SUBJECTS — U.S./1945 – 1991; Diversity/African-American & South Carolina;

SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Male Role Model; Work/Career; Education;


AGE: 10+; MPAA Rating — PG;

Drama; 1974; 111 minutes; Color. Available from

Give your students new perspectives on race relations, on the history of the American Revolution, and on the contribution of the Founding Fathers to the cause of representative democracy. Check out TWM’s Guide:

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Movie Worksheets Here.


A young white man volunteers to teach at a school on one of South Carolina’s isolated barrier islands. He finds tremendous cultural deficits among his black students and a racist white educational establishment which doesn’t tolerate innovation. The film is based on the book The Water is Wide by Patrick Conroy.


Selected Awards: None.

Featured Actors: John Voight, Paul Winfield, Madge Sinclair.

Director: Martin Ritt.


“Conrack” can support discussions about the barrier islands and their distinctive Gullah culture. Another potential topic relates to how an individual can try to change society.


MINOR. Smoking and alcohol abuse are shown.


Describe the Gullah culture (see Helpful Background section) and locate Beaufort, South Carolina, on a map. This the nearest city to the fictional Yamacraw Island. Show your child some other sea islands along the southeast coast of the U.S. If your child displays an interest in Gullah culture, have him or her search the Internet for sites relating to the Gullah. Ask the Quick Discussion Question and lead your child through the answer.


Yamacraw Island, the fictional location of the events depicted in this movie, is one of the Sea Islands, a group of low marshy islands located off the coast of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. Before the Civil War the islands contained large plantations that specialized in growing rice and long staple cotton. After the Civil War the newly freed slaves took over the land and lived in isolation for decades. They developed a distinctive culture and dialect both of which are called “Gullah.”

The Gullah dialect is a mixture of several West African languages and pre-Civil War black English. It is not understood by English speaking Americans. Some Gullah words have been absorbed into modern English. They include: “goober,” “gumbo,” and “voodoo.”

Yamacraw Island is said to be just off Beaufort, South Carolina. The major Sea Islands off the South Carolina coast are: St. Helena, Port Royal, Parris and Hilton Head. They are also known as the Barrier Islands.

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What was the value of an education to the children Conroy was teaching?

Suggested Response:

It would permit them to taste the outside world, and if they liked it, to leave the islands.



1. See Discussion Questions for Use With any Film that is a Work of Fiction.

2. What was the origin of the Gullah civilization and what were the unique factors that created it?

3. What is the origin of the Gullah dialect?

4. Why were these kids so backward?



1. Why was it so important to Conroy that the children be permitted to have Halloween on the mainland? Do you agree?

2. What did you think of the principal, Mrs. Scott? What made her the way she was?


3. If you had been in Conroy’s position, would you have dealt with your superiors any differently?

4. Should Conroy have permitted or encouraged the islanders to go on strike to force his reinstatement?

5. Was it important to Conroy to keep his job? Did he act as though it were?


6. Do you think Conrack is a good male role model? What were his strengths and his weaknesses?


Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.


(Treat others with respect; follow the Golden Rule; Be tolerant of differences; Use good manners, not bad language; Be considerate of the feelings of others; Don’t threaten, hit or hurt anyone; Deal peacefully with anger, insults, and disagreements)

1. Evaluate the conduct of the Department of Education officials in light of this Pillar of Character.



This movie is based on the book The Water is Wide by Patrick Conroy. It is suitable for advanced level readers.

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RANDALL KENNEDY, Professor, Harvard Law School on the two alternative traditions relating to racism in America:

“I say that the best way to address this issue is to address it forthrightly, and straightforwardly, and embrace the complicated history and the complicated presence of America. On the one hand, that’s right, slavery, and segregation, and racism, and white supremacy is deeply entrenched in America. At the same time, there has been a tremendous alternative tradition, a tradition against slavery, a tradition against segregation, a tradition against racism.

I mean, after all in the past 25 years, the United States of America has seen an African-American presence. As we speak, there is an African-American vice president. As we speak, there’s an African- American who is in charge of the Department of Defense. So we have a complicated situation. And I think the best way of addressing our race question is to just be straightforward, and be clear, and embrace the tensions, the contradictions, the complexities of race in American life. I think we need actually a new vocabulary.

So many of the terms we use, we use these terms over and over, starting with racism, structural racism, critical race theory. These words actually have been weaponized. They are vehicles for propaganda. I think we would be better off if we were more concrete, we talked about real problems, and we actually used a language that got us away from these overused terms that actually don’t mean that much.   From Fahreed Zakaria, Global Public Square, CNN, December 26, 2021

Give your students new perspectives on race relations, on the history of the American Revolution, and on the contribution of the Founding Fathers to the cause of representative democracy. Check out TWM’s Guide: TWO CONTRASTING TRADITIONS RELATING TO RACISM IN AMERICA and a Tragic Irony of the American Revolution: the Sacrifice of Freedom for the African-American Slaves on the Altar of Representative Democracy.

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