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Tag: Civil Rights (page 1 of 2)

Oral Histories: Students in the Civil Rights Movement

On August 28, 1963, before a crowd of over 200,000 people in Washington D.C., Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered the most famous speech of the U.S. civil rights movement. “I have a dream,” he declared, “that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.”

The March on Washington has become one of the most celebrated moments of the civil rights movement, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is the movement’s most famous leader. But the story of the fight for civil rights has more to it than large marches and speeches on national television.

Often out of sight of the national media, most civil rights activity occurred in local communities, in states like Mississippi, where thousands of everyday people organized themselves to fight against racial injustice. Instead of one national civil rights movement led by a few, we can think of the struggle of the 1950s and 1960s as a series of local movements for racial justice with many participants and leaders.

Judy Richardson was an 18-year-old when she join the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and went to Mississippi to struggle for racial justice. You can get a sense of her experience in the video below.

The civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s was just one chapter in the black freedom struggle. As many historians have noted, African Americans have been fighting for their freedom since the first slave ships arrived in the Americas. The Civil War ended slavery in the United States, but emancipation did not bring equal rights or economic opportunities to black people. While the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s spurred the federal government into action and won many legal rights for African Americans, challenges remain today.

The Choices Program has a free online lesson “Oral Histories: Students in the Civil Rights Movement” that includes videos and stories of students who went to Mississippi, including those of Judy Richardson, John Lewis, Ekwueme Michael Thelwell, and Charlie Cobb. The lesson offers insight into the broad-based nature of the civil rights movement and its role in local communities.

The activists in the videos were not much older than high school students when they joined SNCC. The videos and lessons challenge students to consider important questions:

Did they relate to the SNCC veterans’ stories about joining the movement. Can students imagine themselves participating in the civil rights movement if they had been alive?  Do any students consider themselves activists now? What current civil rights issues or other political issues inspire students in the class? Is there a cause that students can imagine themselves dedicating their lives to? What lessons can students learn from these student civil rights activists?

The New School Year: Processing the Summer’s Events in the Classroom

A lot can happen in a summer. With the new school year already off to a start for some and soon to begin for others, all of us at Choices want to take a moment to recognize the many tragic events that have taken place in the past few months throughout the world. International terror attacks, ongoing wars and conflicts, violence perpetrated against U.S. citizens of color, U.S. law enforcement personnel, and LGBTQ people in the United States, and other acts of violence and hatred have defined this summer, for many, as one of tragedy.

At Choices, knowing how to respond to acts such as these challenges all of us, and certainly there is not a perfect way to do so. But we also believe that these are issues that are on the minds of many students and teachers. Some teachers may find that the classroom can serve as a space in which students and teachers alike may begin to process and heal from these events by thinking critically and engaging one another in discussion. But at the same time, locating resources for facilitating these conversations is not always easy.

In response to this need, we wanted to remind teachers of resources that we offer, including two of our recent free, online Teaching with the News lessons—Black Lives Matter: Continuing the Civil Rights Movement (updated August 2016) and our Resource Guide on the Orlando Nightclub Shootings (June 2016). In addition to these resources, you may also find our blog post Approaching Race in the Classroom, Actively useful. In addition, Choices offers the curriculum unit Responding to Terrorism: Challenges for Democracy.

In our recently updated lesson on the Black Lives Matter Movement, students work in groups to review an interactive timeline of black activism in the United States from the 1950s to today and identify core themes of the civil rights and Black Lives Matter Movement. In our resource guide on the Orlando Nightclub Shootings, we have compiled an annotated list of sources that offer suggestions for various classroom approaches to the many dimensions of the nightclub attack in June 2016. Finally, in our blog post on approaching race in the classroom, we provide a wide array of information on relevant resources for teachers looking to discuss race in their classrooms. 

We hope that these resources prove useful as you navigate these difficult—but important—events and topics in the classroom throughout the upcoming school year.

Continual Reconstruction: The Confederate Flag Controversy in the Classroom

The Confederate flag stands—or sits in a museum display case—as a symbol of very different sentiments depending upon perspective.

For some, the flag flies in pride of past Civil War fighters and American heritage, but to others, it is an archaic symbol of racism, segregation and slavery in the United States. Following the fatal shooting of nine African Americans at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, Governor Nikki Haley finalized a bill to remove the flag from the state capitol building on July 10, 2015.

“No one should ever drive by the statehouse and feel pain. No one should ever drive by the statehouse and feel like they don’t belong.”  Governor Nikki Haley

When the Charleston shooting first spurred national debate about whether the Confederate flag should be lowered, one female activist took it upon herself to scale the 30-foot flagpole and remove the battle flag herself.

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June 27, 2015. Bree Newsome climbs South Carolina Capitol building’s flagpole, removes flag.   Washington Post.

