The Civil Rights Movement

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1 The Civil Rights Movement Writer - Tedd Levy, former Social Studies teacher, Education Consultant, and past President of the NCSS Editor - Kimberly Gilmore, Ph.D., The History Channel Introduction: For many older Americans, the civil rights movement was a period of intense struggle and great differences over equal rights and the nature of our government and way of life. Many students react with shock or disbelief when they learn about unequal conditions in the United States during the 1950s and 1960s. Changing the long history of racial discrimination was not an easy task, nor was it fully completed. Thinking critically and carefully about the civil rights movement allows students to explore many of the issues at the core of American history and democracy. Teachers should keep in mind when pursuing these lesson plans that this topic excites passions and should be discussed with sensitivity. National Standards: These lessons address NCSS curriculum standards associated with the themes of: Time, Continuity and Change Culture People, Places and Environments Individual Development and Identity Individuals, Groups and Institutions Power, Authority and Governance Civic Ideals and Practice Introduction to Educator: These lessons focus on the civil rights movement and the struggle for racial equality in the United States in the mid-20th century. To place these tumultuous events in historical context, students should have some understanding of the long struggle by African Americans for racial equality and civil liberties, including familiarity with the U.S. Constitution and civil rights amendments, slavery and emancipation, Jim Crow laws, hate groups and violence, segregation, and the role of law and civil rights. Through these lessons, students will be asked to explore the following essential questions: What are the basic rights of citizens in a democracy? How can citizens secure their rights if they are denied? What objectives, obstacles, and accomplishments were evident during the struggle for civil rights in the 1950s and 1960s? The lessons and activities address social studies and history skills, and abilities to help students think chronologically, engage in historical analysis, interpretation, and decisionmaking, and conduct historical research. A valuable source of nearly 200 civil rights speeches can be found at The History Channel speeches and video library at: historychannel.com/broadband/home/. To find historic places of the civil rights movement, go to: cr.nps.gov/nr/travel/civilrights/. 1 saveourhistory.com May

2 Activity #1: Questions About Equal Rights Students should understand several key terms in considering this topic: segregation, integration, Jim Crow, civil rights, and civil disobedience. In conducting a general discussion using the questions that follow, be sure to examine and clarify terminology. In the history of the U.S. have all people always had equal rights? What rights have been denied to some people? Do all people in the U.S. today have equal rights? What people in the U.S. today, if any, are denied their rights? Then provide the list of statements below to students and have them indicate whether they agree or not, and have them support their response with historical information or personal explanations. In small groups, or as an entire class, discuss the statements and why people would see them as acceptable or not acceptable and why there may be strong differences of opinion. Directions: Indicate if you think the statements below are accurate by placing a check in the box that best represents your views: strongly agree, agree, disagree, or strongly disagree. Be prepared to explain and discuss how you reached your decision. Considering Rights Strongly Agree Agree Disagree Strongly Disagree Everyone in the U.S. has the same rights under the Constitution and the laws of the country. Everyone in the U.S. has the same rights in theory but not in practice. People in the U.S. are treated the same regardless of their race, religion, nationality, gender. Many people in the U.S. are prejudiced against minority groups. Many people in the U.S. discriminate against minority groups. Laws can change people s behavior. Laws should never be disobeyed. The government interferes too much in the private lives of citizens. In U.S. history, African Americans have suffered more discrimination than any other group. The government today prevents discrimination against all minority groups. 2 saveourhistory.com May

