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?
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 (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.