Teaching the Civil Rights Movement
Which of the following statements offers the best
interpretations of the civil rights movement?
A. The American South had a long tradition of racial
oppression, but during the civil rights movement, the
weight of American institutions - the presidency, the
judicial system, the media, the American sense of fair
play--were finally brought to bear on the problem,
leading to remarkable changes in southern race
B. Far from being the solution, American institutions
have always played important roles in the creation and
maintenance of racism. What happened in the
movement was that civil rights activists were able to
maneuver around those institutions to alleviate some of
the system’s worst features.
Problems with the traditional
1. Placing so much emphasis on national
leadership and national institutions minimizes the
importance of local struggle and makes it difficult
for students for appreciate the role of “ordinary”
people played in changing the country.
For example the great emphasis on national
leadership, on the church, and legal institutions.
the emphasis on the church has included a focus on
morality - which oversimplifies the motives of actors
2. The top-down perspective distorts the
complexity of the black community - its
class, gender, regional and ideological
It also presumes that the most important
historical markers have to do with
It implies that the movement can be
understood solely through large-scale,
3. The concentration on the period between
mid-1950s and the mid-1960s (the
Montgomery to Memphis) framework
negates the significance of the long
struggle for equality and the shifting
constraints that confronted African
The Great Migration
Q. Did the migration stimulate a national
movement for civil rights?
Many Americans began to realize that segregation and
discrimination were no longer uniquely Southern
The rise of black neighborhoods in northern and
western cities compounded the problems of
segregation and discrimination and
Allowed for the flowering of African-American cultural
movements such as the Harlem Renaissance of the
1920s and 1930s.
One Way Ticket (Langston Migration Series
I pick up my life,
And take it with me,
And I put it down in
Any place that is
North and East,
And not Dixie.
I pick up my life
And take it on the train,
To Los Angeles, Bakersfield, See http://www.pbs.org/gointochicago/
Seattle, Oakland, Salt Lake (section “Art and Poetry) for complete
Any place that is the poem, images, and other resources.
North and West,
And not South.
“New Negro” Protest and Pride
Fights against residential segregation
Pan-African Congress (1900, 1919)
Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (1925)
A. Phillip Randolph
Black Protest during the Great
NAACP and W.E. B. Du Bois
Voluntary vs. involuntary segregation
National Negro Congress (1936)
Economic democracy and unionization of black workers
A. Philip Randolph elected president
“Don’t buy where you cant work” campaign (1932-
New York stores
Washington DC businesses
Highlander Folk School
Son of a Tennessee sharecropper
Wanted a school where
the curriculum was about activism.
A place where coal miners, steel workers, and
mill workers could go to learn how to organize.
Committed to an interracialist/egalitarian
Rising Expectations: World War II and
African-American Protest Politics
March 1941, Randolph proposed a new
civil rights strategy: a massive march on
Washington D. C.
The immediate end to segregation and discrimination in
federal government hiring.
An end to segregation of the armed forces.
Government support for an end to discrimination and
segregation in all American employment.
What did the MOWM want?
“When this war ends, the people want something more than the dispersal of equality and
power among individual citizens in a liberal, political democratic system.
They demand with striking comparability the dispersal of equality and power among the
citizen-workers in an economic democracy that will make certain the assurance of the good
life - the more abundant life - in a warless world...Thus our feet are set in the path toward
[the long-range goal of] equality - economic, political and social and racial.
Equality is the heart and essence of democracy, freedom and justice. Without equality of
opportunity in industry, in labor unions, schools and colleges, government, politics and
before the law, without equality in social relations and in all phases of human endeavor, the
Negro is certain to be consigned to an inferior status.
There must be no dual standards of justice, no dual rights, privileges, duties or
responsibilities of citizenship. No dual forms of freedom...But our nearer goals include the
abolition of discrimination, segregation, and jim-crow in the Government, the Army, Navy,
Air Corps, U.S. Marine, Coast Guard, Women's Auxiliary Army Corps and the Waves, and
defense industries; the elimination of discrimination in hotels, restaurants, on public
transportation conveyances, in educational, recreational, cultural, and amusement and
entertainment places such as theaters, beaches and so forth.
