Crossing the Veil: A Young W.E.B. DuBois in Rural Tennessee

W.E.B. DuBois encountered the realities of postReconstruction life in the rural South during his summers working as a teacher in a seasonal African American school in Alexandria, Tennessee. This lesson plan explores how DuBois’s experiences as a student at Fisk University and his time teaching in rural middle Tennessee shaped his understanding of the challenges facing African Americans and his ideas for uplifting the race. Students will examine how generational viewpoints differed within African American communities and how race relations varied in the different locations that DuBois lived during this early period in his life.

Standards & Objectives

Academic standards
Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative, connotative, and technical meanings; analyze how an author...
Analyze what a text says explicitly and draw inferences; support an interpretation of a text by citing and synthesizing relevant textual evidence from...
Analyze how an author's choices regarding the ordering of ideas and events, the introduction and development of ideas, and connections among ideas...
Initiate and participate effectively with varied partners in a range of collaborative discussions on appropriate 11th - 12th grade topics, texts, and...
Present information, findings, and supporting evidence, conveying a clear and distinct perspective so that listeners can follow the line of reasoning;...
Write informative/explanatory texts to analyze, synthesize, and convey complex ideas, concepts, and information clearly and accurately through the...
Explain the impact of the Hayes-Tilden Presidential election of 1876 and the end ofcReconstruction on African Americans, including Jim Crow laws, lynching,...
Alignment of this item to academic standards is based on recommendations from content creators, resource curators, and visitors to this website. It is the responsibility of each educator to verify that the materials are appropriate for your content area, aligned to current academic standards, and will be beneficial to your specific students.
Learning objectives: 

The student will be able to:

  • Explain the racial interactions and relationships DuBois experienced from the northern city to rural Tennessee.
  • Explain the historical context of the New South period using excerpts from Henry Grady.
  • Analyze a political cartoon and picture to understand the importance of industry and labor in the New South.
  • Analyze primary source excerpts from DuBois to understand his thought processes about how to improve the African American community.
  • Compare and contrast the differences in rural white schools and rural black schools to understand the development of rural education.
Essential and guiding questions: 

According to DuBois, how did the “Veil” hinder “Progress” for African Americans?

Lesson Variations

Blooms taxonomy level: 
Extension suggestions: 
  • Compare and Contrast teaching contracts: Students will analyze W.E.B. Du Bois’ Southern teaching contract with that of a Northern white woman from the same time period. Students will complete the questions to determine the differences and similarities in the teaching certificates.
  • Niagara Movement and NAACP: Students will study the exhibit, paying particular attention to the Prelude section, to determine what W.E.B. Du Bois was trying to achieve for African Americans through the NAACP. Students can speculate about the method that the organization planned to use for African Americans to gain their legal rights. How did this method compare with DuBois’s writing that students read in this lesson? 

Helpful Hints


  • PowerPoint: DuBois Background
  • Henry Grady reading excerpt
  • Rural schools images
  • Compare and contrast graphic organizer
  • Reading excerpts with questions (pgs. 6-9)