Episode 12, Season 3
Oral histories, historic sites, archives and museums expand students’ understanding of the past. They fill in gaps in our textbooks—complementing what’s included and capturing what’s not. This episode highlights online oral history collections including the Civil Rights History Project. It offers recommendations for students conducting their own oral histories. And it explores resources from the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee.
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Understanding and Teaching the Civil Rights MovementEdited by Hasan Kwame Jeffries
Own the book from the University of Wisconsin Press that inspired and informs season three of the Teaching Hard History podcast!
- Learning for Justice: Lesson, Oral History and Civil Rights (Grades 6-8, 9-12)
- Learning for Justice: Lesson, What Counts as History (Grades 6-8, 9-12)
- Learning for Justice: Lesson, Family Colors: Interviewing Our Families (Grades K-2, 3-5)
- Learning for Justice: Student Text, Civil Rights History Project: Mary Jenkins (Grades 3-5)
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: I have a brother, an older brother, who is two years my senior. When we were growing up, my parents would send us to our cousin Dave's house in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, for weeks on end during the summer. Presumably, they wanted to get us out of the city—we were Brooklyn boys growing up in the late '70s and early '80s—heady times, to say the least. But now that I have children of my own, I realize that my parents were probably sending us away to get us out of their hair.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: But regardless of why we went, our time in Jersey was always great fun. We did things we were never allowed to do in Brooklyn. At home, we could only ride our bikes as far as the second lamppost, a lousy couple of hundred feet from our front door. But in Jersey—in Jersey!—we were free. We rode our bikes for miles, taking off for hours at a time, exploring new parts of Dave's suburban neighborhood. Each trip was an adventure, often planned the night before, as if we were going on a great expedition to some faraway unexplored corner of the earth. But the true highlight of each visit to Dave's house was the pilgrimage to Atlantic City. When Dave's parents hit the casinos, they would turn us loose on the boardwalk.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Knowing we'd spend a couple days in Atlantic City, my mom would give my brother and I a few dollars for spending money. And by a few, I mean a few. $5 each if we were going to Jersey for a week; $10 each, if we were staying for two or more weeks. And she'd hand us the cash right before we left—always crisp new dollars in separate envelopes with our names on them. And she did so with great ceremony, always in the kitchen, always seated at the kitchen table, where she still holds court. I can hear her saying: "Hakeem, this is for you. Hasan, this is for you," followed by a very serious mom look, and a stern admonition not to spend it all in one place or at one time. She'd say, "Make it last."
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: We had very few opportunities to spend our "windfall" until we headed to Atlantic City. But then, it was on! There were arcades and gift shoppes, candy stores and trinket carts—a million ways for a kid to blow cash. But as soon as Aunt Bea and Uncle Dave sent us on our own, and I mean as soon as our sneakers hit the boardwalk, out came Hakeem's hand. "Turn it over." He wanted my windfall. Every time, "Turn it over." Naturally, I protested. "This is mine," pointing to my name on the envelope our mom had handed me as prima facie evidence of my right to keep the cash. "Mom gave it to me. To me!" But he was unmoved. "Mom said don't spend it all, and you will, so turn it over."
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: For the record, there was no evidence whatsoever that I spent my allowance uncontrollably. Now I admit I might have bought some nonsense souvenir once in a while. I did have an odd obsession with colored sand in blown glass, but even at seven or eight, I knew how to stretch a dollar. And apparently, Hakeem did too—by stretching his hand into my envelope.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Begrudgingly, in the end, I would turn over my cash, compelled by the innate deference that younger siblings show older ones. Which meant that every time I wanted to buy something, I had to ask Hakeem for my money, and there was only a 50/50 chance that he would authorize the dispersal of funds. "What do you need that for?" he'd ask. "What do you mean? It's sand in a glass!" "No," he'd say. And that, would be that.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: To his credit, Hakeem made those few dollars stretch. We always had a little bit left at the end of our trips, savings Hakeem would reveal to our mom with great fanfare. Meanwhile, I was left sulking in the corner, having missed out on a prized opportunity to add to my sand-in-glass collection.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Many years later, I interviewed the adult children of Reverend Ralph David Abernathy, Sr. for the Civil Rights History Project. Rev. Abernathy was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s right hand, and a civil rights icon in his own right. For two hours, I talked with Juandalynn, Ralph III and Donzaleigh about what it was like growing up inside the freedom struggle, alongside the first family of the civil rights movement.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: The Abernathys were witnesses to history. Even as children, these three were active participants in the movement. But they were also siblings, and that relationship was informed as all sibling relationships are by love, tension, and laughter. By fond memories, hurt feelings, and unresolved matters. And by personalities and pride too. All of it was on full display in the interview, coloring every answer and informing every explanation.