“I’m prepared to be arrested,” Brittany Ann “Bree” Newsome told police, who demanded that she come down. Then she climbed a bit higher to unhook the flag before descending to greet the authorities, who handcuffed her and immediately put the flag back in its former position.

Newsome spoke for a greater community when she explained her motive:

”We can’t continue like this another day. It’s time for a new chapter where we are sincere about dismantling white supremacy and building toward true racial justice and equality.” —”Bree” Newsome

Politicians have struggled to reach an agreement about how to best honor history through the flag’s placement. A majority of civilians and government officials haven chosen instead to focus on what lies ahead; whether or not the flag represents a commendable moment in time, it does not represent the future of the United States.

An immense, mostly cheering crowd gathered to see the official lowering of the Confederate flag on July 10 — in the state that was the first to secede from the United States in 1860. Back then, Southern states that depended upon slave labor saw Abraham Lincoln’s election as a threat to their lifestyle and liberty. South Carolina lead the way in separating from the Union to form a new nation called the Confederate States of America. Ten other Southern states followed suit: Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Texas, Louisiana, Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Tennessee. The ideological and legal division between the (Northern) United States and the Confederate States of the South led to the Civil War.

[mediacore height=”375″ public_url=”https://brown.mediacore.tv/media/was-the-american-civil-war-a-war-over-slavery” thumb_url=”https://mediacorefiles-a.akamaihd.net/sites/11066/images/media/3668705l-6ZtcRbOI.jpg” title=”Was the American Civil War a war over slavery?” width=”670″]

“It wasn’t just about rights for African Americans, it was about reconstructing the nation…. It was about wholesale re-conceptualization of rights, on a national and international scale.” — Michael Vorenberg

Tensions continued to rise after officials removed the Confederate flag from the South Carolina Capitol. On July 19,  confrontation occurred at a rally between members of the Ku Klux Klan and the New Black Panther Party.   At the height of the Klan in 1925, there were an estimated 5,000,000 members, while in the Civil Rights era (in the 50s and 60s) there were about 42,000 members. Approximately 24,000 remain today. While the KKK has diminished over time, this is the first Klan rally in South Carolina since the late 1980s.


Perceptions of race and its relevance throughout history remain a highly contested topic. Still able to provoke anger and pain, past instances of racial inequality can be difficult to discuss.   For students and future leaders who will likely face similar challenges, this history is important to learn.

New standards of the Texas State Board of Education in 2010 will introduce a new social studies curriculum to 5 million public school students this upcoming semester. Many people are concerned that stories of suffering and fighting for civil rights are veiled, important lessons left unlearned.

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Black History Month Series #2: Women in the Civil Rights Movement

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“You had these women who were just amazingly strong… that didn’t mean there wasn’t sexism,” recalled Judy Richardson in an interview with the Choices Program about her experiences in the Civil Rights Movement. Richardson was explaining the involvement of women in SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee), one of the most important Civil Rights organizations in the 1960s. SNCC’s most valuable work was in grassroots, community-led initiatives like voter registration drives, where the members and activists worked directly with the most downtrodden of disenfranchised people of color. Richardson, in remembering the work, makes reference to how important this hands-on interaction was and how it was often forgotten by larger Civil Rights organizations that took a more elite, patriarchal approach to racial justice.

The Civil Rights era is one of the most important moments in African-American history and in women’s history. It is a moment when African-American women played a vital part in defining U.S. history. Women of color were instrumental in leading the Movement, in engaging in powerful acts of protest, and in dynamically shaping action against discrimination. Judy Richardson remembers one of these women, her mentor and leader, Ella Baker, in the following video.

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The powerful leadership and bravery Richardson celebrates in remembering Baker’s contribution can be attributed to many women of color who played defining roles in the Civil Rights Movement. Rosa Parks, for example, became a role model for courage and commitment in the face of racial injustice when she refused to give up her seat to a white man on an Alabama bus. Women like this are a vital part of the memory of the Civil Rights Movement.

But so many women of color have been excluded from how this history is often told. While other women had already been arrested for refusing to give up their bus seats, they did not gain the fame that Parks achieved. Many scholars suggest that this was because Parks fit a very specific model of how black women should act and appear. Women of color who did not project this precise image of quiet respectability were not held up as heroes. In fact, the very issues that Judy Richardson recalls seeing in 1960s American society and that she remembers as limiting certain parts of the Civil Rights Movement have also limited our own perceptions of the history. Women of color have far too often been forgotten as unimportant and insignificant, and many have been ignored because of their class, sexuality, or gender-expression as well as their race. Some of the incredible acts of heroism by LGBT women of color have been written about, but they are not part of the broader, more widely known history of the Movement, which prefers traditional, male figures for its heroes. These women are the tragically excluded heroes of the American past.

