Primary Source: “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught” (1958) 


Barry Bradford, Distinguished Lecturer, Organization of American Historians:


Guided Primary Source Discussion Questions 

  • Why do you think the song was so controversial in 1949?
  • Oscar Hammerstein said many people demanded that he remove the song because it “made people uncomfortable.” He said he would close the show rather than remove the song. Should Broadway musicals (and TV shows and movies) sometimes make people uncomfortable?
  • Nellie, who is a patriotic, optimistic, hard-working nurse would have been born in the early 1920s. She thinks prejudice is just something we are born with. Do you agree with her? Are people born with hatred built into them or is it something they learn? And who teaches them?

Additional Online Primary Sources 

Recommended Online Reading 

Read this blog article about the background of the song.

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Jacob Remes on the Salem Fire of 1914

Barry Bradford on “South Pacific” and Racism

Jack Hamilton on Jimi Hendrix

Sarah Gold McBride on the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition

Karen L. Cox on Protesting Black Stereotypes at the Movies: The Case of “Gone with the Wind”

Danielle Fosler-Lussier on Marian Anderson

Felicia Angeja Viator on “To Live and Defy in LA: How Gangsta Rap Changed America” and “The Batterram”

Katherine Rye Jewell on FDR’s “Banking Crisis” Fireside Chat

Davarian L. Baldwin on The Great Migration: The Meaning Behind the Movement: The Meaning Behind the Movement



Barry Bradford has won an award from the President, two from the Congress, and several from leading Civil Rights Organizations. You may remember him from his appearances on the Today Show, The CBS Evening News, and over 75 other media outlets around the world. Barry has even been profiled on Chinese National Television! He is the author of one book, numerous articles and has served as consultant for the writing of the GED exam. Barry may be best known for twice leading teams of students to reopen two of the most infamous “Cold Cases” in the history of the Civil Rights Era. His leadership in the reopening of the Clyde Kennard case created a legal precedent that has cleared the names of three more men who were wrongfully convicted. His tireless work in pursuing justice in the Mississippi Burning case helped lead to a conviction of Ku Klux Klan leader Edgar Ray Killen, and praise from both Barack Obama and conservative Mississippi Senator Trent Lott. Any speaker who can get those two to agree clearly has something to say to us today! Barry Bradford lives in Deerfield, Illinois.  When Barry is not speaking, writing, or working for justice you will likely find him at a Broadway play with his daughter E. J., watching a movie with his son, Zack, doing volunteer work, reading, cooking or walking his rescue bichon Snooky. When asked his philosophy, Barry usually quotes Anne Frank: “How beautiful it is that no one need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”