When A Story Captures Our Attention: The Unsolved Case of Kendrick Johnson and Connections to America’s History

The holidays are times spent with family and friends. I, myself, have taken the past two weeks to spend time with my family, disconnect from the computer, reflect on the past year as I make plans and set goals for the upcoming year. I know that while I have the luxury and ability to spend time with my family, others do not. 

The week prior to going on winter holiday I was driving home from school listening to NPR only to hear a news story about a fifteen year old African American male, Kendrick Johnson, from Valdosta, Georgia who was found dead, rolled up in a cheerleading mat at his high school last January.  What is disturbing about this case is that even though there are 3,000 students attending this high school, no one has come forward with any information. And even though there is video surveillance from multiple angles showing Kendrick walking into the gym and never coming out, the school has only released a few minutes of video and has held the rest of the video to protect the identities of other students.  What was ruled by the sheriff’s department as an “accidental” death, this case seems more and more suspicious of fowl play than anything with the school responding with “no comment.” Kendrick Johnson’s parents paid to have his body exhumed and sent for a second autopsy which ruled Johnson’s death due to blunt force to his neck.  This case has gotten national attention as the family continues to call for additional investigations.

I was so intrigued by the radio report about this case that I went home and read as much as I could online.  In my classroom I was preparing my students to read To Kill a Mockingbird and my students spent time investigating both The Scottsboro Boys and Emmett Till.  The Kendrick Johnson case had many parallel’s to Emmett Till, a fourteen year old African American male who was brutally murdered in the south in 1955. 




I shared with my students an article by Jordan Conn from the Grantland Newspaper. Although the article is written in multiple parts making parallels between the history of lynchings in the deep south and Kendrick Johnson’s death, I gave my students the first part of the article to draw their own conclusions, raise questions, and make connections.  My students were enthralled with the case and an emotional discussion followed our reading of the article.

Here is the version of the article I gave to my eighth graders with a short response I assigned focusing on the author’s tone in the article. 


As we begin to read To Kill a Mockingbird this winter, I know my students and I will be thinking of Kendrick Johnson and his parent’s fight for justice just as Atticus Finch seeks justice for Tom Robinson.


During this holiday season I wish you peace and happiness to you and your family.



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