Introduction

By Jenice L. View, Washington, D.C.

[A] misunderstanding of the Black freedom movement—and therefore of the history of this country—had dire consequences for everyone, especially for all of us who believe that there is still the possibility of creating “a more perfect Union” in this land. As a result, one of the major challenges available to teachers in every possible institution is to introduce ourselves and our students to an alternative vision of the movement, to see it as a great gift for all Americans, as a central point of grounding for our own pro-democracy movement.
—Vincent Harding (1990), Black History is America's History

Still, more than a decade after the first of edition of this book, the teaching of the Civil Rights Movement perpetuates the notion of a spontaneous, emotional eruption of angry but saintly African Americans led by two or three inspired orators which discounts the origins, the intellect, and the breadth that guided this complex social movement. Rather, strategic brilliance, logistical messiness, exalted joy, heart-gouging sorrow, sharp tactical conflicts, and near-religious personal transformations are all part of the very human story of ending legal racial segregation in the United States. In addition, the traditional civil rights story tends to focus exclusively on the Black freedom struggle, ignoring its intersection with struggles of all people for justice, in the U.S. and internationally.

We have published this new edition to challenge the typical story of the Civil Rights Movement, which, in the name of honoring Black history, is actually a disempowering narrative. By moving beyond “heroes and holidays,” we uncover and humanize the stories of all the many, many ordinary people who performed heroic acts in the name of social justice, and at the local level as well as nationally. In doing so, readers are able to learn useful lessons about their roles in this world, to develop strategies to address pressing problems in their lives and community, and to see themselves as agents of change. A major difference in this new edition is that it serves as a resource guide with a laser focus on the decades-old movement(s) for Black lives from the time of the 1896 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Plessy v. Ferguson ushering in Jim Crow policies to today.

This book is not intended as a curriculum with step-by-step instructions or a textbook.  Since the first edition there has been the creation of the Zinn Education Project (www.zinnedproject.org) and other resources that capture more of the broader people’s history of the United States, and many of these websites provide field-tested lesson plans and primary sources. Much more of the content referenced in this edition exists in digital form on the www.civilrightsteaching.org website. Instead, this edition of Putting the Movement Back into Civil Rights Teaching offers teachers, parents, and others materials and lesson plans for presenting readers a more rounded and action-oriented history that includes and affects us all. 

Criteria for Selection

We chose material with strong academic content that: (1) meets or exceeds national standards for history and language arts; (2) contains useful background information and/or lessons for classroom teachers; (3) is classroom-tested; (4) offers interdisciplinary applications; and (5) uses at least one of the six lenses described below for interpreting and understanding the Civil Rights Movement. We were just as careful to select materials that reflect a philosophy of critical teaching, such as the progressive teaching methods pioneered by Brazilian educator Paulo Freire and the inclusive educational content crafted by Black scholar Carter G. Woodson. This philosophy is grounded in the beliefs that the purpose of education is to create equality and justice, that students must play an active part in the learning process, and that teachers and students are both simultaneously learners and producers of knowledge. The materials encourage students and teachers to challenge barriers to student achievement, analyze how injustice is reinforced, and develop information and skills for creating a just world. In addition, the online resource guide provides many excellent books and videos that help students understand the conditions that created the need for social justice movements such as the Civil Rights Movement.

How the Book Is Organized

The materials are organized into eight categories. Section One, Critiquing the Traditional Narrative, offers several examinations of the traditional narratives of the modern Civil Rights Movement, by extending the timeline beyond the 11 year period of 1954 to 1965; by complicating the language of the “good” and “bad” guys that are used to teach young children; by reconsidering the terminology and the names assigned to historical eras; by exposing examples of media and curricular censorship in challenging the traditional narratives; by placing the tactic of non-violent resistance in the context of self- (sometimes armed) defense; and by sharing some of the ways that the modern Civil Rights Movement was inspired by and influenced a range of domestic and international struggles for justice.

Section Two explores the Desegregation of Public Spaces, including schools, transportation, and commercial and government establishments. The readings and lessons in this section describe the attempts and victories of people to be treated as human beings, to be treated fairly, to enjoy fully the rights articulated in the U.S. Constitution and Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and to exercise the ensuing responsibilities of citizenship.

