Nation in Crisis
Resources for Teachers and Students
This resource guide was created to accompany Nation in Crisis by Keith McGill, CTC's virtual performance about the Civil Rights Era for 4th-12th grade classrooms. It contains helpful information for teachers prior to the performance and offers additional ideas for lessons that can be used to extend and enrich student learning for both virtual and in-person classrooms.
Table of Contents
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In addition to the resources on this web page, please click on the Lesson Plan Activity button below that's relevant to the grade level you teach. There, you'll find several activities crafted specifically to supplement CTC's Nation in Crisis program whether your class is in Elementary, Middle, or High School.
What is the Civil Rights Era?
The 1950s and 1960s were largely defined by a galvanized and coordinated movement for racial equality in the United States of America. These years were coined the Civil Rights Era. During this time great strides were made to correct discriminatory policies that kept Black Americans from being treated equally under United States’ laws. Most textbooks start the timeline with the Brown v The Board of Education of Topeka Kansas ruling and end with the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This often unintentionally results in people thinking that the struggle for civil rights only occurred during that time frame. While the production of Nation in Crisis is rooted primarily in the 50s and 60s, it should be noted that the work toward racial equity started long before and continues to persist.
Major Events in Civil Rights History
January 1, 1863
An executive order that outlawed slavery in rebellious states/territories and encouraged newly freed people to join the United States military. Though President Abraham Lincoln signed this order, there were no active means to enforce the order.
Juneteenth / Jubilee / Freedom Day
June 19, 1865
The oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. On this date, Union Army general Grodon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas announcing that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. The newly freed people were encouraged to stay at their present homes and work for wages.
Ratified December 6, 1865 / Proclaimed December 18, 1865
This amendment to the American Constitution abolished slavery and involuntary servitude, with an exemption for those convicted of a crime. While slavery had ended in 34 of the 36, the states of Kentucky and Delaware still had enslaved individuals until December 18, 1865.
Jim Crow Laws
Racial segregation laws in the South that enforced the status of “separate, but equal” for African Americans. This was a legalized system to prevent any contact between blacks and whites as equals. These laws applied to economic, educational, and social situations. The name Jim Crow comes from a popular minstrel song and blackface character made popular by Thomas Rice.
President’s Committee on Civil Rights
December 1946-December 1947
Created by President Harry S. Truman. The committee proposed to establish a permanent Civil Rights Commission, Joint Congressional Committee on Civil Rights, and a Civil Rights Division in the Department of Justice; to develop federal protection from lynching; a permanent fair employment practice commission; to abolish poll taxes. Southern Democrats in Congress threatened to filibuster, so instead President Truman signed two executive orders: 9980 which ordered the desegregation of the federal workforce and 9981 which abolished segregation in the armed forces.
Brown v. Board of Education
May 17, 1954 (Ruling)
One of the greatest Supreme Court rulings of the 20th Century, the court unanimously held that racial segregation of children in public schools violated the Equal Protection clause in the 14th Amendment.
Murder of Emmett Till
August 28, 1955
A 14-year-old Black boy is kidnapped and murdered. After alleging Till had whistled at her, Carolyn Bryant’s husband and a friend tortured him, shot him, and disposed of his body in the river. Both men were freed from the charges. Till's murder was seen as a catalyst for the next phase of the civil rights movement.
Montgomery Bus Boycott
Dec 5, 1955 – Dec 20, 1956
A 13-month mass protest that ended with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that segregation on public buses is unconstitutional.
February 1, 1960 – July 25, 1960
A series of nonviolent protests which led to the Woolworth department store chain reversing its policy of racial segregation.
March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom
August 28, 1963
A march held in Washington, DC in front of the Lincoln Memorial. The march called for fair treatment and equal opportunity for Black Americans. It was also intended to pressure congress to pass the Civil Rights Act. There were 250,000 people in attendance.
Assassination of Malcolm X
February 21, 1965
As Malcolm X was about to address an audience in the Audubon Ballroom in New York City, three men came on to the stage and shot him. Talmadge Hayer, a member of the Nation of Islam, confessed to planning the assasination. Malcolm X was 39 years old when he died.
Voting Rights Act of 1965
August 6, 1965
This legislation enforced the 15th Amendment by imposing a ban on voter registration tests/prerequisites and empowering the federal government to investigate States where there were accusations of voter disenfranchisement.
Assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr
April 4, 1968
While standing on the second-floor balcony of the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee talking with others who had traveled with him, King was shot in the neck by a sniper. He was rushed to the hospital and died an hour later. He was 39 years old.
Vocabulary from the Civil Rights Era
Race - A socially created and poorly defined categorization of people into groups on the basis of real or perceived physical characteristics.
