6. Violent vs. Nonviolent Resistance

6. Violent vs. Nonviolent Resistance


Through the play Beautiful Agitators and accompanying curriculum, students will eplore the life of Vera Mae Pigee and the struggle to pursue nonviolent resistance.

Beautiful Agitators Lesson Plan: Scene Six and Scene Seven


Standards: Local civil rights history, power relations & social justice, violent vs. nonviolent resistance, March on Washington

Content Strand 4:

A. Identify and explain the significance of the major actors, groups and events of the civil rights movement in the mid 20th century in Mississippi (i.e., Fannie Lou Hamer, Medgar Evers, Dr. T.R.M. Howard, James Meredith, Freedom Rides, Freedom Summer, Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, etc.)

B. Understand and describe the historical circumstances and conditions that necessitated the development of the civil rights and human rights protections and/or activism for various minority groups in Mississippi.

Tactics: Counter-tactics include: terror, murder, threats of violence, public displays of support for these methods (Greenwood parade)

Time Period: Spring 1963

Leaders: Medgar Evers, Dr. Aaron E. Henry, Vera Mae Pigee, President John F. Kennedy



  1. Students will identify the impact of the Medgar Evers’ aassassination on the movement both philosophically and practically.
  2. Students will examine the rift in the movement regarding non-violent response to escalating violence geared towards civil rights activists.
  3. Students will outline the organizing efforts taken to promote increased membership to NAACP and the March On Washington.


As the civil rights movement gained momentum, there was an escalation of violence. While activists tried to take protective measures including self defense tactics, their homes, places of business and their lives were under constant violent threats from white supremacist groups like the White Citizens’ Council and the KKK 'Night Riders.'

After the attempt on the lives of Vera Pigee and Dr. Aaron Henry and Medgar Evers’ assassination, the leadership of the Mississippi movement was in a crisis. Powerful arguments were being made for and against a nonviolent response to the killing. This was in direct conflict with the NAACP & Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) leadership. This led to a heated debate and division among civil rights activists.  They eventually decided to work collectively to increase membership to the NAACP by 50,000 and focus cohesive efforts to publicize the March on Washington.  However, this debate would continue and would have lasting impacts on the movement going forward.


  1. Students will understand the role of Medgar Evers in the civil rights movement.

After viewing and engaging with both primary and secondary sources, students will be able to answer the following questions:

  1. Who is Medgar Evers?
  2. What was his role in the NAACP in Mississippi?
  3. What did the desegregation campaigns look like in Mississippi?
  4. What was happening right before he was assassinated? 
  5. Watch President Kennedy's speech from the night that Medgar Evers was assassinated. What stands out in this speech?
  6. What impact did the assassination of Medgar Evers have on the movement?
  7. What was the reaction to the death of Medgar Evers outside of the movement?

ACTIVITY: Philosophical Differences


  1. Students will read and analyze primary sources and work to identify the tensions within the Black community in the South and within the civil rights movement after the assassination of Medgar Evers.


"Beautiful Agitators" Scene Six

"At the Funeral of Medgar Evers in Jackson, Mississippi: A Tribute in Tears and a Thrust for Freedom"

Newspaper articles from resources links

  1. In what ways is the message of nonviolent resistance questioned by activists?
  2. How did the leadership work to refocus the energy toward the March on Washington?

*Find quotes from the primary sources that convey this message to support your answers.


VERA: Medgar wanted us to keep the movement alive in our hearts. We need to be thoughtful before we respond. Clear and with purpose. Organized. I promised to keep this YOUTH COUNCIL alive and I will. The last promise I broke to the dead was to my mother & I regret it everyday of my life. So I’m not about to break this one. But we can’t be rash. Let’s focus on  the call for the 50 thousand Mississippi Negroes taking out memberships in the NAACP before the March On Washington. This needs to happen in the next 30 days. That’s what you should get to work on.