Among these responsibilities is voting, as discussed in Section Three. The historical fight for African American Voting Rights, often met with extreme violent denial, was won partially with the 1965 Voting Rights Act, only to be gutted in 2013 by the U.S. Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder. This section includes descriptions of a variety of freedom schools that have attempted to uphold marginalized cultures, to promote excellence, to prepare all youth for public leadership, and to help students learn to read the word and the world, as well as and voting rights resources.

Section Four presents a closer look at the myriad ways the Black Power Movement extended the critique of capitalism and colonialism offered by the Civil Rights Movement. In addition to seeking the rights of citizens within the existing U.S. culture, the Black Power Movement argued for a transformation of culture defined by what (and who) is beautiful, funny, worthy of praise and emulation, nourishing, comforting, and the sources of our strength.

The stories of Land, Labor, and Economics in Section Five include those of labor movements as a parallel narrative to securing political power. Organized labor was an important laboratory for social change in the workplace, and the arguments for a section on land, labor and economic issues are many. Certainly, we are reminded that the 1963 March on Washington was a March for Jobs and Freedom, not the “I Have a Dream March.” In his 1967 book Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? Dr. King expressed the belief that “the depressed living standards for Negroes are a structural part of the economic system in the United States [where] certain industries are based on a supply of low-paid, under-skilled, and immobile nonwhite labor.” Many northern and southern activists during the Civil Rights Movement learned organizing skills through earlier work with labor unions. At the time of his assassination, Dr. King was helping the African-American sanitation workers in Memphis secure fair wages and better working conditions. Among the ways that institutionalized racism continues to be encoded is through the outright theft of land, the environmental racism that intentionally pollutes the natural resources located in communities of color, and the denial of wealth-building resources such as affordable home loans. We have also included sports in this section, as the labor of athletes is too often exploited. Economic equity and the redistribution of wealth are commonly perceived to be precursors to or the companions of meaningful civic participation, hence the discussion here.

Section Six connects the domestic Civil Rights Movement with International struggles for human rights, independence, and resistance to colonialism. This section intends to inspire today’s students to continue the struggle for universal human rights. Leonard Peltier writes from prison that “to heal we will have to come to the realization that we are all under a life sentence together… and there’s no chance for parole.” And as Sonia Sanchez states: “If We the people work, organize, resist/ come together for peace, racial, social/ and sexual justice/ it’ll get better/ it’ll get better.”

Section Seven provides concrete examples of Student Projects that challenge the traditional narrative of the Civil Rights Movement as well as student activism.

In the section on Connections to the Present, Section Eight, the articles examine the way historical anti-war and criminal justice themes echo in the contemporary movements for Black and Brown lives, as well as the tactics, old and new, for youth organizing.

Each section of the book contains a list of Resources that highlights the books, films, and tours for bringing the Civil Rights Movement into the classroom at all grade levels, as well as links to many of the other social justice movements that intertwined with the Civil Rights Movement. The resources include lists of key websites for teaching about the Movement, including www.civilrightsteaching.org.  Finally, the new format of this edition – as a digital, on-demand text -- allows us to update resources and materials almost as soon as they are available, keeping the book relevant.

Lenses for Viewing the Civil Rights Movement

We examined the materials through six lenses, intending to fill the typical gaps in standard Civil Rights Movement teaching. The six lenses women, youth, organizing, culture, institutional racism, and the interconnectedness of social movements guided our choice of texts and images. In selecting photographs and other visual images, we literally attempted to show women, youth, organizing, cultural variations, manifestations of institutional racism, and the interconnectedness of movements; this proved to be a bigger challenge than expected because archives are full of head shots of famous people. In the texts, the lens is a metaphorical magnifying glass on a particular theme. Sometimes, the narrator of an article makes a passing reference to an influence that significantly shapes her or his actions; in these cases the lens is subtler.

