What are three historical references from The Help by Kathryn Stockett that lend depth to the understanding of African-American culture in the American South?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Historical references in The Help illuminate the intensely difficult struggle for equality African-Americans waged in the deep South.

The novel's opening shows the historical condition that gave birth to the Civil Rights Movement.  Hilly wants to enforce the law of segregation in the homes of Jackson's residents.  Her insistence on separate bathrooms for African-Americans and whites highlights segregation's degrading reality.  People like Aibileen who tended to the children of white families were not permitted to use the same restroom. The intensity of Hilly's desire is evident in how she wants to criminalize owners of public facilities who do not utilize segregated restrooms. Hilly's zealousness shows what Southern African-Americans had to confront.  The Supreme Court's decision in Plessy v. Ferguson made segregation "the law of the land."  African-Americans had to battle Southern whites' insistence on preserving this practice. 

As Skeeter's book is taking form, her publisher insists that she quickly finish. Skeeter protests, arguing that she needs time to collect evidence.  However, her publisher tells her about the March on Washington, suggesting to Skeeter that the struggle for racial equality is going to occupy national significance. The March on Washington is where Dr. King delivers his "I Have a Dream" speech.  As a result, national consciousness begins to pivot towards the need for equality.  A heightened awareness of the Civil Rights Movement develops as a result of Dr. King's efforts at the March on Washington.  This historical detail shows how life for Southern African-American culture changed when the nation began to develop a greater understanding of civil rights.

Finally, the shooting of Medgar Evers is a historical event in The Help that demonstrates the full extent of the struggle that Southern African-Americans faced in their fight for equality.  Evers was a prominent figure in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP.)  An activist that demonstrably challenged racism and discrimination, Evers was shot in the driveway of his home.  His assassination showed to Aibileen and Minnie the intense dangers of speaking out against injustice in the South.  They recognized that if members of hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) could kill Medgar Evers right outside his home, in front of his family, they were taking great risks in writing the book with Skeeter. The shooting death of Medgar Evers is a historical event that depicts the risks that African-Americans in the South faced when speaking out against injustice.