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The Road to Civil Rights

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Language Arts And English +1 Age Levels Elementary (9 to 12 years old), Middle School (13 to 15 years old)

Essential questions:

  • How do social factors, such as racism, influence change?
  • How much power do American citizens have to change government policies?
  • What protections are guaranteed in the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments of the U.S. Constitution?
  • What factors drove the Jim Crow era and segregation after the Civil War?
  • How did Americans push back against discrimination, specifically segregation, and fight for civil rights?

This series of lessons is designed as a broad introduction to the factors leading up to the Civil Rights Movement.  Students will look closely at the 13th, 4th, and 15th amendments to the Constitution. Students will then explore some of the factors leading to and consequences of the rise of segregated America during the Jim Crow era in the years following the Civil War. They will look closely at powerful images that exemplify some of the Jim Crow laws, and then explore some of the court cases and responses of citizens that helped to bring about some changes leading up to and during the Civil Rights Movement in the United States.

Time: 3-4 class periods with optional maker project assessment.

Day 1

Anticipatory set: Have students complete a chalk talk to unravel their definitions of equality vs. racism. Discuss and formally define equality and racism. 

Looking closely: Share the image of the water fountains and notice similarities and differences (Optional opportunity to use the See - Think - Wonder thinking routine). Discuss context of Jim Crow era and explain we will be exploring what factors led to these laws and how people fought to change them. 

Have students look closely at the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments and dissect the language of the amendments to understand their meaning using the Parts, Purposes, Messages thinking routine. Read page one of iCivics Jim Crow handout. Students should record examples of equality and racism on post it notes as they read. When finished, they can add these post it notes to the chalk talk posters with definitions of equality and racism as they discuss their examples. 

Day 2

Anticipatory set: Use the Imagine if... thinking routine to have groups of students explore challenging Jim Crow era issues.

Looking closely: Read "Jim Crow and the Great Migration" and have students continue to record examples of equality vs. racism on post it notes to add to the chalk talk posters from yesterday. Explore powerful Jim Crow images with a chalk talk using the Reporter's Notebook thinking routine.

Discuss how some people began to speak out against the injustices of the Jim Crow laws, both directly and indirectly. Compare and contrast the approaches of Booker T. Washington and  W. E. B. Du Bois. Then read "I, too" by Langston Hughes. Students should complete the See/Hear - Think - Wonder during their first listen. Then students can deconstruct the poem in groups, paying attention to both the literal and figurative meaning of the metaphor of the kitchen in the poem. 

Exit ticket/Reflection: What are the multiple meanings of the kitchen in the poem, "I, too," by Langston Hughes? What was his purpose for writing this poem?

Day 3

Anticipatory set: Use the Making it Fair: Now, Then, Later thinking routine to start to identify how people could have made these Jim Crow restrictions more fair. 

Looking closely: Read "The Road to Civil Rights" handout from iCivics. Students can add equality vs. racism post its to their original chalk talks. Watch the video of the sit-in reenactment (optional - reenact a sit-in in the classroom). Look closely at images of marches, sit-ins, boycotts, and court cases and use the Reporter's Notebook thinking routine to notice the layers of interactions during the events. 

Optional assessment: Introduce the Journey to Civil Rights maker project. Allow students 3-4 days to work on their artifacts and essay explaining their choices.


See/Think/Wonder: Project Zero Visible Thinking Routine

SI Center for Learning and Digital Access

Sign from segregated railroad station

National Museum of African American History and Culture

Segregated America

SI Center for Learning and Digital Access

Creative Questions: Project Zero Visible Thinking Routine

SI Center for Learning and Digital Access

I, too, sing America.

Academy of American Poets

Reporter’s Notebook: Project Zero Visible Thinking Routine

SI Center for Learning and Digital Access

March from Church through Chapel Hill Stopping at Segregated Businesses

National Museum of African American History and Culture

Desegregation of Central High School Little Rock, AR

National Museum of African American History and Culture

Photograph of Terrence Roberts and soldiers at Little Rock Central High School

National Museum of African American History and Culture

Greensboro Lunch Counter Sit In

Wisconsin Historical Society