Through organized religion, conventional wisdom, and the law, women have all too often been discouraged if not banned from participation in public debate and from holding public leadership outside of female-only groups. Nevertheless, women have voiced public opinion and exercised leadership from the earliest days of European encounter, slavery and abolition, various wars, women’s suffrage, and women’s liberation movements. We bring particular attention to “Women Make History” (Menkart, Murray, & View) because it brings forward the stories of more than 35 phenomenal women activists who are seldom celebrated in standard texts. The biographies presented here are mere miniatures of the full and complex lives of these women, and these women are only a few of the many who merit recognition. However, it is a start toward broadening the education and perspective of students of social movements.

Economic and social forces over the course of the 20th and early 21st centuries reduced the public role of youth to little more than consumers. With compulsory schooling laws and laws against exploitive child labor, youth were encouraged to pursue schooling rather than compete with adults in the employment market. Economic shifts created a loss of unskilled jobs, making formal education a greater necessity for everyone; one result is that youth now spend more years “apprenticing for real life.” The primary “action” performed by contemporary youth is to shape a separate, media-driven culture, generating billions of dollars for adult companies. Politically, youth are expected to absorb and conform to adult society uncritically, yet countless examples from the Civil Rights Movement show young people exercising strategic thinking, challenging the authority of white supremacy and of community elders seeking to protect them, and changing the turn of political events at the local and national levels. The value of intergenerational power-sharing is evident through stories about the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee such as Reagon’s recounting the ministers and teachers like “Ma Lat” who openly supported youth organizing as well as those who did so behind the scenes.  Contemporary youth can be themselves the makers of history, not passive customers, as is evident in student campaigns to include Paul Robeson in music textbooks (Giles), efforts to save and renovate a landmark school significant in Washington DC’s unique history of school desegregation (Davis), and Newkirk’s piece on the Black Lives Matter movement.

The celebrity media culture became even more pervasive with the widening popularity of television in the 1950s and 1960s. The coincidental timing with the Civil Rights Movement was both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, the unedited brutality of white supremacy was witnessed worldwide and helped put pressure on policymakers for change. However, it also served to glamorize the marches, rallies, and arrests at the expense of the long, sometimes boring, and always difficult process of organizing people to change their attitudes, behaviors, votes, and spending habits. The creation of media stars robs power from the collective efforts of the many hard-working people who comprise social movements, even though it may be easier to teach about charismatic individuals. Douglas describes a process drama that brings to life the organizing associated with the sit-ins. In Murray’s lesson on the Montgomery Bus Boycott, participants experience all of the many decisions and setbacks associated with that yearlong effort.  Crosbye describes the decades-long struggles to achieve voting rights in Selma, Alabama. Some of the materials highlight the second-guessing and the conflicts among planners and activists so children can learn about the complexities of organizing and avoid their elders’ mistakes. Pieces like “Freedom Song: Tactics for Transformation” (Murray), the lessons on the Selma voting rights struggle, and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party help the reader understand the complex tactics and strategies that lie behind the observable movements for change and the range of talents and personalities required to achieve success.

Enduring movements for social change transform the landscape in which people live their daily lives, or their culture. Music, visual images, language, clothing/hair, religion, and leadership styles are often the arenas where the transformations are most apparent. The interracial and cross-generational nature of the Civil Rights Movement created new symbols and new uses for culture as a way to attract “converts.” For example, View’s essay “Soul Power and the People” speaks to the politics of Black hair in a single 1969 classroom. Many of these cultural shifts influenced other social movements as well. Through the lens of culture, we see how familiar culture was used as an organizing tool. As importantly, culture is a way to tap emotions, empathy and solidarity. As many of the first-person accounts demonstrate, many people within the various social justice movements were directly inspired by one another and felt connections beyond their own racial identities and national borders, such as Guillen’s poetry about the “Struggle Against Two Racisms” in the U.S. and Cuba, and Neruda’s “Ode to Paul Robeson.” Julian Bond’s “Vietnam: An Anti-War Comic Book” was an early effort at politicizing a popular cultural format in addition to showing that cultural expressions are central rather than peripheral to building a community of activists.  Bode and Schmidt offer an art lesson, “Remembering the Memphis Sanitation Strike: A Collaborative Mural” that invites participants to create art as they are deepening an understanding of politics.