We want the full works of citizenship with no reservations. We will accept nothing less.”
WWII Protest Politics
Double V Campaign The Zoot Suiters
“Regarding the Double V “The Zoot-Suit and Style
Campaign see Warfare”
“Zoot Suit Riots” at
Zoot suit riots, 1943
Congress of Racial Equality (CORE)
Fellowship of Reconciliation (1914)
Est. in April 1942 on the University of Chicago
The creation of CORE marked the beginning of a
mass movement for civil rights.
May 1942 began non-violent “sit-down”
Interracial founders committed to Ghandian techniques
of “nonviolent direct action”
Their tactics provided an important example for later
civil rights activists.
Beyond Brown… “with all deliberate
Led student walk-out April 23, 1951
Virginia pioneers “massive resistance” strategy, 1956
With the powerful political machine of Senator Byrd VA put
together the most effective resistance strategy
GA made it a felony for a state or local official to spend
funds on desegregated schools
Miss and LA made it illegal for children to attend racially
The “massive resistance” strategy of VA authorized the
closing of any public schhol ordered to desegregate and
approved state-supported tuition grants for white
In late 1958 and early 1959 officials closed schools in
Norfolk, Charlottesville and
In 1959, local
officials closed the
system of Prince
What happened in
Emmett Till (1941-1955)
“Emmett Till and the Impact of
Images” see www.npr.org
Site contains various relevant
web resources, including Jet
Great site for documents and
images regarding Emmett Till’s
murder. See “Reactions in
Montgomery Bus Boycott
The Rosa Park Myth
Why is it problematic - what is obscured?
Highlander Folk School
Jo Ann Robinson
De-centering men -- debunking another myth
Who are these Women?
March 2, 1955 December 1, 1955
Student Activism and the Emergence of a Mass
Focus: Students developed new strategies and
revitalized old ones that help to escalate the civil
rights struggle and broaden its base. Their tactics
included sit-ins, freedom rides, jail-ins, boycotts,
voter registration drives, and marches.
Goal: To help students understand how/why the
involvement of students transformed the movement.
Greensboro Lunch Counter Sit-in (Feb. 1, 1960)
Consider the following statement by journalist Louis
Lomax, "They [the sit-ins] were proof that the Negro
leadership class, epitomized by the NAACP, was no longer
the prime mover in the Negro's social revolt. The
demonstrations have shifted the desegregation battles
from the courtroom to the marketplace.“
See “Greensboro Sit-ins: Launch of a Civil Rights
Movement” at http://www.sitins.com/index.shtml. Site
contains photographs, documents, and audio clips from
Greensboro participants and civil rights leaders.
Ella J. Baker (June, 1960)
“Bigger than a Hamburger”
The Student Leadership Conference made it It was further evident that desire for
crystal clear that current sit-ins and other supportive cooperation from adult
demonstrations are concerned with leaders and the adult community was
something much bigger than a hamburger or
even a giant-sized Coke. also tempered by apprehension that
Whatever may be the difference in approach adults might try to "capture" the
to their goal, the Negro and white students, student movement. The students
North and South, are seeking to rid America showed willingness to be met on the
of the scourge of racial segregation and basis of equality, but were intolerant of
discrimination - not only at lunch counters, anything that smacked of manipulation
but in every aspect of life…. or domination.
By and large, this feeling that they have a This inclination toward group-centered
destined date with freedom, was not limited
to a drive for personal freedom, or even leadership, rather than toward a
freedom for the Negro in the South. leader-centered group pattern of
Repeatedly it was emphasized that the organization, was refreshing indeed to
movement was concerned with the moral those of the older group who bear the
implications of racial discrimination for the scars of the battle, the frustrations and
"whole world" and the "Human Race." the disillusionment that come when
This universality of approach was linked with the prophetic leader turns out to have
a perceptive recognition that "it is important heavy feet of clay….
to keep the movement democratic and to
avoid struggles for personal leadership."
