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Magnolias Don't Bloom in September

A little background information

This novel is based on true events in the late 1960s and 1970s in the South. It was a time of change, and few understood that laws were supposed to prevail over cultural norms and stereotypes. People relied on newspapers and the few news programs that were broadcast for less than an hour a day; many clung to beliefs that had been handed down for generations.
Schools had no standard curricula; textbooks dictated what students were supposed to be learning. In most areas, well-behaved students in straight rows listening to their teachers was considered the norm. Principals set the tone, and their attitudes usually prevailed. A few trusted their teachers to improvise and do whatever they could to reach their students. Kenda was lucky to work for one such principal. Sometimes teachers broke the stereotypes, and did creative things, but this was rare. Most teachers were women, except in math, science, and boys' physical education.
It was a time when there were no cellphones, not even answering machines. Before the internet, nearly everyone wrote letters. Long distance phone calls were charged by the minute.
The initial idea for the lawsuit came from the Jackson Clarion-Ledger October 20, 1970: "Charles A. Johnson Jr., executive secretary of the Mississippi Education Association, said that the MEA has established a new professional liability insurance policy to protect teachers against suits such as might be incurred by discipline or other everyday problems. He said three teachers were sued last session."
Because of our present interpretation of the Confederacy, many assume that the KKK marched with the Confederate flag. In fact, all photos of them prior to 1964 shows them displaying the American flag. High School yearbooks contained pictures of the "Rebel Flag" with ROTC groups, at football games, and being flown with state and American flags. I've been asked about how the Black students felt upon seeing the Confederate flag on their bulletin board. Not a one made a comment about it. This was a normal as seeing a Mississippi flag in the classroom. (In fact, the Mississippi flag still pays homage to its Confederate heritage.)


1. To what extent do you think Kenda’s idealism was a part of the country’s culture in the late 1960s?

2. How and why do you think different parts of our country viewed integration differently? 

3. What do you think you would have done with the Confederate flag if confronted with it 50 years ago? Would your response be the same today?

4. Are there any parallels between the attitudes of those considered on the Far Right today and those of the people whom Kenda encountered in 1970?

5. Mac mentions “hazardous duty pay.” Would this be something teachers deserve today?

6. There were teachers’ associations when this story takes place. There were not only separate school districts; the Mississippi Teachers Association was for Blacks and the Mississippi Education Association for Whites. In April 1970, the National Education Association expelled its predominantly White Mississippi affiliate because the group refused to merge with the state’s black teachers’ organization. These were not unions, but associations that dealt with group insurance and retirement funds. What was the importance of the teachers uniions in, in California and Chicago in the 1970s?  What is their impact now?

7. This book is about lessons learned, not just by students but also teachers. What was one important lesson Kenda learned?

8. People’s reactions to situations are determined by where they come from, by the ingrained culture they were born into. Can you give a few examples?

9. A Black woman tells Kenda that she’s not welcome at her church. Contrast this with the welcome that the young white supremacist received in the Charlestown, S.C. church in 2015 before he murdered nine people, all of whom were African Americans. What does this tell us about our society?

10. Kenda genuinely enjoys her friendship with the glassware washer in the lab. Why do you think the “N____-lover” note was left for her?

11. What was Tim’s role in the book?

12. In what ways was the apartment above the beauty salon a perfect place for Kenda?

13. What do you think shaped Clancy’s view of Kenda? 

14. What are the differences between the expectations for teachers back in 1970 and today? Compare and contrast the education system that Kenda encountered and what we have today.

15. Were you satisfied with the book’s ending? Do you think Mildred’s prediction that Kenda would teach again is true?





      Women who tell their stories over kitchen tables about

      defying Hitler and struggling to save their loved ones.


       Questions for discussion

          Suitable for Book Clubs, Religious Schools and Social Studies Classes.


       Teacher Resources:

                       Grades 7-12

                  If students are required to read the book, the discussion

                      questions above are appropriate.


           Propaganda Unit


           Manipulation of the News Media--Propaganda Today

This video explains the sources of news and how current propaganda works. Liz Wahl resigned as a reporter for Russia Today. She discusses how news stories are influenced by censorship, local fixers, unconscious bias, media outlets, and social media.


  7 Lessons from the Holocaust by Irwin Cotler

This article is a rich source for discussion groups and writing prompts. All 7 lessons are relevant to

events in the world today: refugees, hatred, complicity of the elites, lack of understanding and justice, indifference and inaction. The most important question is how do we empower the powerless?


          Holocaust Timeline Lesson

This activity from the UNITED STATES HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL MUSEUM provides knowledge about the Holocaust, an understanding of the events that made it possible, and a connection to the people involved.


  All Behaviors Count

Developed by the HOLOCAUST MUSEUM HOUSTON, this excellent curriculum addresses the five forms of social cruelty and teaches skills to identify and respond to them as empowered upstanders.



  The Nazis

This summary article with videos, graphics and references provides an introduction to the topic and allows teachers to provide additional opportunities for critical thinking on this topic. Developed by MY-MORAL-COMPASS, there is a similar lesson on the Genocide in Cambodia, which is ideal for a compare and contrast assignment.




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