In the United States institutionalized racism promotes the ideology that: (1) there are separate races among humans; (2) that the “white race” is superior; and (3) that this supremacy must be reinforced (violently, if necessary) in schools, banks, churches, the workplace, real estate agencies, law enforcement, the judicial system, and other institutions that govern daily life, with the purpose of exploiting other “races” and preserving privilege for “whites.” Young readers, especially, need to understand that racism comes in faces other than the white-sheeted Klan member and the law enforcement officer with attack dogs and fire hoses. We also want to emphasize that eliminating legal segregation was only one part of dismantling the continuing vestiges of institutionalized racism. “Our House Divided” describes how the G.I. Bill following World War II accelerated housing discrimination, (Rothstein) and “Stealing Home” continues the patterns of predatory lending and the theft of communities (Christensen).  In “Is This America?” Hipkins and Menkart explore the persistent barriers to Mississippians (and by extension, other poor people and people of color) to voting. “Looking for Justice at Turkey Creek” (Thames) shows how the environmental justice movement is a clear extension of what is referred to as the civil rights movement by addressing institutional environmental racism. It is important to show that personal and organized resistance to white supremacy by Indigenous Peoples, by people of color, and by whites has existed since the beginning of European contact in the Americas. Through this lens readers will see why dissent is often difficult to exercise especially in the face of this subtle, invisible racism but that it has always been part of the fabric of public policy and Americans’ personal experience of what is called “race.”

Finally, as inspiring and compelling as is the story of the Civil Rights Movement, it is interconnected to other social movements and to the historical and ongoing human call for justice worldwide. In the 20th century alone, Civil Rights Movement activists were connected with the anti-lynching movement, the Spanish Civil War resistance, the labor movement, tenant farmer organizing, Roosevelt’s New Deal, India’s independence, the desegregation of U.S. military forces, African liberation from colonialism, the American Indian Movement, the Chicano movement, the Asian American movement, the farmworkers’ movement, the women’s movement, the antiwar movement, the Free South Africa movement, the solidarity movement, liberation theology, the sanctuary movement, lesbian/gay liberation, the environmental justice movement, and, even, some would argue, the tactics used in the antiabortion and religious fundamentalist movements. Wolfe-Rocca’s reading on COINTELPRO infiltration in multiple movements is an explicit exploration of these intersections. “Big Shoes to Fill” offers personal opportunities to experience the interconnectedness of movements, as does the “Related Struggles Meet and Greet.” The essay on “Asian American Civil Rights Activism” (Lin and Murray) and others present dissent as a positive, dynamic, hopeful force that improves the quality of democracy and, in the process, can improve the lives of all.

We encourage teachers to use the six lenses as they teach about the Movement in order to ensure that they are covering the breadth and depth of the story: Are women or youth perspectives included in a given lesson? Can students connect a given Civil Rights Movement event to other movements? Can students identify the role of institutionalized racism in creating a particular organizing strategy? How did culture (or a clash of cultures) influence the strategy or outcome of an event? What were the visible and invisible organizing steps taken to produce a particular action? And so on.

James Baldwin reminded us in his “Talk to Teachers” that “American history is longer, larger, more various, more beautiful, and more terrible than anything anyone has ever said about it, so is the world larger, more daring, more beautiful, and more terrible, but principally larger and that it belongs to [the student].” He also warns that “in the attempt to correct so many generations of bad faith and cruelty, when it is operating not only in the classroom but in society, [teachers] will meet the most fantastic, the most brutal, and the most determined resistance.”We share the belief that teachers are, in the words of Lerone Bennett Jr., “either oppressors or liberators.” The future of the world depends on what teachers and parents teach, and how they teach, so that young people equitably develop key skills and knowledge, and also develop a critical analysis of what is happening in the world and their role and responsibility to make change. Putting the Movement Back into Civil Rights Teaching intends to give teachers and parents the tools to break apart the current narrative on the Civil Rights Movement and reassemble it to include more richness, more depth, more complexity, and more instruction on the whys and hows of social change. In the end, we offer this resource to help teachers be the “midwives” for this generation as it does what Grace Lee Boggs said each one must: “discover its mission” for creating a more just, caring, beloved community.

— Jenice L. View, Washington, D.C., October 2017