create and attach a scoring guide

Students will be formatively assessed to check for understanding through multiple discussions, warm-up writing prompts, and questioned when necessary to address any misunderstandings.

Students will be summatively assessed on their final exam.

“Explain the impact of the media on President Truman’s decision to integrate the Armed Forces and federal government.”

Make the connection from Orson Welles story
To the problem with Jim Crow and race relations in the mid-twentieth century
With President Truman’s decision

“How did history changed because of Isaac Woodard’s story?” Address the change, reinforce with facts