Racism - Any attitude, belief, or behavior used to explain and justify prejudice and discrimination against racial or ethnic minorities, on the basis of perceived inferiority.
Bias - A tendency (either known or unknown) to favor one way of feeling or acting over any other.
Blackface - A form of theatrical makeup worn on the face in order to represent a Black person. White actors would put on shows that continued harmful Black stereotypes.
Boycott - Refusing to shop or get services from a business in an effort to express disapproval, or force acceptance of certain conditions such as integration.
Discrimination - The unequal treatment of people that creates unfair advantages and disadvantages.
Integration - The end of separating people based on race.
Ku Klux Klan - A secret society organized in the South after the Civil War that sought to regain white supremacy over newly freed Black people by means of terrorism. In 1915, the Ku Klux Klan reemerged and continues to the present day with chapters in most of the United States.
Negro - A former term for Black or African-American that was largely used from 1920s to 1970 by Black Americans to describe themselves. The term is now mostly considered offensive.
Nonviolence - Using peaceful methods, not force, to bring about political or social change.
Poll Tax - Requiring a voter to pay a fee before they cast their ballot in an election. A tactic to prevent Black people from voting, especially in the Southern United States.
Prejudice - An opinion or judgement formed without experience or knowledge.
Redlining - The discriminatory practice of refusing to lend money or extend insurance for homes located in areas with large minority (primarily Black) populations. This practice made the entrance point for homeownership significantly more difficult and reduced property value in these communities.
Segregation - The separating of people according to groups, especially racial groups.
Separate, but Equal - The 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court decision that racial segregation is constitutional as long as the services or facilities provided for Black people and white people are roughly equal. Segregation became a norm, primarily in Southern states, impacting schools, medical care, jobs, transportation, housing, restaurants, and stores. The decision was overturned with the Brown v. Board of Education ruling of 1954.
Systemic Racism - The policies and practices entrenched in established institutions, which result in the exclusion or promotion of designated groups. It differs from overt discrimination in that no individual intent is necessary.
Important People from the Civil Rights Era
Eugene “Bull” Connor - A fervent segregationist and Commissioner of Public Safety for Birmingham, Alabama. He directed police and firemen to employ extreme responses to protesters. Tactics documented by reporters include using hoses, dogs, and batons to force demonstrators from downtown Birmingham.
Orval Faubus - On Saturday, September 2, 1957, during his first term as Governor of Arkansas, he called the National Guard to keep nine Black students (The Little Rock Nine) from entering Central High School the following Monday. He went on to serve five more terms as Arkansas governor.
Martin Luther King Jr. - A pastor, activist, and a leader in the Civil Rights Movement, he was best known for using nonviolent civil disobedience to further civil rights.
The Little Rock Nine - African American students who registered to attend the previously all-white Little Rock Central High in Arkansas in September of 1957. Minnijean Brown, Elizabeth Eckford, Ernest Green, Thelma Mothershed, Melba Patillo, Gloria Ray, Terrence Roberts, Jefferson Thomas and Carlotta Walls
Rosa Parks - A Black woman who did not give up her seat to a white man on a bus. Her arrest on December 1, 1955 sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
Emmett Till - A 14-year-old Black boy murdered after it was thought he whistled at a married, white woman. Her husband and another man killed him on August 28, 1955 and disposed of his body in the river. Both men were freed from the charges.
The Tuskegee Airmen (Red Tails) - A group of African American men who flew for the U.S. Armed Forces as the 332nd airborne. Created in 1941 as a part of the Tuskegee Experiment, this was the first time Black civilians were trained for service in the U.S. Air Corps.
Malcolm X - A Muslim minister and human rights activist who pushed for civil rights and often spoke about race pride and Black Nationalism.
Lesson Plans & Additional Resources
Don't stop now!
Click on the Lesson Plan Activity button below that's relevant to the grade level you teach. There, you'll find several activities crafted specifically to supplement CTC's Nation In Crisis program whether your class is in Elementary, Middle, or High School!
- For lesson plans and information about Muhammad Ali, check out the Muhammad Ali Center. PBS also has a lesson plan on Muhammad Ali and his contributions to the Civil Rights era.
- A Mighty Girl website has a list of 50 inspiring books on Girls and Women of the Civil Rights Movement.
- The Library of Congress has some great resources and lesson plan materials for use in your classroom.
- The National Civil Rights Museum in Nashville, Tennessee has some great educator resources as well - including an exhibit called “Standing up by Sitting Down” and activities relating to the sit ins.
- Civil Rights Teaching is a fantastic website with several options for lessons and resources.