Toward the end of the scene Vera tells Nick to focus his energy on the March on Washington. On August 28, 1963 over 200,000 citizens marched in solidarity in Washington D.C..

Using a contemporary social media campaign as a reference, ask students to work in groups to design a social media campaign for the March on Washington that would be effective today. Students will work with primary source documents found in archives and in links provided in the resource section.

  1. Pay particular attention to messages included in primary sources and work within the historical context of language/attitudes.
  2. Identify which social media platform would work best for your messaging campaign.
  3. How would you utilize hashtags, stoiries, etc.?  
  4. What music would you use for the background?
  5. Be able to explain your design and content choices in a brief process paper

(Make sure to define scope of project for students: 3-5 posts, use of “stories” feature, background music, images, etc)









Beautiful Agitators Script: Scene Six and Scene Seven

Scene 6

June 8, 1963 late at night

Mary Jane and Wilma are organizing a few files for Vera and the Youth Conference, making protest signs and listening to music.

Five gunshots...three first...and two after. Telephone rings. Mary Jane answers the phone.

MARY JANE: Hello...Hello..-...Is anybody there? Hello….

Phone hangs up - Mary Jane waits for it to ring again.

There is a loud knock on Vera’s Beauty Shop. Mary Jane and Wilma are startled. Mary Jane walks cautiously towards the door.

MARY JANE: (peeking through the window) Who’s out there?

NICK: (out of breath) Nick...It’s Nick..hurry up - open up.

Mary Jane opens the door and looks dazed and confused while he begins to talk.

NICK: Turn the lights off! Get down….Mary Jane, thank God you’re here.

MARY JANE: What’s happened to you? It’s after curfew. What’s going on?

NICK: (while looking out the window) Sshhhhh. Be quiet!

WILMA: I don’t see anyone out there. You’re bleeding a lot. Do you need to go to the hospital?

NICK: They shot at them. They drove by and shot up the houses.

MARY JANE: Who shot who?

NICK: - Dr. Henry and Mrs. Pigee, I’m so glad you were here.  They were in the back of a car - Klansman, Night Riders. They shot at both of their houses.

MARY JANE: Are they ok? Did you see if my Mama and Daddy were ok?

WILMA: And Dr. Henry?

NICK: Yes, they’re fine. They sent me to find you.

WILMA: Let me look at your arm. What did they do to you?

NICK: I fell - while I was running over here. I had to take the alleys ‘cause they were following me. I slipped on a gravel patch - it’s fine, just bloody.

(Wilma grabs a towel for Nick and moves to the phone)

MARY JANE:  I’m calling Reverend Rayford.

NICK: No, you know they’re listening.

MARY JANE: It’s protocol. He’ll want to know right away.

NICK: We can’t risk it. Ouch... this hurts.

WILMA: Why tonight? What happened?

NICK: I think they’ve been planning this for a while.

WILMA: This has to be because we protested the telephone company. Maybe it’s payback for the voter registration conference. They’ve got to know Mrs. Pigee and Dr. Henry had some part in that.

NICK: What don’t you understand? They don’t have to have a damn reason! Tell me why they bombed Dr. Henry’s drugstore, Wilma, what was their explanation for that?

WILMA: They said it must’ve been lightning…

NICK: Exactly, “lightning”. They want us to die.  

MARY JANE: We’ve got to get word to Reverend Rayford and I have to check in with my folks.

NICK: I’ll go. They might be looking for you. Keep the lights off and stay low, below the windows. Don’t let anyone catch sight of you til mornin’.

MARY JANE: We know the drill. Tell Mama we’re ok, and please stay safe, Nick.

WILMA: "Dear Lord, Send your angels to protect and keep Mr and Mrs. Pigee, Dr. Henry, Nick, and the rest of us safe. Please don't let any harm or danger come their way.  In Jesus Name, Amen."

Scene fades to black as Nick exists and Wilma begins to pray.  