Student Activism and Direct Action
Choosing to participate-Choosing to stand up
Student Sit-ins -- A break with the past
The beginning of a mass southern “movement”
SNCC vs SCLC
1940s (NAACP);1950s (SCLC); 1960s (SNCC)
“Baker left the SCLC after the Greensboro sit-ins. She
wanted to help the new student activists and organized a
meeting at Shaw University for the student leaders of the sit-
ins in April 1960. From that meeting SNCC was born.”
Different leadership style than MLK
Believed in organizing not mobilizing
Believed in “group centered leadership” vs “leadership-centered
“civil rights” vs. “American democracy”
SNCC: What do we want?
Q. What is the basic goal of SNCC?
A. To change society so that the have-nots can share in it.
Q. What is SNCC’s basic goal, that makes it unique?
A. The NAACP, Urban League, etc., do not CHANGE society, they want
to get in. It’s a combination of concern with the black goal for itself and,
beyond that, with the whole society, because that is the acid test of
whether the outs can get in and share in equality and worth. By worth, I
mean creativity, a contribution to society. SNCC defines itself in terms of
the blacks but is concerned with all excluded people.
Q. Has there been a change in SNCC’s goal over time?
A.During the sit-in movement, we were concerned with segregation of
public accommodations. But even then we recognized that that was only
a surface goal. These obvious “irritants” had to be removed first; this
was natural. Some people probably thought this in itself would change
race relations; others saw deeper.
A Movement in Transition: SNCC
SNCC went through three stages.
First: 1960 to 1963 (Sit-ins and Freedom Rides)
Second: 1963 to 1964 (Freedom Summer) A time of transition
which sparked a reconsideration of nonviolence
Nearly 1,000 volunteers worked in Mississippi that
summer. During those months, 6 people, were killed, 80
beaten, 35 churches burned, and 30 other buildings bombed.
Third: 1965 to 1967. A trip to Africa by several SNCC leaders,
discussions with and about Malcolm X, and growing alienation
between blacks and whites inside SNCC was capped by the
Watts riot in August, 1965. The following June, "Black Power"
became SNCC's battle cry in a march led by James Meredith
The Freedom rides a CORE project with strong support from
SNCC when buses forced to stop in Alabama
The Freedom Riders left Washington DC on May 4, 1961.
They were scheduled to arrive in New Orleans on May 17,
the seventh anniversary of the Brown decision. The
Freedom Riders never made it to New Orleans.
Significance: They forced the Kennedy administration to take a
stand on civil rights, which was the intent of the Freedom
Ride in the first place. In addition, the Interstate Commerce
Commission, at the request of Robert Kennedy, outlawed
segregation in interstate bus travel in a ruling, more specific
than the original Supreme Court mandate, that took effect
in September 1961.
Freedom Songs of the Civil Rights
Bernice Johnson Reagan
Student of Septima Clark
Sweet Honey in the Rock
“In congregational singing you don’t sing a song - you raise it. By
offering the first line, the song leader just offers the possibility, and
it is up to you, individually, whether or not you pick it up or not…it
is a big personal risk because you will put everything into a
song…Organizing is not gentle. When you organzie somebody, you
create great anxiety in that person because you are telling them to
risk everything….When you get together at a mass meeting you sing
the songs which symbolize transformation, which make the
revolution of courage inside of you…..you raise a freedom song.”
December 1961, the Birmingham City Commission closes the city’s 67
parks, 38 playgrounds, and 4 golf courses rather than integrate.
Step 1. April 3, 1963, King’s “Birmingham Manifesto’ and sixty-five
blacks staged sit-ins in five stores --Police Commissioner Bull
Conner dragged twenty of them away to jail.
