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The Civil Rights Movement

90 min

Guiding Questions

  • Assess the role played by the Supreme Court as the protector of individual rights against the tyranny of the majority in Brown v. Board of Education (1954).


  • Students will analyze a series of primary source documents in a Document Based Question (DBQ) format in order to evaluate the role of the Supreme Court as protector of individual rights from the 1870s through the 1960s.

  • Equality
  • Civil rights
  • Suffrage
  • Selma, AL
  • Liberty
  • Montgomery, AL
  • Federalism
  • Individual rights
  • Fifteenth Amendment
  • First Amendment
  • Fourteenth Amendment
  • Perseverance
  • Constitution
  • Declaration of Independence
  • Justice

Have students read The Civil Rights Movement Essay prior to class time to establish context for the primary source documents they will be analyzing in this lesson.

Use Handout A: Case Background – Jim Crow Laws and Brown v. Board of Education to review Jim Crow Laws and Brown vs the Board of Education, and then have students write on the board the answers to these questions:

  • What were Jim Crow laws?
  • What did the Supreme Court rule in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896)?

Provide Handout B: Document Summary Table and model its use as a graphic organizer by walking the whole class through analysis of Handout C: State and Federal Law. Divide class into 4 groups to analyze the documents listed below. Each group should fill in the section of Handout B corresponding to their assigned documents.

After the groups have worked through their assigned documents, have each group report to the class what they learned, allowing other students to fill in the corresponding rows of the Document Summary Table.

Ask and discuss: To what extent did the Supreme Court protect the rights of African Americans in the period between 1890 and 1960?

Define the term perseverance, write it on the board, and provide Handout J: Perseverance. Have students choose their favorite quote on the page and invite a few students to explain their favorite quote and tell why.

Students will remain in groups. Distribute Handout L: Selma to Montgomery – Crossing the Bridge. Provide time for the students to read the narrative and discuss it in their groups. Handout M: Analysis – What Happened Between Selma and Montgomery? provides scaffolding questions if needed. Invite a few students to read aloud their favorite passages from the narrative and explain why.

Distribute Handout A: The Declaration and Martin Luther King, Jr. Have students complete the reading and answer questions in their groups. Reconvene the class as a whole and ask, What relationships do you see between King’s words in 1963 (Handout A: The Declaration and Martin Luther King, Jr.) and the actions of the marchers in Alabama two years later?

In whole-class discussion, ask: How did the words and actions of those who worked in the Civil Rights Movement help prove the significance of the ideals of the Declaration of Independence?

Use the handouts and notes for Handouts A – H to write a response to the DBQ Guiding Question: Assess the role played by the Supreme Court as the protector of individual rights against the tyranny of the majority in Brown v. Board of Education (1954).

Student Handouts

Next Lesson

Votes for Women