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The Civil Rights Movement

  • equality
  • suffrage
  • liberty
  • federalism
  • Fifteenth Amendment
  • Fourteenth Amendment
  • Constitution
  • Declaration of Independence
  • justice

The Civil Rights Movement Activity: Brown v. Board of Education (1954)

Critical 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.

Write or post the following two phrases on the whiteboard: “Jim Crow Laws” and, several inches away from it, “Brown v. Board of Education.” Invite students to explain what they know and understand about each of these topics, as well as to raise questions they may have. During the discussion, correct any factual errors and clarify misunderstandings.

Write or project the Critical Question (above) on the board. Explain to students that they will be analyzing primary source documents in order to formulate their own opinions on the case and that as they do so, they will either correct, or add to, their understanding about Jim Crow laws and the Brown v. Board of Education case.

Distribute Handout A: Case Background – Jim Crow Laws and Brown v. Board of Education. Have students read the case background and related questions.

Distribute Handout B: Document Summary Table. To model the way you want them to carefully read and analyze the documents, lead students through a careful whole-class reading and discussion of Handout C: State and Federal Law and complete the row on Handout B.

Divide the class into four groups to analyze the documents as follows.

  • Group 1: Handout D: Plessy v. Ferguson Opinions
  • Group 2: Handouts E: Images of Segregation and Handout F: Segregation Laws Map, 1953
  • Group 3: Handout G: Court Cases: Brown and Brown II
  • Group 4: Handout H: Supreme Court Decision

Have each group read its assigned documents, discuss and write answers to the related questions, and complete the related sections of Handout B.

Once students have had time to complete their reading and analysis, have Group 1 report the results of their analysis, allowing other students in the class to complete that portion of Handout B. Do the same with Groups 2 – 4, each time allowing other students to complete that portion of Handout B.

Assign a response paper or an essay that addresses the Critical 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. Supporting points should be drawn from Handouts C – H.


The Civil Rights Movement Activity: Persevering from Selma to Montgomery

Distribute Handout I: Primary Sources on the Right to Petition and Assemble Peaceably. As a large-group, read the selections and discuss the related questions at the bottom of the page. Use this exercise to assess students’ background knowledge and understanding of the ideas that will be presented in this lesson.

Distribute Handout J: Perseverance Quotes. Allow time for students to read them then instruct them to select one and write a journal response, focusing on their understanding of what it means to act with perseverance and perhaps providing an example of when they either have done so or wish they had done so.

Using Handout K: Focus Questions, lead a discussion about perseverance and reach a class consensus about a definition, listing class contributions on the board. Explain to students that although the rights to peaceable assembly and petition are protected by the Bill of Rights, groups of individuals have sometimes found it necessary to persevere in their efforts to secure these rights. The next portion of the lesson will focus on one such example.

Distribute Handout L: Selma to Montgomery and Handout M: Analysis – What Happened Between Selma and Montgomery? Assign students to groups of three to four allow time for them to read the narrative, then answer the related questions and to complete Handout M in writing.

Lead a class discussion about both the limits and the merits of perseverance in the case of the Selma-to-Montgomery marchers and others involved in the civil rights movement. Refer back to the Focus Questions as helpful. Directly explore the line between “perseverance” and “obstinacy”. When is “enough enough” or is there a “never say die” approach if the cause is “just” or “right”? Who determines the value of the cause – the individual or the government?

Have students select (either on their own or from a teacher-provided list), from the periods of history the class has studied thus far, a person or group who has exemplified perseverance. Students will write a piece of historical fiction in the form of a three or four-page diary entry written from the point of view of his/her selected person, or a member of the selected group. The narrative should not only be well-written, but should also be explicitly based on well-researched, historically accurate names, dates, people, and events related to the selected person or group. Provide an additional copy of Handout M as a form of scaffolding for this assignment.


The Civil Rights Movement: The Declaration and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Have students read Handout A: The Declaration and Martin Luther King, Jr. and answer the critical thinking questions. Students should then discuss with a partner how Martin Luther King, Jr. justified his argument for equality and civil rights for African-Americans using American Founding documents and principles.

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Votes for Women