The struggle for civil rights and black liberation did not begin during the 1950s nor has it ended. Over the years I have taught many aspects of the history, philosophy, and personality of struggles for full democracy in the United States. I’ve accumulated a library of resources that have educated me so that I can educate others.
The first two resources are Remembering Slavery: African Americans Talk About Their Personal Experiences of Slavery and Emancipation and Remembering Jim Crow: African Americans Tell About Life in the Segregated South. The first consists of a book and two audio tapes. The tapes record former slaves describing their experiences in slavery, and the book contains transcriptions of the tapes as well as commentaries, pictures, and other background material. These voices speaking directly from the experience of slavery provide a concrete way of personalizing slavery rather than merely teaching it as a historical phenomenon. The same is true for Remembering Jim Crow, which also uses oral history to illustrate the evils of life in the segregated South.
Joyce Hansen and Gary McGowan’s Freedom Roads: Searching for the Underground Railroad, written for junior and senior high school students, is an unusual adventure book. It is about the actual archeological hunt for the paths taken by the Underground Railroad and for the safe houses where freed people were protected. The book is illustrated with maps, pictures of digs, and photos.
Both of these resources provide material for students to use oral history to experience history. Cynthia Brown’s book Like It Was: A Complete Guide to Writing Oral History provides teachers with classroom techniques for creating oral history with their students. This book uses Septima Clark’s autobiography, Ready from Within, an oral history recorded by Brown, as its prime example. Clark is one of the most significant figures in the Civil Rights Movement. She served as director of the Highlander Center and was a central figure in the development of the Citizenship Schools, which helped register 50,000 African-American voters in the segregated South during the 1950s and 1960s, before the Voting Rights Bill was passed. The two books work together as remarkable examples of talking about how to do oral history and then demonstrating it.
A third book, which presents a firsthand view of the Civil Rights Movement, is Myles Horton’s The Long Haul. Horton was education director of Highlander at the same time Clark was director, and their books tell about the same events, though they often disagree. Comparing them is a wonderful way to teach about multiple narratives and the need to be critical about claims to historical truth.
Another revealing memoir is The Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Women Who Started It: The Memoir of Jo Ann Gibson Robinson. Robinson is one of the unsung heros of the Civil Rights Movement. Her work in Montgomery, Ala., preceded Rosa Parks’ refusal to move to the back of the bus. It laid the infrastructure that made it possible to mobilize the boycott so quickly. It also illustrates the central role women played in the movement.
For an account of what it took to bring Brown to the Supreme Court, Lisa Aldred’s Thurgood Marshall: Supreme Court Justice provides a readable narrative for junior high and high school students. For historical narratives of the Civil Rights Movement that also interpret some of the events from different perspectives, I find Aldon Morris’ The Origins of the Civil Rights Movement and Taylor Branch’s two volumes Parting the Waters and Pillar of Fire the best sources.
RESOURCES for Teaching the Civil Rights Movement
Freedom Roads: Searching for the Underground Railroad
By Joyce Hansen and Gary McGowan
Cricket Books, A Marcato Book, 2003.
Like It Was: A Complete Guide to Writing Oral History
By Cynthia Brown
Teachers and Writers Collaborative, 1988.
The Long Haul
By Myles Horton with Judith and Herbert Kohl
Teachers College Press, 1997.
The Origins of the Civil Rights Movement
By Aldon D. Morris
Free Press, 1986
Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-63
Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years, 1963-65
By Taylor Branch
Simon and Schuster, 1988 and 1998.
The Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Women Who Started It:
The Memoir of Jo Ann Gibson Robinson
Edited by David J. Garrow
The University of Tennessee Press, 1996.
Remembering Jim Crow: Ready from Within
By Septima Clark with Cynthia Brown
Africa World Press,1999.
African Americans Tell About Life in the Segregated South
Edited by William H. Chafe, Raymond Gavins, and Robert Korstad
The New Press, 2001 (book and two CDs).
Remembering Slavery: African Americans Talk About Their Personal Experiences of Slavery and Emancipation
Edited by Ira Berlin, Mark Favreau, and Steven F. Miller
The New Press, 1998 (book and two audio tapes)
A. Phillip Randolph: Labor Leader
By Sally Hanley
Chelsea House Publications, 1989.
From the Black Americans of Achievement series.
Thurgood Marshall: Supreme Court Justice
By Lisa Aldred
Chelsea House Publications, 1990.
From the Black Americans of Achievement series.