Juliette Hampton Morgan: Being a Cultural Anthropologist

Students learn the importance of being an ally through the story of Juliette Hampton Morgan, a white woman who lived in Montgomery, Alabama, during segregation.
Grade Level

  • Students will understand the concept of being a cultural anthropologist.
  • Students will practice being open to multiple points of view.
  • Students will identify personal objects defining elements of who they are and share them with those who seek to be their ally, thus personalizing their respective identity group.

The following quotes are copied from Juliette Morgan Hampton's scrapbook.

"Faith is life lived in the scorn of consequences." -- Juliette Morgan Hampton 

"The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who during a moral crisis preserve their neutrality." -- Dante 

We must remember, as Franklin Roosevelt reminded us, "We are all immigrants." We have reason to be proud of our ancestry, but when we become boastful -- when we become race-proud -- we might remember the joke of the canny Scot who listened to a proper Bostonian brag about his ancestors until he finally remarked dryly, "And I suppose [you] sat up all night deciding [you would not] be born [Chinese]."

A really brave man is the first to recognize courage in others. One of the surest signs of greatness (in nations and in individuals) is the ability to recognize that quality in others. -- Juliette Morgan Hampton 

"Those who refuse to go beyond fact rarely get as far as fact." -- T.H. Huxley 

"Each interprets and understands everything in the world according to their natures and individual experiences." -- Emily Hahn The Soong Sisters 

The one outstanding thing which science cannot do is to control human beings. It has discovered no secret whereby greed, cruelty and lust can be exorcised. It has not abolished fear. When it has done it's utmost to make life comfortable, easy and well ordered, the deeper hungers of human beings remain unsatisfied -- the hunger for love and the hunger for spiritual life. 
-- A. Herbert Gray, D.D. The Secret of Inward Peace


"Always remember that you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else."  -- Margaret Mead, anthropologist

According to the American Anthropological Association, cultural anthropologists seek to understand the internal logic of another society. The goal is to avoid "ethnocentrism," the tendency to interpret customs on the basis of preconceptions derived from one's own cultural background. This process also helps us see through fresh eyes. Objects, photographs, drawings, styles of dress -- all are facets that help a cultural anthropologist analyze a given society in the context of its time and place.

Allies are people who belong to one identity group, yet advocate for justice and equality for another -- whites, like Morgan, who advocate for racial justice, for example. Like anthropologists, allies should avoid ethnocentrism. When allies default to their own identity group's norms and values and fail to consider the framework of those for whom they are advocating, alliances and collaboration at the heart of activist work can crumble.

This lesson helps students practice interpreting the world from multiple points of view -- a key skill in being an effective ally.

Using the images of objects and photographs in this guide, students will become cultural anthropologists. Do a "think aloud" with the students first -- talk through a problem to model the process in this lesson. Pass out copies of the photograph on page six, and give students several minutes to study it. Next, share an interpretation of the image:

"As I look at this photograph, I want to get a sense of Juliette Hampton Morgan. Here she is as a little girl. She is literally on a pedestal, and this might tell me that she was very precious to her family. I know from our reading that she was an only child. She appears to be dressed like a little cherub. And the woman in the photograph, also dressed quite elegantly, is looking at her with what appears to be love and admiration. The picture was probably taken around the turn of the century in Montgomery, Alabama. They were probably very wealthy to be able to afford a picture of this quality."

Invite students to share their perceptions of the photograph.

Make copies of other images in this guide -- photographs, quotes, diplomas and pins -- for students. In groups of three or four, have students discuss the primary documents as cultural anthropologists. Afterward, each group will share perceptions of the documents with the entire class.


Intergroup Activity

Have students bring in four items that are important to them:

  • A photograph
  • A quote or two they like (this might be a poem or the lyrics from a song)
  • A small personal item, something like Juliette Hampton Morgan's pins
  • An award, report card or some other kind of official document

Students should have about 15 minutes to share their objects in pairs, examining them as a cultural anthropologist might. This is a casual exercise meant to be fun, build community and help students learn about their classmates in a richer and deeper manner.

Bring the lesson back to identity groups and alliances, asking students what they learned about the identity group of a student, based on the documents, and what information might make them want to become an ally to this person.


Extension Activity

To extend the dialogue around the possibility and power of allies confronting social justice issues, invite students to bring in artifacts showing different identity groups in alliance. Suggest items like newspaper or magazine photographs, historical or contemporary, showing cross-group affiliation. Personal writings or a favorite book or poem speaking to working together across lines of difference also can be included.