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Civil Rights Movement

Following the landmark Supreme Court decision in 1954, the civil rights movement pushed forward through a decade of important gains and accomplishments toward the goal of desegregation not only in education but in many areas of public life.

Learn more about the historic places of the Civil Rights movement at a Web site produced by the U.S. Department of Interior, National Park Service, U.S. Department of Transportation, The Federal Highway Administration, and the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers:

Martin Luther King Jr.

One cannot think of this tumultuous time without the name of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. coming to mind. King came from a long line of Baptist pastors. He studied theology extensively, as well as nonviolent activism to promote social change as exemplified through the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi. King was president of the Montgomery (Ala.) Improvement Association, which coordinated the Montgomery Bus Boycott that helped end segregation on public buses. He also helped form the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) whose main goal was to coordinate nonviolent protests in the South. Throughout his life, King helped motivate hundreds of thousands of activists—both black and white—through his speeches and the example he set. Assassinated in 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. remains today one of the most influential figures of the civil rights movement, and his words continue to inspire generations of peaceful protesters and nonviolent activists.

Learn more about Martin Luther King Jr. and the labor movement.

A Certain Type of Fire
This lesson plan covers the civil rights movement during the 1950s and 1960s. It is targeted to 11th-graders and includes objectives, assessment options, scoring guide, and many resources (worksheets and PowerPoint presentations) available online.

Eyes on the Prize
This 1989 PBS documentary focuses on the civil rights movement, key players, and important gains made. The site contains lesson plans based on the documentary, as well as thematic lesson plans, primary source documents, and profiles of key figures and organizations.

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Papers Project
Housed at Stanford University, this site includes speeches, audio clips, and timelines of King's life and efforts to bring civil rights to African-Americans.

Montgomery Bus Boycott

The Montgomery Bus Boycott led to the U.S. Supreme Court 1956 declaration that segregation on public buses was unconstitutional.

Lesson 1: Riding the Bus—Taking a Stand
Developed by the Alabama Department of Archives and History, this lesson plan for middle to high school students, uses historical documents that can be downloaded and used to teach about Rosa Parks and her role in the Montgomery Bus boycott.

Civil Rights Act of 1957

The Civil Rights Act of 1957 prevented voting interference based on race, and created a Civil Rights Commission and a Civil Rights Division in the Department of Justice. The Civil Rights Act of 1960 expounded on the 1957 act by including more details on voting rights, as well as renewing the Civil Rights Commission. Although these two acts did little to change the situation of blacks in America, they proved to be important groundwork for later legislation.

Little Rock High School

In 1957, Arkansas Gov. Orville Faubus ordered the Arkansas National Guard to prevent black students from entering a Little Rock High School.The controversy attracted national media coverage, which in turn sparked a national controversy as Americans everywhere witnessed brutal racism night after night on the televised news. President Eisenhower demanded that the black students be allowed access to the white high school. When Gov. Faubus refused, the president federalized the 10,000-man strong Arkansas National Guard and sent in a thousand paratroopers to protect nine black students who were seeking to attend the school. Although it would prove a difficult year for these students, the controversy in Little Rock paved the way for future gains in the civil rights movement and the long struggle to desegregate public education.

Learn more about the Little Rock crisis.

Conflict at Little Rock
This middle school lesson plan developed by the Center for Technology and Teacher Education at the University of Virginia focuses on the conflict at Little Rock. It includes most materials needed for the lesson plan, assessment methods, objectives, and links to related sites.


Started by students, the sit-ins of the early 1960s were peaceful protests that originated in the South and led to a nationwide demand for integration. Two weeks after the first sit-in, students in 11 cities sat patiently at stores and lunch counters, primarily at Woolworth's and S.H. Kress. By August 1961, more than 70,000 people had participated in sit-ins, which generated over 3,000 arrests. Students formed the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) to lead the effort, which would continue even after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 declared segregation at lunch counters illegal. The technique was used to protest segregation at many public places, including movie theaters, and showed that nonviolent protest and the power in numbers of young people could help end segregation.

Freedom Rides

Freedom Rides began in 1961 in an effort to desegregate interstate buses. Freedom Rides consisted of buses of interracial activists headed south. The Montgomery bus boycott had put an end to segregation on intercity buses but there were no specific rulings about buses, traveling through more than one state. The Freedom Ride left Washington, D.C., on May 4, 1961, and was scheduled to arrive in New Orleans on May 17, the seventh anniversary of the Brown decision. The group met strong resistance in Alabama where the bus was firebombed and the riders badly beaten by an angry white mob. The Freedom Rides led the Interstate Commerce Commission to outlaw segregation in interstate bus travel, a ruling that took effect in September, 1961.

Birmingham, Alabama

Early in May 1963, hundreds of children, ages 6 to 18, marched on downtown Birmingham, Ala., singing, "We Shall Overcome." Water hoses and police dogs were set loose on the marchers. Once again, the media brought the violence on children to the nation's attention. The Birmingham business community ultimately relented and—fearing the loss of business and damage to their stores--agreed to integrate lunch counters and provide more employment opportunities for blacks.

March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom

A. Philip Randolph, a prominent black leader, fought for labor rights and was a leading civil rights activist. In 1941 he met with first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, along with several other black leaders, to present a list of grievances regarding the civil rights of blacks and demanded an executive order to stop job discrimination. At the time, Randolph threatened to bring thousands of blacks to the White House lawn if their demands were not met. More than 20 years later, on Aug. 28, 1963, Randolph's dream was realized when the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom brought 250,000 men, women, and children together on the grounds of the Lincoln Memorial to show their support for the civil rights movement. Their goal: to raise national awareness of the plight of African-Americans. In addition to supporting civil rights, the leaders and planners of the march stressed economic inequities and called for passage of a new federal jobs program and a higher minimum wage.

The March on Washington and Its Impact
Produced by "Newshour with Jim Lehrer," in conjunction with PBS, this informative lesson plan focuses on the march and its effects. An audio clip and text of Martin Luther King Jr.'s, speech is also available.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed discrimination in voter registration, voting rights, and in public accommodations and/or businesses; gave the federal government jurisdiction over cases to enforce desegregation; and prohibited businesses with 25 or more employees from basing hiring decisions on race.

Major Features of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
This site provides an overview of each title of the 1964 Civil Rights Act along with a comprehensive case history of the act.

Teaching with Documents Lesson Plan: The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
Developed by the National Archives and Records Administration, this lesson plan centers around a facsimile of the 1964 Act, and includes detailed explanations of its meaning and significance, teaching activities, and standards correlations.