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Our conversation was more than a simple recollection of past events by three people who shared those experiences. What emerged was an insider's take on what it was like to be a child in a prominent movement family: the joy and the pain, the celebrity and the isolation.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Far more was disclosed in those two hours than could be gleaned from reading a summary of those very same movement events, to say nothing about what was revealed about moments never captured in written records. And that's the power of oral history and primary sources: they can complement what's known and capture what's unknown. They can confirm what's new and complicate what's old. They are invaluable tools in the search for truth.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: But sometimes, the truth is relative. It's more a matter of degree and perspective than objective facts. Was Hakeem strong-arming me on those trips to Atlantic City? Or, despite my protestations, did I know that my allowance was in good hands, so I conceded in order to be free of the burden of figuring out how best to stretch a few dollars? Oral history can help us sort that out—and perhaps determine whether my brother owes me reparations. In the same way, oral history can help us sort out what exactly happened during the civil rights movement. And equally important, help us sort out why it happened.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: I'm Hasan Kwame Jeffries, and this is Teaching Hard History. We're a production of the Southern Poverty Law Center's Learning for Justice project—formerly known as Teaching Tolerance. To learn more about Learning for Justice and meet our new director, visit us at learningforjustice.org. This season, we'll be offering a detailed look at how to teach the Black freedom struggle, or the US civil rights movement. In each episode, we'll explore a different topic, walking you through historical concepts, raising questions for discussion, suggesting useful source material and offering practical classroom exercises.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Oral histories, historic sites and museums help us to expand our understanding of the past. They can fill in gaps in our textbooks, and make events and people in them less abstract. In this episode, historian Todd Moye introduces us to several online oral history collections, as well as resources that can help your students conduct their own oral histories. Folklife specialist Guha Shankar shares selections from the Civil Rights History Project, which is sponsored by the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. And historian Noelle Trent takes us on a tour of educational resources at the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: I'm glad you could join us.
Todd Moye: Oral histories are a window into historical sources that speak to us heart to heart, and do so in a way that the written word does not. When people record oral histories or listen to oral histories that others have recorded, they're establishing a deeper bond with the source than they would if they were, say, just reading the source's autobiography, as powerful as that can be. It's the human voice that makes this connection. To listen to an interview with someone who has integrated a school, or who has managed a voting rights project, as they're speaking about this, they're tapping into pretty deep emotions that come through in the interview. And students who use these sources come out of it more empathetic than they were before. They come out of it more used to thinking of how the world may look through someone else's eyes than they would have been before. And that can be extremely powerful.
Todd Moye: There are some great oral history projects on the web that you could use in your classrooms. One of these is the Library of Congress Civil Rights History Project, which has hundreds of long-form interviews with a wide range of people involved in the civil rights movement. So it includes leaders, it also includes just the ground troops of the civil rights movement, people who, you know, have not necessarily been celebrated in the textbooks. It's especially necessary for us to show students examples of people who have not been in the history books, but who are relatable, and who have done things that, on sort of a human level, that the students can understand. Whether it's being the first African-American child to integrate a school, whether it's running for the school board, participating in the Freedom Rides, these are slightly more human-level actions that people have taken as part of the civil rights movement that I think students can respond to.
Todd Moye: You know, not everyone can be Martin Luther King, not everyone can be Ella Baker, not everyone can be that kind of transformative figure, but we may have a chance to participate in something that helps to advance justice in our own communities.
Todd Moye: Another great resource for this is the Voices of the Civil Rights Movement, which is a collection of oral histories and news clips and short histories of all kinds of different aspects of the civil rights movement. There are interviews with Tuskegee Airmen at the site, interviews with Native American civil rights leaders. So you really get a sense of the breadth of the civil rights movement from this site.
Todd Moye: Another great one is the SNCC Digital Gateway, which tells the story of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. If you're especially interested in the organizing tradition or in SNCC's voter registration campaigns, or in the topic of Black power and the ways that it does and does not differ from civil rights ideology, the SNCC Digital Gateway is a terrific resource for that.
Todd Moye: The Civil Rights in Black and Brown Oral History Project is another. This is one that I've been involved with as a co-director under the leadership of Max Krochmal at TCU. Civil Rights in Black and Brown is an oral history project that takes on the dual histories of Mexican-American and African-American civil rights organizing across the state of Texas. And we make it especially searchable, and hopefully create clips that are easily digestible for classroom use.
