Though any publicly-accessible sound can be used for this lesson, this lesson is structured and based on “‘Criminal Syndicalism’ case, McComb, Mississippi,” a sound recording centered around Civil Rights issues in 1964 that is part of the John Beecher Sound Recordings Collection at the Harry Ransom Center. We have chosen this recording not only because of its historical value, but also because it speaks clearly to current reckonings with systemic racism in 2021. Like many historical recordings, this recording contains sensitive content that students and teachers often find difficult to discuss. In this case, this content includes racial slurs and descriptions of the experiences of Black students who were falsely arrested and imprisoned. Please read the full content warning and summary below before listening to the audio.
We have structured this lesson in a way that seeks to be mindful of trauma-informed pedagogy when working with sensitive resources. Trauma-informed pedagogy, developed by Janice Carello and Lisa D. Butler, emphasizes the importance of ensuring the physical and emotional security of learners by emphasizing the importance of contextualizing content and acknowledging and validating any challenges learners face when working with sensitive materials.2 Importantly, the goal of trauma-informed pedagogy is “to remove possible barriers to learning, not to remove traumatic, sensitive, or difficult material from the curriculum.” Likewise, we believe the unique challenge of working with sensitive materials should not deter anyone from learning from them. A trauma-informed approach to working with these materials allows both independent researchers and groups of researchers to empathetically and carefully work with materials others may have difficulties with that are nonetheless important to history. For further discussion of trauma-informed pedagogy and other inclusive practices when working with these sensitive materials (not necessarily in the classroom!), we recommend Emory’s “Inclusive Pedagogy: Discussion and Resources”.
In general, when selecting the audio material with which you’ll be working, you should review the holding institution’s language in describing and categorizing the audio for cues in handling, listening to, and ultimately presenting your chosen audio material. While some holding institutions may not have content warnings or descriptions of sensitive content for individual items, other institutions will have some kind of acknowledgement of troubling content or metadata listed either on the holding institution’s main site or collection page for the item. We recommend you look towards these places for language cues first.3 For example, the Harry Ransom Center contextualizes the Beecher Sound Collection here, but at this time does not include a specific content warning related to the racist language in the tapes. The Ransom Center’s statement on outdated language shares a general warning that users may encounter sensitive, offensive, or outdated information in descriptions of archival materials.
About the Beecher “Syndicalism” Recording
This audio reel was recorded on October 19, 1964, likely by John Beecher’s wife, Barbara Beecher, on the portable reel-to-reel machine she operated. At the time, John Beecher, the great-great nephew of Harriet Beecher Stowe and Henry Ward Beecher, was working as a journalist, reporting on the Civil Rights movement in the South. The recording begins with John Beecher and members of Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) meeting with Black high school students and their parents after these students were released from jail in McComb, Mississippi on charges of criminal syndicalism, in which it seems the students have been falsely accused of damaging property by throwing a brick. Beecher speaks with the group about the importance of voting and fighting for equal treatment in the voting process. A white member of COFO discusses how his experience in jail was different than that of the Black students, how he was released without bond, and that his release was sooner. The students discuss the conditions in the jail and the treatment by policemen and guards. The parents of the students discuss how they were discriminated against, given limited interaction with their children, and how officers made visits a challenge.
In this recording, a racial slur is used at 16:06 by a student quoting the language said to them by a police officer while in jail. There is also explicit language used at 15:49, 16:30, and 16:39 by students quoting white police officers. At times in the recording, African American students and their parents are discussing mistreatment and trauma they experienced while the students were imprisoned.
This recording is hosted on the Harry Ransom Center’s CONTENTdm site, but the direct link to the audio (while publicly accessible for listening and downloading) is not supported by AudiAnnotate at this time. The Ransom Center provided a working link to the audio, which you will need when creating your AudiAnnotate project in later lesson steps.
Classrooom Suggestion: For classroom settings, make sure you follow your school’s guidelines for classroom work involving potentially upsetting or controversial material. While we recognize the value and necessity of having difficult conversations, we also recommend discussing class expectations repeatedly and prior to working with these types of materials. You may also choose to modify the lesson introductory materials to add the necessary context for the material your class is working with based on your class’s learning objectives. To minimize student harm and risk When working with sensitive audio, we recommend having a secondary recording for students who express a high level of discomfort to work with that may explore similar themes, but not include explicit or triggering language. The Studs Terkel Radio Archive provides a number of related resources and audio recordings geared at classroom use.
2: Carello, J., & Butler, L. D. (2015). Practicing What We Teach: Trauma-informed Educational Practice. Journal of Teaching in Social Work, 35(3), 262-278. doi:10.1080/08841233.2015.1030059