Scene 7

June 15,1963

Back at Vera’s beauty shop - the evening of Medgar Evers’ funeral. Nick, Dr. Henry, Mary Jane, and Vera are considering their next steps.

DR HENRY: Medgar drove me to the airport and I went on to Houston and went to bed, got up the next morning to look at Lena Horne because Lena had been down here working with us, and she was going to be on the Today show. I turned the TV on when I got up, and I saw Lena sitting there, and Roy Wilkins sitting beside her, and a little picture of Medgar up in the corner. I at first rejoiced to see my folks, you know. And then to hear the announcer say, "Ladies and gentlemen, we had already scheduled Miss Horne for the Today program, but due to the tragic assassination last night of Medgar Evers in Jackson…”  (As Dr. Henry sits down at the table he places his gun in the center. Exhausted.) It’s been a long couple of days. 

NICK: Dr. Henry, I agree with what Mr. Wilkins said at the funeral. “Medgar Evers was the symbol of our victory and of their defeat. Medgar was more than just an opponent. In life, he was a constant threat to the system, in the manner of his death he was the victor over it.”  

VERA: We all just need peace and silence to consider what to do next.

NICK: The solution has always been right in front of our faces… It’s what I’ve been telling you all along. Dr. Henry, it’s time for a change! Time for everyone to stand up for what’s theirs.

MARY JANE: So what do you suggest?

NICK: We need more protection--protection in our homes, churches, and businesses. We are sittin’ ducks! The Night Riders will come back with their guns and bombs.

VERA: Enough of that!

DR HENRY: Vera’s right. We all need to think strategically here. There has been too much blood shed already. Medgar’s family heard the sound of that rifle… they saw him sprawled out at the doorstep with his keys in his hands.

NICK: If we're gonna have a war, let's have it.  Let's go in there ourselves and get it over with, one way or another. Let's go to war!

DR HENRY: Don’t you think we all feel the same way? You don’t throw stones for stones. War?! We have the right to defend our families and ourselves! But the gun will not secure our future! The power is in the vote! Our power will come with the vote!"

VERA: Medgar wanted us to keep the movement alive in our hearts. We need to be thoughtful before we respond. Clear and with purpose. Organized. I promised to keep this YOUTH COUNCIL alive and I will. The last promise I broke to the dead was to my mother & I regret it everyday of my life. So I’m not about to break this one. But we can’t be rash. Let’s focus on  the call for the 50 thousand Mississippi Negroes taking out memberships in the NAACP before the March On Washington. This needs to happen in the next 30 days. That’s what you should get to work on.

MARY JANE: I have the list of demands. I can put the call out to the council and get them over here to start making more flyers.

NICK: Medgar’s death has set everyone on fire. I don’t see how flyers can harness that energy.

VERA: The flyers will motivate people to march or support those that do. We are changing the course now. Can you imagine what we could accomplish with 50,000 new members of the NAACP? I can! We need to continue publicizing the march and organizing transportation. Mary Jane, I want you to work with me on this.

DR HENRY: Keep alert - we know there are still targets on our backs and they are watching our every move. Work in teams.

NICK: How can a march change anything? We all saw what happened in Jackson. The Citizens’ Council was paradin’ through Greenwood.

DR HENRY: The state of Mississippi is stuck in its stubborn, white supremacist ways... but if we get the rest of the nation to slap the beast in its face, the beast has no other choice but to wake up.

BLACK OUT End of Scene


Beautiful Agitators

 written by Aallyah Wright, Charles Coleman, Jessica James, Nick Houston and Jennifer Welch

commissioned and produced by StoryWorks, Jennifer Welch, artistic director


Lesson Six Video: Violent vs. Nonviolent Resistance (scene six)

Lesson Six Video: Violent vs. Nonviolent Resistance (Scene Six)


Lesson Six Video: Violent vs. Nonviolent Resistance (scene seven)

Lesson Six Video: Violent vs. Nonviolent Resistance (scene seven)