 

For more on forgotten figures in black history and “politics of respectability” see this HuffPostLive discussion.

For more on women civil rights activists, see this collection of biographies.

 

Interviews with Judy Richardson are an accompaniment to the full-length Choices unit,

Freedom Now: The Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi

View more video interviews on Civil Rights and other topics at our Scholars Online page.

 

Free Speech: From Skokie to Paris

FreeSpeech

On January 7, 2015, two gunmen attacked the Paris headquarters of the French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, and killed twelve people. The attacks are presumed to be in response to several controversial cartoons that the magazine published depicting the Prophet Muhammad. The events have ignited a global debate on the topic of freedom of speech, explored in Choices’ free online lesson, The Struggle to Define Free Speech: From Skokie to Paris.

Days after the attack, millions of people marched in rallies across France. Many carried posters and banners inscribed with the phrase “Je suis Charlie” (French for “I am Charlie”) to show solidarity with the magazine. Sales of Voltaire’s Treatise on Tolerance have skyrocketed in recent weeks in France, and much of the nation’s population has rallied around his, and their own, staunch belief in freedom of thought and condemnation of censorship.flag copy

Yet the magazine has also drawn criticism from individuals and leaders around the world who contend that the cartoons went too far. Critics point to the magazine’s long history of publishing content that, in their opinion, stokes Islamophobia and racism. They question why cartoonists have used their pens to further fracture a country and world already fraught with tension and intolerance.

Turkey, Morocco, and other countries have banned the distribution of Charlie Hebdo. Violent demonstrations have broken out in several places, including Pakistan, where parliament has even passed resolutions condemning the publication, stating that, “This is an attempt to divide peoples and civilisations. There is a need to promote harmony among people and communities instead of reinforcing stereotypes and making people alienated in their own countries.” Pope Francis has chimed in, declaring that insults against the faith of others are beyond the limits of acceptable free speech.

Still others, including many who disapprove of the content of the cartoons, caution against government interference in the free flow of ideas. They stand by the belief that the irreverence of cartoonists, journalists, and artists is a transformative and essential force in a healthy society. Teju Cole writes, “[I]t is possible to defend the right to obscene and racist speech without promoting or sponsoring the content of that speech. It is possible to approve of sacrilege without endorsing racism. And it is possible to consider Islamophobia immoral without wishing it illegal. Moments of grief neither rob us of our complexity nor absolve us of the responsibility of making distinctions.”

“But drawing the line between speech that is disgusting and speech that is dangerous is inherently difficult and risky,” states a recent New York Times editorial. France has been quick to arrest and prosecute those who have uttered words of support for the attacks, even when defendants have not threatened violence. Some have criticized French authorities for having a double standard when it comes to expression.

Despite many important distinctions, much of the current discourse on France echoes a debate that shook the United States almost forty years ago—In 1977, a Neo-Nazi group proposed marching through the streets of Skokie, Illinois, a small city that was home to many Jewish survivors of the Holocaust. The ACLU defended the Nazi’s right to march, the Anti-Defamation League sued in an attempt to prevent it, and people throughout the United States wrestled with the question of how to interpret the First Amendment.

Are there limits to freedom of expression? What should they be? And what can we gather from the cases of Skokie and Paris to help us decide? Challenge your students to explore these questions with the Teaching with the News lesson, The Struggle to Define Free Speech: From Skokie to Paris.

Photos by photograpix (CC BY 2.0) and Tim (CC BY-SA 2.0).

One of the interesting things about the protests of the grand jury decisions in Ferguson and New York is how they are understood and interpreted.  TV news or the headlines tend to focus and report on them as responses to the grand jury decisions themselves, which they certainly are. But a long history is also at play here that can get missed or overlooked. Reading the signs or listening to protesters, one can hear calls for the end to systemic injustice and impunity—impunity that has affected African American victims of white violence for centuries. Underlying the protests is the belief that the justice system has never worked the same way for all of us.

December 3, 2014.
Photo by Charlie Magovern/Neon Tommy
(CC BY-SA 2.0).

This short clip of Dave Dennis giving the eulogy at the funeral of the murdered civil rights worker James Chaney in the summer of 1964 is a painfully apt illustration of this doubt about the justice system.

http://youtu.be/_jKNHS0NV2c

The clip omits his conclusion to “You see, I know what is going to happen. I feel it deep in my heart – when they find the people who killed those guys in Neshoba County….” What didn’t make into the clip was what Dave Dennis said next… “they [will] come back to the state of Mississippi and have a jury of all their cousins and aunts and uncles. And I know what they are going to say: Not guilty.”

