Critiquing the Traditional Narrative



The View from the Trenches
By Charles Payne

A critique of the master narrative of the Civil Rights Movement.



Uprooting Racism
By James and Grace Lee Boggs

A short history of racism in the United States.



What Happened to the Civil Rights Movement After 1965? Don’t Ask Your Textbook
By Adam Sanchez

Too often, students are taught that the Civil Rights Movement ended in 1965 with passage of the Voting Rights Act. It didn’t. Adam Sanchez argues that it is essential to teach the long, grassroots history of the Civil Rights Movement in order to help students think about today’s movements for racial justice.



What Julian Bond Taught Me
By Jeanne Theoharis

Freedom movements don’t just happen, they are made—and not by charismatic leaders, but by everyday people possessing great courage. Reflections on what Julian Bond taught us about how social movements are built and sustained.

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Advanced Ideas about Democracy
By Vincent Harding

Excerpts from Hope and History: Why We Must Share the Story of the Movement, a well-annotated list of historic events for teaching the full story of the Civil Rights Movement.



The Politics of Children’s Literature: What’s Wrong with the Rosa Parks Myth
By Herbert Kohl

A critical analysis that challenges the myths in children’s books about Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott.



The Limits of Master Narratives in History Textbooks: An Analysis of Representations of MLK
By Derrick Alridge

A study of how U.S. history textbooks present prescribed, oversimplified, and uncontroversial narratives of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that obscure important elements in King’s life and thought.



Nationalism over Democracy: A Critical Analysis of U.S. History Textbooks
By James Loewen

Examination of how U.S. history textbooks misrepresent the role of the federal government in foreign and domestic policy, minimizing the the potential power of the people.



Guns and the Southern Freedom Struggle: What’s Missing When We Teach About Nonviolence
By Charles Cobb Jr.

Asserting their right to defend themselves when attacked was a tradition that safeguarded and sustained generations of Black people in the United States. Yet this tradition is almost completely absent from the conventional narrative of the Southern civil rights struggle.



Nonviolence v. Jim Crow
By Bayard Rustin

This essay, based on an experience Rustin had in 1942, is one example of the countless challenges to Jim Crow and the use of non-violence as a tactic that predate the traditional 1954 start date for the Civil Rights Movement.


Beyond Vietnam
By Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King

On April 4, 1967, exactly one year before his assassination, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his first major speech on the war in Vietnam. In these excerpts he links the escalating U.S. commitment to the war in Vietnam war with its abandonment of the commitment to social justice at home. His call for a “shift from a ‘thing-oriented’ society to a ‘person-oriented’ society” and for us to “struggle for a new world” has acquired even greater urgency than when he issued it decades ago.



Hidden in Plain Sight: Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Radical Vision

This unit attempts to help students penetrate the curtain of clichés and lies the corporate media have erected around Martin Luther King, Jr., in order to make him “safe” for public consumption. 


Freedom Camp: A Teach-in on the MLK Jr. Holiday
By Katie Kissinger

How one group of educators plans a day of activities for children 5 and older to learn about the people, events, and songs of the Civil Rights Movement.



Teaching About Race and the Media
By Julian Hipkins

During the Civil Rights Movement, the media often worked to portray events happening across the country through a lens of white supremacy, ignoring or misreporting tales of state sponsored terrorism. The objective of this lesson is to introduce students to the struggle of African-American in combating the slanted reporting of the era.



Teaching About Nonviolence and Self-Defense
By Julian Hipkins

In the article and the video clip used in this lesson, Charles Cobb talks about the role that self-defense and nonviolence played in the movement. The Civil Rights Movement is often taught as people who engaged in nonviolence as a way of life. Cobb explains that for many, nonviolence was a tactic rather than a way of life. People in communities across the south were prepared to use lethal force when necessary to protect themselves.

Additional Resources

Recommended readings, books, films, and more for further learning about critiquing the traditional narrative.



Mississippi Burning Film: Critical Review
By Judy Richardson

A critical review of the film Mississippi Burning, which ignores the Civil Rights Movement, characterizes the local African-American community as passive victims of racist violence, and lifts the role of the FBI to heroic proportions.



Reinventing My Teaching About the Civil Rights Movement
By Alana D. Murray

Murray describes how she rethought her teaching about the Civil Rights movement to align pedagogically with Ella Baker's ideals, relying on the critical role of colleagues and traditional local leadership in creating and sustaining change.



Teaching About 1963: Civil Rights Movement History
By Julian Hipkins III and Deborah Menkart

The year 1963 was pivotal to the modern Civil Rights Movement. To support teaching about 1963 events, we describe here some of the key events and milestones in the Movement. Where possible we list recommended books, primary documents, film, and articles for learning more.