This lesson provides an introduction to the discrimination and segregation that triggered the Civil Rights movement, through the eyes of some of the youngest activists at the time.
Students begin by exploring the purpose of rules and laws in society, as well as some of the basic tenets of the Constitution that address equal rights for all citizens. Next, they examine historical examples of segregation and consider its impact Finally, students examine how civil rights activists responded to segregation laws and how the law changed.
- Explain the purpose of rules and laws.
- Identify the legal origins of civil rights laws.
- Define racial discrimination and segregation.
- Identify examples of discrimination and segregation during the Civil Rights movement.
- Examine responses to segregations law and how students affected change.
Grade Level: 3-5
- One to two class periods
- Sheyann Webb QuickTime Video
- Diane Nash and the Sit-Ins QuickTime Video
- Washington Booker, III QuickTime Video
- Movement Music Medley QuickTime Video
- Segregation Ordinances: Birmingham, AL PDF Document
- A Class Divided 1: The Daring Lesson Real Video
- A Class Divided 2: Day Two Real Video
Before the Lesson
Read over the lesson and familiarize yourself with the resources. View A Class Divided 1: The Daring Lesson and A Class Divided 2: Day Two to see an example of one teacher's controversial lesson about discrimination. Print the Segregation Ordinances: Birmingham, AL to examine a city's segregation laws, watch the video segments of civil rights activists, and read the background article for each resource. Consider and write out exclusion scenarios for small groups, and, depending on the grade level of your class, list any new vocabulary words for your students to learn.
Most importantly, consider the makeup of your classroom. You may want to adjust the lesson to suit your students. Remember that discrimination and segregation are sensitive topics, and unfair laws such as legalized segregation may be difficult for young students to understand.
1. Start the lesson by focusing on the classroom or school community. Ask students to list some of the basic rules and guidelines of the classroom or school. Record their response on the board as you go. Then, ask students:
- Do the rules apply to everyone?
- Why do we need rules?
- Which rules also apply to larger communities, such as our city, state, and nation?
- What if we changed the rules so that they excluded certain people?
- Would this really happen? Why or why not?
2. Depending on your students' background knowledge and grade level, you may want to review or introduce some of the basic tenets of the United States Constitution that provide the legal grounding for equality and individual rights. For example, the Preamble to the Constitution recognizes the equality of all citizens; the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth amendments formally guaranteed citizenship rights for African Americans and prohibited racial discrimination. Help students understand that many of the rules we use at all levels of society are derived from these basic tenets of the Constitution, and are designed to protect individual rights and ensure equal treatment.
Explain that there are examples in American history when individuals' rights were denied because of the color of their skin, also known as racial discrimination. In particular, black and white children were not allowed to go to the same schools, sit together in restaurants, play together, or use the same water fountains or bathrooms (also known as segregation). If students have studied the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., review King's legacy. If you use vocabulary cards, ask students to write down new words and their definitions. Use the Birmingham Segregation Ordinances to give detailed examples of the segregation laws.
3. Use the background articles about Washington Booker, III and Diane Nash and the Sit-Ins to give students an overview of the conditions that triggered their involvement in the Civil Rights movement. Then, show the video segments and discuss the following questions:
- What was Washington Booker not allowed to do that white children could? What was Diane Nash's experience when she went to the South? (Probe students for specific examples of rights that Nash was denied.)
- Was the way Booker and Nash treated fair? Why or why not? (Probe students to examine the way Booker and Nash were treated based on what they know about the Constitution and laws about equality.)
- How did Booker and Nash respond? What were some of the things the did?
- How did the Booker and Nash help change the laws? What was the outcome?
4. Explain that many civil rights activists were arrested for either demonstrating or breaking rules that they thought were unfair. Show the Sheyann Webb and Movement Music Medley video segments to illustrate the role of young students and music during the Civil Rights movement. Explain that many of the people shown in the Music Medley were student who were arrested and jailed for challenging segregation in the 1950s and 1960s. After students have watched, ask the following questions:
- What motivated Sheyann Webb to march?
- What were the risks and benefits of marching?
- Do you think Webb was brave? Why or why not?
- What might you have done in that situation?
- Why are people singing in the Music Medley?
- What do the words and music sound like? How do they make you feel? How do they seem to make the people singing feel?
- Choose words from one song to explore themes of freedom and equality.
5. Divide the class into small groups. Pass out index cards with various scenarios that exclude students in the grade you teach. For example:
- Fourth graders are not allowed to go out to recess.
- Fourth graders cannot use the public park or the library.
- Fourth graders cannot eat in the lunchroom, but must eat at their desks.
- There are no longer buses to and from school for fourth graders.
- Fourth graders cannot use the water fountain and bathrooms closest to the classroom; the water fountain and bathroom for fourth graders is further away, old, and often broken.
Ask students to imagine for a moment that these are new rules, and respond to the following questions:
- How do you feel about being treated differently?
- Was this a fair rule? Why or why not?
- How would you respond?
- What if breaking the rule meant getting punished or arrested?
6. Ask students to list examples of discrimination and segregation that they've learned about. Record their answers on the board. Ask each small group to choose one example, imagine that the example applies to them, and brainstorm possible responses. Each group should discuss the following questions and come up with answers that represent group consensus:
- How would you feel if this was a law that you had to obey?
- Is it fair or unfair? Why?
- What are some things you could do to express your opinion and change the law? Who would you go to?
- What if the law didn't apply to you, but you saw someone else being discriminated against; what would you do?
- How might you get the message out in your community?
7. Have each group work together to create a flyer they would post in their community. Brainstorm questions that a flyer might address; for example:
- What is the problem you're trying to publicize? How can the larger community address the problem? What do you want people to do? How can they get involved?).
- What are some features of a good flyer (e.g., important information; name of organization; eye-catching picture)?
Taking it Further
What other steps can you take in addition to the flyer? Probe students to think about steps they can take as young citizens, such as participating in community events or writing letters to elected officials.