As protests continue, there is an opportunity to add historical perspective to the debates that are playing out around all of us.  Race and the history of relations between white and black people in the United States remains a charged and challenging topic. Tackling this challenge can bring the reward of new understanding of the past as well the present for students. The Choices Program has curriculum resources that engage students with this historical context and provide a foundation to consider what’s happening right now.

Freedom Now: The Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi can be used as a springboard for explorations of current race relations in the United States. It gives students a good understanding of the historical underpinnings of racial inequality, drawing clear connections between inequalities of the past and inequalities that exist today.

There are free videos of scholars answering fundamental questions about this history as well as free activities and resources.

 A Forgotten History: The Slave Trade and Slavery in New England seeks to inform students of the economic and social impact of slavery and the slave trade in the North. Historians comment that New England has “forgotten” its slave-owning past, and that such a narrative—one that remembers abolition but not enslavement—has had far-reaching consequences for black-white relations and the nature of race in the United States.

There are free videos of scholars answering questions as well as activities and resources.

The March (1963)

The National Archives recently released a digitally restored version of the 1963 documentary The March directed by James Blue. The 30-minute film chronicles the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28th, 1963.

http://youtu.be/DQYzHIIQ1O4

While (regrettably) the most iconic moment of that event, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech has been redacted for copyright reasons, it’s the rarely seen footage of ordinary citizens traveling across the country and participating in the march that make this film remarkable.

Details on the making of the film can be found here.

50 Years after the March on Washington: Student Activist Stories

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. This day gives us an exceptional reason to reflect on that event, the civil rights struggle, and the challenges that remain. It is important that students not only focus on the philosophy and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but also on the experiences of women, students, local organizers, and others who fought for equal rights. In this Teaching with the News lesson, 50 Years after the March on Washington: Student Activist Stories, you will hear the voices of activists who worked in local communities to bring about change. The lesson features short films with three veterans of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC): John Lewis, Judy Richardson, and Charlie Cobb. They share their motivations for joining the movement as young people and describe their daily life in the fight for equal rights. We hope your class (or friends, or whoever you may share this with) will consider what they would have done if they had been students in 1963. What lessons can we learn from these activists? What causes or movements do we feel connected to today?

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This lesson builds off some of the core themes covered in the Choices curriculum, Freedom Now: The Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi, an entire unit dedicated to understanding the local work in Mississippi, from sit-ins to voter registration drives. As your class discusses the March on Washington, consider using these resources and others to incorporate a wide array of perspectives on the movement. Below are a few additional links.

50 Years Forward

PBS: Freedom Riders

Time Magazine: One Dream

Jean Shepherd and the March on Washington

Jean Shepherd (1921-1999) was a fantastic story-teller who spun finely woven tales on the radio from the late 1940s into the 1990s. The stories were seemingly off-the-cuff improvisations about life as a kid in a steel town in Indiana, his time in the army, etc. The stories were often funny, but they were also filled with rich detail, quirky and vivid characters, and philosophical insight. He was an accomplished writer as well. In later years, one of his stories was made into the movie A Christmas Story that is replayed over and over during the holidays. The movie sells him short, I think. His material is better with him delivering it as a monologue over the airwaves and leaving our imagination to color in the details.

On a few occasions he would talk about significant events—he did following the death of President Kennedy. He was also a participant in the March on Washington, which he talked about on the air the next day. I have included audio clips here in three parts of this radio show. It’s a perspective that is interesting and a little different than what we are used to hearing. His excitement about the events is clear. His comments about understanding history really ring true to me too. In any case, if you can forgive my rough audio editing, and you have half an hour, I think you’ll find it worthwhile to listen all three parts.

Audio: Part 1-1963 08 29 March On Washington

Audio: Part 2-1963 08 29 March On Washington

Audio: Part 3-1963 08 29 March On Washington

The Choices Program is marking the 50th anniversary of the March by releasing a Teaching with the News lesson that explores the role of young people in the civil rights movement, including Representative John Lewis (D-GA). We had the good fortune to film him recently and have included him in the lesson.

Virtual Exhibits

Teachers from all disciplines should check out the Google Cultural Institute. The institute partners with museums across the world to create virtual exhibits on topics including the Holocaust, Apartheid in South Africa, the Cold War, and the civil rights movement. Each exhibit paints a visually compelling story with the use of primary sources: photographs, posters, pamphlets, documents, etc. Exhibits also include short paragraphs that provide useful (and interesting) information, but the historical artifacts take center stage. The Civil Rights Movement in the Bay Area is one of my favorites. The Nelson Mandela Digital Archive Project is also fantastic. All in all, the Google Cultural Institute offers a dynamic lens into history. Watch the institute’s video below for further information on how to best navigate the website. Enjoy!

http://youtu.be/mpplbJMj-No

 

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