home the series polls education materials resources
Educational Materials

Reckoning in York, PA

Overview | Standards | Procedures for Teachers | Organizers for Students


In this lesson students will view the Reckoning in York, PA section of the Media Matters program, and visit the PBS Media Matters Web site. Students will read oral history interviews of people who fought for civil rights. They will express and discuss their opinions on the Media Matters poll, and create a mock talk show to explore the complexities of the issues facing York, Pennsylvania.

Grade Level: Grades 7-9

Time Allotment
Activity One - One fifty-minute class
Activity Two - Three fifty-minute classes

Subject Area: Civics

Learning Objectives
Students will be able to do the following:
  • Develop an understanding of the struggles people faced when fighting for civil rights.
  • Express and explain their opinions on racial issues in the media.
  • Examine a person's perspective on the situation in York, Pennsylvania and role-play his/her views.


United States History
Standard 29: Understands the struggle for racial and gender equality and for the extension of civil liberties

Language Arts
Standard 7: Uses reading skills and strategies to understand and interpret a variety of informational texts

Working With Others
Standard 1: Contributes to the overall effort of a group


Bookmark the following sites:


The purpose of this activity is for students to build background knowledge on civil rights.

1. Send students to the Civil Rights Documentation Project Web site ( and click on the Oral History Transcripts button.
2. Provide some time for students to browse the oral history transcripts section of the site.
3. Ask each student to select one of the interviews that is of particular interest to them and record details on a piece of paper.
4. Invite students to share with the class the details of the interview they selected.


Activity One:

In this lesson students will express and discuss their opinions on the" Media Matters" poll.

1. Ask students to answer the following two questions from the poll that appeared on the Reckoning in York, Media Matters program:
  • While investigating race riots that occurred in your community 25 years ago, a reporter learns that your town's current mayor told racist jokes and used racist language. Would you make public the mayor's behavior from a quarter of a century ago?
  • Does racism in America warrant more or less news coverage than it currently receives?

2. Instruct students to find someone who voted differently from them and spend ten minutes discussing their views on the subject. After five minutes, ask the students to switch roles and clearly explain their partner's position.
3. You may choose to have students generate some questions of their own and repeat the process.

Activity Two:

Students research various people's perspectives on the situation in York, and explore the complexity of these issues in the format of a talk show.

1. Provide time for students to view the Reckoning in York, PA section of the Media Matters program, or visit the Reckoning in York, PA section of the PBS Media Matters Web site.
2. Tell the students that they are going to create a talk show to discuss the issues involved in the York, Pennsylvania situation.
3. The talk show panel will consist of the following people:
  • A representative from the mayor's office
  • An employee from the York Dispatch
  • A former member of the Newberry Street Boys
  • A member of the Lillie Belle Allen family
  • A York citizen who signed the letter
4. Divide the class into six groups: one group for each of the five people mentioned above, and one group to generate questions for the talk show host.
5. Students will gather information from the following sources:

The York Dispatch archives

Letter from York citizens

The Media Matters Web site

The Media Matters program

Talk Show Guests Groups
Creating a talk show character. After gathering information, tell students to discuss what they think this person's view would be on the situation in York. Students will develop this character by writing a summary of the information they have found that connects this person's point-of-view with the events in York. Finally, students will choose one of their group members to portray this character in the talk show.

Talk Show Host Group
Students in this group will decide on the format for the talk show by generating a list of possible questions for the talk show panel, and deciding how to include the audience in the discussions. The group will choose one of the members to play the role of the talk show host. The following are a list of questions from the program and Web site. They might be useful as a guide to developing questions for the show.
  • When does a newspaper's mission to report the truth become unhealthy for the community it serves? Or: How can a newspaper¹s mission to report the truth effect the community it serves?
  • Have the papers failed to report on the positive developments in race relations and urban renewal?
  • Are the critics trying to squelch free speech for economic interest?
  • Does such coverage ignore the current problems that face the African-American community?


The purpose of this activity is for students to continue to monitor the situation in York.

Have students periodically visit the York Dispatch site to continue to monitor the situation in York.


Background Activity Organizer

Activity One Organizer

Activity Two Organizer