3 Activity #2: The Shape of The Struggle A scattering of civil rights actions occurred prior to and during World War II, but it was when large numbers of African-American veterans returned home after the war that opposition to racial discrimination became more pronounced. Jackie Robinson broke the so-called color line in baseball in President Harry Truman issued an executive order integrating the armed forces in And a number of school segregation cases began to move through the lower courts, ultimately culminating in the U.S. Supreme Court delivering the landmark Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka decision in Brown v. Board of Education is often considered the key event which ignited the broader civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Some of the many important events that occurred are listed ahead. Assign one or more topics to each student to create a drawing of an object that represents the event. For example, a picture of the Supreme Court for the Brown v. Board of Education case, a profile of MLK, a bus for the freedom ride, etc. With each representation, students should research, write and attach a brief essay describing the event and its connection to the civil rights movement. Place the drawing on cardboard or poster paper. When students have completed their visual representations and mini-reports, have them prepare a timeline on paper posted along a classroom wall or bulletin board. Divide the timeline into equal spaces representing each year from 1954 to 1968 and have students arrange their projects in chronological order. Have students report on their event and have the class decide on a title for different sections of the display. Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 1954 Murder of Emmett Till, 1955 Montgomery bus boycott, Little Rock, Central H.S Civil Rights Act, 1957 Sit-ins begin, 1960 Freedom rides begin, 1961 James Meredith enrolls at Univ. of Mississippi, 1962 Martin Luther King jailed in Birmingham, 1963 March on Washington, 1963 Bomb kills four African-American girls in Birmingham church, 1963 Freedom summer for voter registration in Mississippi, 1964 Murder of civil rights activists James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, 1964 Civil Rights Act, 1964 Malcolm X assassinated, 1965 Selma march for voter rights, 1965 Voting Rights Act, 1965 Stokely Carmichael and Black Power, 1966 Thurgood Marshall becomes first African-American Supreme Court Justice, 1967 Martin Luther King assassinated, 1968 Rioting in over 100 cities, 1968 For information regarding these and many other civil rights events, see the Library of Congress s American Memory at: memory.loc.gov/ammem/aaohtml/exhibit/aopart9.html. 3 saveourhistory.com May

4 Activity #3: Changing Laws and Traditions During the civil rights struggle of the 1950s and 1960s, a number of key confrontations occurred as African Americans pressed for social and political justice against an entrenched status quo. Having clear objectives, a thoughtful strategy, a willingness to take risks, and a determination to overcome ultimately led to many successes. But, of course, it was not easy nor without setbacks. There was significant resistance to the civil rights movement and substantial violence against those who fought for their rights and their supporters. There are many cases where students can examine important events within the context of changing unfair laws through direct non-violent action and civil disobedience. Explain to students that they will have an opportunity to put themselves in the place of African Americans or their supporters attempting to gain equal rights in the U.S. during the 1950s and 1960s. Divide the class into five groups and give each a situation in which they are to propose ways to bring about changes to advance civil rights. Explain that in each case it is likely that the majority of the population opposes what they want to do and are not in favor of any change. Each of these situations is based on actual events but students should not be informed of this. Divide the class into groups and assign each group one situation. Their task is to develop the most effective strategies to bring about change in the face of strong opposition. Situations: 1 Local laws and customs required African Americans to sit in the rear of the public bus. 2 Local laws and customs prevented African Americans from eating at the whites only lunch counter. 3 Federal bus regulations require that African Americans sit apart from whites and not use the same facilities in bus terminals. The law was changed but the new regulations are not being enforced. 4 Local department stores were separated by race and African Americans were discriminated against in seeking jobs. 5 State laws and traditions (especially in Mississippi and Alabama) prevent African Americans from registering and voting in elections. For each of these cases, you can give students as much additional information, without identifying the actual event, as you think useful. The cases are: 1 Montgomery Bus case, Sit-in movement in Greensboro, NC, Freedom rides, buses and facilities throughout South, Birmingham, Alabama, Children s Crusade, Freedom summer (Mississippi, 1964) and march for voter rights (Selma, AL), 1965 Ask students in each group to respond to the following questions: 1 What is their goal? 2 What are your plans for accomplishing your goal? Strategy? 3 What are the risks? What are the costs? 4 What do you expect from those who disagree with your actions? 5 What are your plans to handle the consequences? 6 How do you accomplish your goal? Have the groups present and discuss their situations and plan of action. In a constructive way, others might critique the plans. Discuss concepts such as law and order, civil disobedience, equal rights, prejudice and discrimination, the role of governments, the difficulty of bringing about social change, and so forth. Inform each group of its actual situation and have them research that event to find answers to the above questions. To complete this section of study, have students prepare a federal law prohibiting discrimination and providing for equal rights. Compare the students laws with the actual Civil Rights Acts of 1964, Voting Rights Act of 1965, or the Civil Rights Act of For brief background essays about each of these events, and many others in African-American history, see: watson. org/~lisa/blackhistory/contents.html. 4 saveourhistory.com May

