Voting Rights



The United States has a long history of limiting the right to vote of women and people of color through property ownership, taxes, registration and residency laws, and tests. The readings and lessons here will empower students to think critically about recent events and continue the fight to ensure voting rights for all Americans.


Voting Rights Act History Quiz

We’ve all seen the iconic image of President Lyndon Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965. But what do we know of the history that led to the signing of the legislation? This quiz can challenge assumptions, deepen understanding, and inspire further learning about the voting rights struggle.


The Selma Voting Rights Struggle: 15 Key Points from Bottom-Up History and Why It Matters Today
By Emilye Crosby

Key points in the history of the Selma voting rights struggle that formed the basis for the popular article, "Ten Things to Know About Selma Before You See the Film."



Brief History of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee
By Jenice L. View

SNCC is credited with many of the most innovative and effective fronts of the Civil Rights Movement. Here is a brief outline of SNCC's history.



‘Is This America?’: 50 Years Ago Sharecroppers Challenged Mississippi Apartheid, LBJ, and the Nation
By Julian Hipkins and Deborah Menkart

The Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party arrived at the 1965 Democratic Party Convention in Atlantic City on a bus with more than 60 sharecroppers, farmers, housewives, teachers, maids, deacons, ministers, factory workers, and small-business owners.Students can learn from the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party about how to take on the Goliaths in politics.



Literacy and Liberation
By Septima P. Clark

The role of freedom schools and the Highlander Center in breaking down barriers and building leadership in the African American community.


Sheyann Webb: A Story for First Grade
By Maggie Donovan

An elementary-appropriate reading about Sheyann Webb, who was eight years old and a third-grader when she put on her “marching shoes.”



Stepping into Selma: Voting Rights History and Legacy Today
By Deborah Menkart

This lesson invites students to step into the long history of the freedom struggle in Selma, introducing them to people, turning points, and issues. Each student takes on the identity of someone involved in one way or another in the Selma freedom movement. If used in advance of viewing the film Selma, it can help students recognize more of the people and issues that are referenced.



Picturing Selma: Socratic Seminar
By Lynda Tredway

In a media driven age, visual images often provide access to important events and political struggles that may be more immediately accessible to students than written texts. This lesson includes two sets of images from the Selma voting rights struggle that promote critical thinking. The steps include observation (reading the text), forming a hypothesis, and dialogue—much like an inquiry model of teaching.



Sharecroppers Challenge U.S. Apartheid: The Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party
By Jenice L. View, Julian Hipkins, et al

This lesson explores one of the most important events in the fight for true democracy in the U.S., when a coalition of grassroots activists challenged the Mississippi political system, the federal government and the national Democratic Party to abide by the U.S. Constitution. Working within the political “rules,” the activists formed the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP or FDP) in 1964 and mounted a legitimate challenge to the existing system of race-based exclusion.



History Detectives: Voting Rights in Mississippi, 1964
By Deborah Menkart and Jenice L. View

This lesson introduces students to the history, strategies, and challenges facing by people in Mississippi in their struggle for voting rights in the early 1960s.



Murder Mystery: Shining a Light on the Story that the Newspapers Left Out    
By Deborah Menkart and Jenice L. View

The murder of Mississippi voting rights activist Herbert Lee (Sept. 25, 1961), and subsequent murder of witness Louis Allen (Jan. 31, 1964), were key events in the history of the modern Civil Rights Movement. However, they were barely mentioned in the local press at the time and the story is missing from textbooks and public memory today. We hope that this lesson for high school students and adults can begin to fill that gap. 



Freedom Song: Tactics for Transformation
By Alana D. Murray

Viewing guide for the drama Freedom Song about SNCC in Mississippi, which is by far one of the best films for students about the Civil Rights Movement.



Meet Medgar Evers: Introduction to the Southern Freedom Movement
By Deborah Menkart and Jenice L. View

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.


Exploring the History of Freedom Schools
By Deborah Menkart and Jenice L. View

An exploration of Freedom Schools allows students and teachers to explore the purpose and possibilities of public education today.  This lesson uses primary documents to introduce the history and philosophy of Freedom Schools. The lesson is inquiry-based, hands-on, and engages students in critical reflection. Therefore, students learn about Freedom Schools not only from the readings, but they also experience the pedagogy. 

Additional Resources

Recommended books, films, articles, lessons, and more for further learning about voting rights.


Voting Rights Act: Beyond the Headlines
By Emilye Crosby and Judy Richardson

The Voting Rights Act came into being through intensive organizing and activism spearheaded by the Black community, including people often marginalized and not seen as central to our society. Learn about key points in the history of the 1965 Voting Rights Act missing from most textbooks. 



Mississippi at Atlantic City
By Charles M. Sherrod

This report by Charles Sherrod tells an engaging and profound story about the formation of the MFDP, the struggles faced by and within the African-American community, and the tremendous challenges yet to be addressed.



Vernon F. Dahmer: Civil Rights Martyr and American Hero
By Joyce Ladner

These remarks were prepared by sociologist and SNCC veteran Joyce Ladner for a commemoration of Vernon Dahmer on January 8, 2016, hosted by the Clarion Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi.



Voting Rights
By Stacy Holloman

Lesson for 5th grade on challenges to voting before the Voting Rights Act.



Mississippi Freedom Schools: A Project from the Past Suggests a Lesson for the Future
By David Levine    

The curriculum of the 1964 Mississippi Freedom Schools helped spur political action.



Teaching History in the First Person
By Bill Bigelow

Teachers in the Mississippi Freedom Schools often engaged students in improvisational roleplays to help them think through the implicaitons of choices made by real people. Bigelow suggests here some improvisation ideas for the classroom.


Freedom School Curriculum
By Katie Kissinger

The Freedom Schools curriculum was sometimes referred to as “reading, writing, and revolution”.  This  twelve-part series of lessons on Freedom Schools borrows ideas from resources documenting the Freedom School pedagogy, curriculum, and agendas.



A Documents-Based Lesson on the Voting Rights Act
By Emilye Crosby

This lesson uses a case study of Lowndes County, Alabama and three SNCC-related documents from the early 1960s—just before and after the Voting Rights Act—to explore the impact of the Voting Rights Act (and 1964 Civil Rights Act) on every day southern Black citizens: What did the legislation mean to them? Did they achieve their goals?