April 10 demonstrators paraded before city hall and picketed the
stores --Connor piled 300 into jail.
Step 2. April 13th “Good Friday” - Protestors march to City Hall for
King jailed. More demonstrations follow.
April 16, 1963, “Letter from Birmingham City Jail”
MLK “Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging
darts of segregation to say, “Wait.” …comes a time when the cup of
endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged
into the abyss of despair. I hope sirs, you can understand our
legitimate and unavoidable impatience
Step 3. May 2, 1963 (D-Day) Large demonstration of more than student
protesters began a march from 16th street Baptist Church. They
were arrested. The mass protest continued.
On Sept. 15, 1963, the all-Black Sixteenth Street Baptist
Church was bombed. Sunday school was in session.
“Ballad of Birmingham”
5/02/church.bombing/ Includes Lesson Plan
Ballad of Birmingham
"Mother dear, may I go downtown She has combed and brushed her
Instead of out to play, night-dark hair,
And march the streets of Birmingham And bathed rose petal sweet,
In a Freedom March today?" And drawn white gloves on her small
"No, baby, no, you may not go, brown hands,
For the dogs are fierce and wild, And white shoes on her feet.
And clubs and hoses, guns and jails The mother smiled to know that her
Aren't good for a little child." child
"But, mother, I won't be alone. Was in the sacred place,
Other children will go with me, But that smile was the last smile
And march the streets of Birmingham To come upon her face.
To make our country free." For when she heard the explosion,
"No, baby, no, you may not Her eyes grew wet and wild.
go, She raced through the streets of
For I fear those guns will fire. Birmingham
Calling for her child.
But you may go to church instead She clawed through bits of glass and
And sing in the children's choir." brick,
Then lifted out a shoe.
"O, here's the shoe my baby wore,
But, baby, where are you?"
Significance of events in Birmingham
1. Signaled a profound change in the direct-action campaigns in the South.
As Bayard Rustin put it in 1963:
For the black people of this nation; Birmingham became the moment of truth. The
struggle from now on will be fought in a different context... For the first time, every
black man, woman and child, regardless of station, has been brought into the
struggle. Unlike the period of the Montgomery boycott... the response to
Birmingham has been immediate and spontaneous. Before Birmingham, the
great struggles had been waged for specific, limited goals. The Freedom Rides
sought to establish the right to eat while traveling; the sit-ins sought to win the
right to eat in local restaurants; the Meredith case centered on a single Negro's
right to enter a state university. The Montgomery boycott, although it involved fifty
thousand people in a year-long sacrificial struggle, was limited to attaining the
right to ride the city buses with dignity and respect. The black people now reject
token, limited or gradual approaches. The package deal is the new demand.
2. Birmingham moved Kennedy to action.
Announced that a new Civil Rights Bill would be presented to Congress on June
includes transcript and audio of JFK’s June 11, 1963 speech.
Mississippi -- summer of 1964
Successes: The Mississippi
project established fifty
Freedom Schools to carry on
Significance: The events of
Freedom Summer deepened
the division between those in
the civil rights movement who
still believed in integration and
nonviolence and others,
especially young Afro-
Americans, who now doubted
whether racial equality was
achievable by peaceful means.
Within the community
Purpose: “to fill in an
intellectual and creative
vacuum in the lives of
Mississippians, and to get
them to articulate their
own desires, demands
and questions…to stand
up in classrooms around
the state and ask their
teachers a real question.”
The Legacy of Freedom Summer
"What [the Summer Project] achieved more
than anything else, I think, it exposed the
system—from top to bottom," Dave Dennis,
the Mississippi Director of the Congress of
Racial Equality in 1964.
Transformation of the Civil Rights
The myth -- the 1964 Civil Rights Act and
1965 Voting Rights Act are seen as the
final chapter in the southern civil rights
The Acts established legal guarantees
Problem: the struggle more complex
Example: school desegregation
New Directions: 1966-68
Focus: The changing face of the civil rights
Goal: Help students understand why the
expectations created by the civil rights
movement met with frustration in the mid-
1960s and how their disappointment and
frustration aroused a new urgency among
black civil rights activist.
