Richard Wright, a Black boy living in the Jim Crow South, travels north in hopes of escaping the violence and prejudice that rules his childhood.
Below are some reading passages that we have hand picked to supplement this book. Be sure to read the passage summaries and our suggestions for instructional use.
This informational text details the controversial policies of Reconstruction after the American Civil War.
Have students read this text before they begin reading the book, in order to provide them with background on the time period following the Civil War and Reconstruction Era. This text will help students explore how African Americans were treated in the South. As students begin reading about Richard’s experiences in the South, ask them to consider how white people continued to subordinate Black people. What kind of injustices was Richard exposed to as a Black boy living in the South during this period?
In Nikki Grimes's poem "David's Old Soul," a speaker describes himself growing up as he takes on more responsibility.
Have students read this poem after they finish Chapter 3, when Richard is still growing up in the South, to explore how children are sometimes required to ‘grow up quickly.’ Ask students to discuss how Richard had to take on more responsibility as a child than he should have. How do students think this impacted his development and his relationship with his family? How did Richard’s experience growing up compare to David’s in “David’s Old Soul”?
In the information text "Black Soldiers in the Civil War," African American struggle for the right to fight as soldiers in the Civil War for their freedom.
Introduce this text after students finish Chapter 5, when the author discusses Richard’s grandfather’s experiences in the Civil War, to provide additional information on how Black soldiers were treated during the Civil War. Ask students to discuss how the depiction of the experiences of Black soldiers in the informational text compares to Richard’s grandfather’s description. What problems did Richard’s grandfather encounter during the war? How did some of these problems continue to affect him after the war?
In "Excerpt from Southern Horrors: Lynch Laws in All Its Phases," historical activist Ida B. Wells discusses the injustice and horrors of Southern lynch laws, focusing on the violence against African Americans following the Civil War.
Have students read this text after they finish Chapter 9, when an acquaintance of Richard’s is killed and he fears for his own safety. Students can use this pairing to explore the violence African Americans experienced in the South. What are the type of “crimes” that Ida B. Wells describes Black men and boys being killed for in the South? How does this correlate to the reasons that Richard, and other Black people in the South, experienced violence and the constant threat of violence? How do the white people that Richard encounters use fear and the threat of violence to control his life?
William Stafford's poem "Burning a Book" considers the act of book burning in a new light, emphasizing the greater importance of combating ignorance and sharing ideas.
Introduce this poem after students finish Chapter 13, when Richard finally acquires a library card, to generate a discussion about the dangers that some people think knowledge presents. How do people react to seeing Richard read and his desire to learn? In what ways do people try to censure Richard and his ideas? Ask students to discuss the danger of censorship and ignorance, especially when it’s forced on a certain group of people. How is this explored in the poem and through Richard’s experiences?
In "The Rise and Fall of Karl Marx," Mike Kubic discusses the life and work of Karl Marx, specifically his influence on other nations' socioeconomic structures.
Introduce this text after students finish Chapter 19, when Richard has become involved with the Communist party, to provide students with additional information about the group and its beliefs. What initially draws Richard to communist ideals? What factors contribute to the change in his relationship with the Communist party and encourage him to eventually leave the group? After learning more about communism, ask students to discuss why Richard was never truly accepted by the party.
In Naomi Shihab Nye's poem "Valentine for Ernest Mann," a speaker describes discovering poetry in unlikely places in the world.
Have students read this poem after they finish the book, when Richard considers the role that writing plays in his life, to further explore the relationship writers have with the world around them. Ask students to discuss how Richard uses his writing to connect with and understand a world that he never felt fully accepted by. How does this compare to the speaker’s ability to find beauty in unexpected things in “Valentine for Ernest Mann”? How can writing help improve a person’s relationship with the world around them? What reasons would students give to argue that Richard accomplishes or fails to accomplish this in Black Boy?