Critiquing the Traditional Narrative



Civil Rights Movement Mythbusters Quiz

Through this quiz, and the answers that appear after each question, you can learn some of the history of the Civil Rights Movement that is all too often omitted from the textbooks.


Key Narratives for Teaching about the Civil Rights Movement

Teaching the bottom-up history of the Civil Rights Movement.



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 Theoharris

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.



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.

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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.



Teaching Eyes on the Prize, Teaching Democracy
By Judy Richardson

Description of the Eyes on the Prize documentary miniseries, the themes that weave throughout, and how the series can enrich classroom learning.



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.



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.



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.



Uncovering the Movement: Staff Development
By Alana D. Murray

A workshop designed to give teachers and other school staff a chance to examine their own understanding of the Civil Rights Movement and consider the impact of the traditional narrative on students.



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.



And the Youth Shall Lead Us: 16 Stories of Young People on the Frontlines of U.S. Social Movements

In light of the outpouring of youth activism for stricter gun laws and against the militarization of schools, Teaching for Change shares these examples of young people at the forefront of social movements throughout U.S. history. We hope these can be useful in the classroom to inform and inspire this generation of activists.



Teaching About 1963: Civil Rights Movement History

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.


Teaching Activity

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

Lesson to introduce students to the speeches and work of Dr. King beyond “I have a dream.”


Teaching Reflection

From Snarling Dogs to Bloody Sunday: Teaching Past the Platitudes of the Civil Rights Movement
By Katie Lyman

Reflection on teaching young children about the Civil Rights Movement.

Teaching Activity

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 Activity

Women Make History

A meet and greet lesson with women from various social justice struggles.


Teaching Activity

Resistance 101: A Lesson on Social Justice Activists and Strategies

A lesson to introduce students to people throughout U.S. history, including many young people, who fought for social justice and civic change using a range of strategies.


Teaching Activity

Freedom's Children: An Oral History Unit on the Civil Rights Movement

A lesson to help children understand the racism faced by African-Americans during the Civil Rights Movement and recognize that young people can help bring about social change by reading and discussing the interviews in Freedoms' Children: Young Civil Rights Activists Tell Their Own Stories.


Teaching Activity

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 Activity

Art and Freedom Songs

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Teaching Activity

Introduction to the Southern Freedom Movement

Medgar Wiley Evers was one of Mississippi’s most impassioned activists, orators, and visionaries for equality and against brutality. This is an interactive lesson to introduce students to his work and inspire them to learn more. The lesson is also designed as a pre-reading activity, providing an overview for students of the people, places, and issues in Evers’ life.


Teaching Activity

Simulation of a Non-Violence Training Workshop
By Dean Spencer

Teaching Activity

Big Shoes to Fill
By Debora Kodish and Teresa Jaynes

A community building activity for teachers or students to write about "in whose shoes I walk for justice" or some way they have walked for justice in their shoes.

Teaching Activity

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

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. 

Teaching Activity

A Revolution of Values
By Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King

On April 4, 1967, exactly one year before his assassination, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered a speech in New York City. It was his first major speech on the war in Vietnam—what the Vietnamese aptly call the American War—and he links the escalating U.S. commitment to that war with its abandonment of the commitment to social justice at home. 


Primary Document

The Borning Struggle
By Bernice Johnson Reagon

Through the story of the growth of the Civil Rights Movement in one town, Albany, Georgia, students get an insider's perspective on how and why people got involved in the Movement, collaboration and tension between groups, the integral role of music as a unifying and strengthening force, and the impact the Movement had on the town and its people.


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