Grassroots: Direct Actionó1955-1965
Tim Swindell, Owego Free Academy
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This unit is designed for a grade 11 US History and Government curriculum, and covers five class periods with an additional week of student time to complete requirements.
Aims and Objectives:
- Students will understand that the people of the United States sought social change in the years after World War II.
- Students will recognize that the changes brought about by the shift in social, economic, and political variables resulted in the emergence of the African American Civil Rights Movement during this period.
- Students will appreciate the sacrifice many average Americans made in bringing about this movement and its eventual success.
Key Ideas and Essential Questions:
- African Americans used organization and nonviolence as tactics to confront the nation's policies of segregation and racial inequality.
- Civil Rights activists broke down numerous racial barriers through continued social protest.
- Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson furthered the Civil Rights Movement by using the power of the office.
- The Movement acieved its main goal of voting rights and an end to "Jim Crowism," but divisions within the movement resulted in a mixed legacy.
- What were Jim Crow laws and how were they applied?
- What were the tactics used by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in nonviolent resistance to Jim Crowism?
- How did the federal courts play a role in the Civil Rights Movement?
- What were some of the ways in which African Americans challenged the Jim Crow laws of the period?
- What were some of the accomplishments of the Civil Rights Movement.
American history is taught chronologically in many high schools, including Owego Free Academy. Therefore, it is assumed that some of the background knowledge regarding the history of the African American experience is know tot he student. The practices of slavery and the abolitionist movement was taught in an earlier unit. The Civil War and Reconstruction period likewise has preceded this unit. And African American participation in various aspects of the twentieth century has also been studied prior to this unit.
The week preceding this week has been spent in looking at the post-war years and the social and economic aspects of the period. The first handout of the unit is given as part of the background discussion. It is a summary of events of the Civil Rights unit from Reconstruction to the murder of Dr. King. Students are asked to review the material over the weekend.
years, but all available from various internet sources today, which re-examine the events we watched in the video the day before. The slower pace of the discussion allows students to give thought to the connections between the various events and begin to see the impact on people's lives of the discrimination and the potential danger of speaking out. By the end of this period students should have an awareness of the various incidents and events of the time period.
To start the week off we will begin with watching the video A Time for Justice. This video is available from Tolerance.org, a web project of the Southern Poverty Law Center. This video is excellent. It covers many of the events of the period in a frank and open way. The emphasis is on the grassroots nature of the Movement. The video is 38 minutes long and therefore may be shown in one class period, but discussion is limited and follow-up the next day is required.
We start the second day finishing off any questions that students have regarding the video and then continue the discussion of what we mean by "the nature of a grassroots movement." I use a series of photographs, taken from a variety of sources over the
Materials and Documents:
The third day is spent listening to audio recordings from the time period. My favorite is an old (so old it's an actual record album) recording of an interview of Elizabeth Eckford, one of the Little Rock students, describing her experiences. The recording is quite a shock to students who hear in Eckford's own words the graphic details of her experience. While "surfing" for this project I found several places where similar sound pieces are available. In a class period you could easily listen to and discuss two or three such pieces.
The fourth day is spent examining written documents of the period. The web is chock full of opportunities to find documents that would be suitable. I think that looking at Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech with a partner is a good opener. There are court records, interviews, newspaper accounts galore out there to be used. Secondary sources are also available through many publishers. One of the supplemental materials available from the publisher of the textbook we use is a series of articles which give students a good background introduction before they run off to the internet.
The fifth day will be in the library/computer lab, where students will check out selected websites. I will give them a specific list of sites to visit and give them time to see the types of materials available to them.
NY State Standards:
- Standard 1: History of the United States and New York
- Standard 2: World History
- Standard 5: Citizenship and Government
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