Home and Agents of Social Change - Jessie Lloyd O'Connor

O'Connor Lesson Plan

Lesson Topic: The Struggle to Organize
Grade: High School
Class: American History
Approx. Class Time: 1 class period

Lesson Objective: The students will analyze correspondence and a news release regarding the Harlan, Kentucky mine strike of 1931-1932. They will use these documents to discuss the problems of organizing industrial trade unions before the New Deal.

Materials Needed: Unidentified to Mrs. Harvey O'Connor, 27 Aug. 1931; "Threaten Mrs. O'Connor, FP Correspondent in Harlan," Federated Press, 27 Aug. 1931; Jessie Lloyd O'Connor to the Governor Flem D. Sampson, 9 Sept. 1931; Jessie Lloyd O'Connor to "Friend," fund-raising letter, 30 January 1932.

Discussion Questions:

  • Why might people be "afraid to be seen talking with" O'Connor as she writes the governor of Kentucky?

  • Who might she be appealing to in her letter of January of 1932?

  • According to O'Connor's January 1932 letter, what were the issues that led up to the strike?

  • Why was there so much violence and towards whom was it directed?

  • Why would the sheriff oppose press coverage of the strike?

  • What did the community do to survive during the strike?

  • What do you think the objections were to the miners organizing?

Possible Activities: (1) Have the students research the Harlan strike itself. Then have students take on different roles and write a position paper on the strike from their assigned point of view. (2) Have the students research another strike adjacent to their town, finding their own primary documents to report on the strike. (3) Students could also research a recent national level strike.

Selected Suggested Readings:
John W. Hevener Jr., Which Side Are You On? The Harlan County Coal Miners,
(Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1978).

Paul F. Taylor, Bloody Harlan: The United Mine Workers of America in Harlan
          County, Kentucky, 1931-41
(Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1990).

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