A new King
Have students identify the ways in which Martin Luther King, Jr. is portrayed in the
mass media, and specifically, which of his ideas are communicated to the public.
1966: King in Chicago
1967: Poor People’s Campaign
In his words: “Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups
seldom give up their privileges voluntarily we know through painful
experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must
be demanded by the oppressed.”
“The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our
nation until the bright day of justice emerges.”
“A true revolution of values will lay hands on the world order and say of
war: "This way of settling differences is not just." This business of burning
human beings with napalm, of filling our nation痴 homes with orphans and
widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples
normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields
physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled
with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to
spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is
approaching spiritual death.”
Martin Luther King, Jr. and the War
So I was increasingly compelled to see the
war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it
as such. Perhaps the more tragic recognition
of reality took place when it became clear to
me that the war was doing far more than
devastating the hopes of the poor at home. It
was sending their sons and their brothers and
their husbands to fight and to die in
extraordinarily high proportions relative to the
rest of the population. We were taking the
black young men who had been crippled by
our society and sending them eight thousand
miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast
“Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Asia which they had not found in southwest
Break Silence” By Rev. Martin Georgia and East Harlem. So we have been
repeatedly faced with the cruel irony of
Luther King 4 April 1967 watching Negro and white boys on TV
http://www.hartford- screens as they kill and die together for a
hwp.com/archives/45a/058.html nation that has been unable to seat them
or together in the same schools. So we watch
them in brutal solidarity burning the huts of a
http://www.americanrhetoric.com/ poor village, but we realize that they would
speeches/mlkatimetobreaksilence. never live on the same block in Detroit. I could
htm not be silent in the face of such cruel
manipulation of the poor.
Stokely Carmichael “What We Want”
September 22, 1966
“One of the tragedies of the struggle against racism is that up until now there has been no
national organization which could speak to the growing militancy of young black people
in the urban ghetto. There has been only a civil rights movement, whose tone of voice
was adapted to an audience of liberal whites. It served as a sort of buffer zone
between them and angry young blacks. None of its so-called leaders could go into a
rioting community and be listened to. . .
For too many years, black Americans marched and had their heads broken and got
shot. They were saying to the country, ‘Look, you guys are supposed to be nice guys
and we are only going to do what we are supposed to do - why do you beat us up, why
don’t you give us what we ask, why don’t you straighten yourselves out?’ After years
of this, we are at almost the same point - because we demonstrated from a position of
weakness. We cannot be expected any longer to march and have our heads broken in
order to say to whites: ‘come on, you’re nice guys.’ For you are not nice guys. We
have found you out. . . .
Black power can be clearly defined for those who do not attach the fears of white America
to their questions about it. We should begin with the basic fact that black Americans
have two problems: they are poor and they are black. All other problems arise from
this two-sided reality: lack of education, the so-called apathy of black men. Any
program to end racism must address itself to that double reality. . . .
For racism to die, a totally different America must be born…..”
Black Power and the Black Panthers
October 1966 (H. Newton & B. Seale)
BP Ten Point Program
The Legacy of MLK
Which of the following best reflects your
understanding of the role of MLK in the civil rights
A. Dr. King was the main force behind the civil
B. The course of the movement was influenced by
a great many people, among whom Dr. King was
perhaps the most visible and best known to those
outside the movement.
Why debunk the myths?
“I think that knowledge of the past is vital
but historical knowledge is not an end in
itself. The more we learn about the past,
the more we must recognize that we learn
about it in order to bring a more humane
society into being in this country.
Otherwise, historical knowledge is
meaningless.” James Farmer
Please note this presentation is for workshop
Please address all source inquiries to the
presenter: Wendi N. Manuel-Scott