5 Activity #4: Profiles of Purpose Many events associated with the civil rights movement can be identified with specific individuals. To take advantage of student interest in people, have them research and develop answers to a series of questions about a civil rights leader of this period. Students may also choose a leader of their own from the African-American community, or from other civil rights movements of the period. A selective list of individuals that might be included is: Marian Anderson, James Farmer, Fannie Lou Hamer, Jesse Jackson, John Lewis, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., Thurgood Marshall, James Meredith, Rosa Parks, A. Philip Randolph, Jackie Robinson, Bayard Rustin, Roy Wilkins. Working with the class you can develop key questions to form an outline for gathering information. Some questions and topics that might be included are: Describe the person s early life; family, education, etc. Who were important or influential people on the life of this person? With what civil rights event were they most closely involved? What did the person hope to accomplish? Who opposed this? What were their reasons? What were the greatest obstacles and difficulties? How did the person deal with the challenges he or she faced? What were their views on non-violence? Civil disobedience? Find out if this person is still living. If so, find an address and write a letter to him or her asking what he or she thinks today of those events during the civil rights movement. When a sufficient number of student investigations have been completed and shared, discuss with the class: What were the goals of the civil rights movement? What were the strategies used by participants in the civil rights movement? What were the major accomplishments of the civil rights movement? Explain why you think the civil rights movement was, or was not, a success. How did the civil rights movement illustrate the strengths and weaknesses of a democracy? Activity #5: Making History Local People are available in many communities who remember or were involved in the civil rights movement. They are valuable historic resources with firsthand knowledge and memories of this time. Using local libraries and historical society archives, have students research local newspapers and other publications during the civil rights period to identify local individuals who were active in the civil rights movement. Students can use the questions above, or similar ones, to organize their search for information. After obtaining sufficient information students should prepare short biographies of these local people. In some cases, further research involving recorded interviews might be appropriate. (Be sure to review the procedures for collecting oral histories from the History Matters website of George Mason University at historymatters.gmu.edu/mse/oral/.) These reports can be supplemented with drawings or photocopies of significant newspaper articles or documents and designed as pages in a book. Compile all student reports into book format. Copies of the book can be placed in the library or presented to individuals and organizations in the community. 5 saveourhistory.com May

6 THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT Activity #6: Making History Local Invite several people who were active in the civil rights movement to participate in a roundtable discussion in class. Have a local newspaper person or radio or television person serve as a moderator and provide time for student questions. With permission, videotape the discussion and show on parents night or some other special occasion. Upon completion of the round table discussion, have students prepare written descriptions of the civil rights movement in their community as seen through the eyes of those who were involved. Activity #7: Defining the Dream The March on Washington and Martin Luther King s speech have become highlight events in U.S. history and many students are aware of some aspects of these occasions. Before reading or listening to King s speech, ask students what they think it means to talk of the American Dream. What is the dream? Does everyone have this same dream? Why is this terminology used? What have been the obstacles to achieving the American Dream? Why is this ideal important? Have students read or listen to King s 1963 I Have a Dream speech. Have them note each statement from the speech that begins I Have a Dream What does each of these statements mean? Have students select those that they think are most important and prepare a poster or bulletin board illustrating King s dream. Include a title for you poster or bulletin board display. Discuss the extent to which King s dream has come true. Read this speech at: usinfo.state.gov/usa/infousa/facts/ democrac/38.htm. To see an excerpt of this speech, go to The History Channel site at historychannel.com/briefband/ searchbrowse/index.jsp. Further opportunities to pursue this topic may be realized by having students write letters to local or public figures asking them what they see as the American dream and how successful they, as individuals, and we, as a country, have been in achieving it. 6 saveourhistory.com May For access to a massive collection of searchable documents, photographs, and memorabilia see The Library of Congress, American Memory at: memory.loc.gov/ammem/browse/ ListSome.php?category=African%20Amer ican%20history.

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