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Civil Rights Era and the African American Experience: Investigating American History through a Literary Lens

Author: Erin Swan-Potras


Anna Howard Shaw Middle School

Year: 2009

Seminar: American Political Culture

Grade Level: 6-8

Keywords: 1950s, 1960s, African American figures, Alabama, American Civil Rights Movement, Birmingham, Children's March, Civil Rights Movement, commercialism, discrimination, Historical Context, Music, political context, segregation, social context, Technology, video

School Subject(s): African American History, American History, History, Music, Political Science, Social Studies

This unit is designed to teach students the American Civil Rights Movement using various approaches. First, the students will learn of the political, social and historical contexts that preceded the Civil Rights Movement. The teacher will help students to understand these contexts by researching various African American figures that all experienced racial segregation and discrimination in various ways. Then, the Civil Rights Movement will be introduced to the students through a study of the various issues that were being protested and the ways in which these issues were protested. The main event that will be focused on is the Children’s March in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963. Students will learn of these events through a historical study in non-fiction accounts, a documentary, analyzing primary documents, and through a historical fiction novel.

This is a curriculum unit that can be integrated into a year-long elective course or as an isolated unit to accompany a social studies or reading/writing course. Although this unit is created to be taught at the middle school level (grades 6-8), a teacher could modify the course to the high school level. Upon completing this unit, students will gain a thorough understanding of the American Civil Rights Era, specifically during the American 1950’s and 1960’s. Furthermore, students will learn of the Civil Rights movement by researching and viewing these events through an African American lens by focusing on major African American figures who played important roles in the American 1950’s and 1960’s.

Finally, this class can be seen as a humanities class because the teacher will integrate art and music from the time period to reinforce the content taught. Because this era was coupled with the boom in technology and commercialism in America (i.e. – TV and other media), it is highly relevant and important to supplement this course with a variety of multimedia elements. Specifically, news footage from Civil Rights marches, video and/or sound clips of Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech, music from the time, etc. will all be integrated and woven into the curriculum.

Download Unit: Swan-2.pdf

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