Key Narratives for Teaching about the Civil Rights Movement

These narratives are drawn from an article by Judy Richardson about teaching Eyes on the Prize, a talk by Charles Cobb Jr. in January of 2017, the introduction to Putting the Movement Back into Civil Rights Teaching, and teacher dialogue during a 2017 summer institute at Tougaloo College.

  1. The Civil Rights Movement was a primary force for the expansion of democracy for all.

  2. The Movement was based on the work of thousands of local “ordinary” people who both organized and sustained it.

  3. The Movement thrust forward its leaders, not the other way around.

  4. The Movement was not simply a series of spontaneous demonstrations—it was often carefully planned and executed.

  5. Women and youth were a fundamental part of the leadership and the troops of the Movement.

  6. The tradition of protest grew out of a long history of activism and resistance in the Black community.

  7. The Freedom Struggle had many demands, including an end to state-sponsored and -condoned violence, voting rights, access to health care, education, housing, land rights, environmental justice, peace (anti-war), labor rights, recreation, and more. Quality education has always been a primary focus of the Freedom Movement for African Americans.

  8. The tactics of the Movement included economic boycotts, protests, grassroots organizing, economic coops, building organizational alliances, self-defense, non-violence (both tactical and philosophical), freedom schools, popular education, and more.

  9. State-sponsored and/or -condoned violence, including sexual violence against African Americans was frequent, random, and carried out with impunity.

  10. Most people in the U.S. were not part of the Movement.

  11. Music played a major role in strengthening and unifying the Movement.

  12. Oppression and resistance existed in both the South and the North.

  13. Even the smallest acts of solidarity by white people with African Americans were nipped in the bud with swift and harsh punishment.

  14. The Movement was based on humane values that brought out the best in each individual involved.

  15. The Movement emphasized responsibility to one another.

  16. With few exceptions, the commercial white press in the South (and to some extent in the North) played an active role in promoting white supremacy through lies, omissions, and exposing activists, while the Black press played a key role in supporting the Movement.

  17. A diverse group of national and international participants was involved in the Movement.

© Teaching for Change 2018