Todd Moye: So let's listen to a clip from the Civil Rights in Black and Brown Project. This is from an interview that I conducted with Estrus Tucker, who is a longtime resident of Fort Worth, Texas, and has been active in all sorts of justice issues throughout the city of Fort Worth. I'm going to play two short clips. And in these, he's talking about his experience as a high school student.
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Todd Moye: Okay, so you were born two months before the Supreme Court issued the Brown decision, and it took until your senior year in high school before Fort Worth really started desegregating its schools, and meeting the terms of the Brown decision, right?]
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Estrus Tucker: Right.]
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Todd Moye: Looking back on that, how do you account for it, number one, that it took so long for the school district to comply; and number two, that the way it chose to comply was to break up Black schools and Black community institutions, rather than approaching it in some other way.]
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Estrus Tucker: Right. So a couple of different lenses. One is I grew up increasingly aware of the incredible work of civil rights pioneers in Fort Worth, like Judge Clifford Davis, who was instrumental in the school desegregation plans. And so the district didn't do it because they were visionary and because they wanted to be inclusive, they did it because they were being sued and there was some local actions happening. So that motivated them. But then as a student, it felt disrespectful. It felt like they definitely could care less about the quality of our education, let alone our overall well-being.]
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Estrus Tucker: It was clear that they would rather close our schools than bring equity with resources and bus white students into Black communities. That didn't seem to be an option for them. And I think that was part of their rationale for not disclosing that early enough so that there could be public meetings, public forums to discuss the merits of it.]
Todd Moye: So I'll play a second clip from the Estrus Tucker interview, where he describes his experience of having been transferred from an all African-American high school, Como High School, to the newly-integrated Western Hills High School and what that was like.
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Estrus Tucker: I really haven't went back to try to validate or fact check all of it, but I know how it felt. That one year I didn't feel any overt hostility. I made a lot of friends, we were included in a lot of things. But little subtle things like a number of us had been officers within the National Honor Society. We weren't even notified of the chapter at Western Hills. But we were very much recruited, and it was an eager welcoming for us to play sports. That same eager reception didn't carry over to the Honor Society and the available scholarships. It just felt again, like being displaced as seniors in the most important year of our school experience.]
Todd Moye: So a few things jump out at me with those clips. The first of them is Estrus saying, "I know how it felt," right? He says, "I haven't gone back and checked this against the history books, but I know how it felt." And that's, for me, a very visceral positive of what oral history offers. He's telling us how it felt, and it's very hard not to feel it ourselves, what it felt like to be invited to play football, but not be invited to join the National Honor Society. That obviously plays into long-standing stereotypes. I'd be very surprised if you played this for a high school class today and it didn't generate some really deep and important discussion about those sorts of issues that are going on in your own high school. Discussion of equitable resources, discussion of the ways that African-American students were stereotyped in the first years of integration, and how that has or has not changed, they'll have no trouble finding relevance in their own lives, which is part of what we're trying to do when we teach the civil rights movement.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: This season of Teaching Hard History is based on the book Understanding and Teaching the Civil Rights Movement, recipient of the 2020 James Harvey Robinson prize for the most outstanding contribution to the teaching and learning of history, from the American Historical Association. And this podcast is produced in partnership with the University of Wisconsin Press, publishers of this collection of essays—which I edited. From now until the end of April, they are offering a 30 percent discount to listeners who order this collection. You'll find a link to purchase the book at learningforjustice.org/podcasts. Just use the promotional code: CIVILRIGHTS—all one word. Now let's return to Todd Moye.
Todd Moye: We really want to encourage our students to do oral history, not just to use oral history in the classroom, but to actively do it, because they're really conscious of the fact that, hey, I'm figuring out what really happened here and what's important about it, not because God told it to the author of my textbook and the author of the textbook is telling it to me, I'm actually getting in there and asking the questions and finding it out for myself. No matter how old your students are, they can do that. You know, they can do it at varying levels of sophistication, but they can do that. And they tend to respond to it really well.
Todd Moye: So your curriculum may not offer you the opportunity to spend months and months on an oral history project. It could be as simple as go out and interview your grandparents about a certain subject. You can offer it as an extra-credit assignment that may take a couple of weeks. You can offer it as a class project that the class does after the standardized tests are done near the end of the year, those sorts of things. It's also possible to design entire courses around oral history. Think of all the benefits you would get and your students would get if you are able to devote that much time to it, and collaborate on creating something new. So if that's possible, I certainly encourage it.
Todd Moye: I would really encourage you to start local. Really look for stories in your community that you and your students feel like they can have a hand in uncovering. There's a civil rights movement in your area, whether you know it or not. A lot depends on how you define civil rights movements. But you don't have to be in Jackson, Mississippi, for your community to have had some kind of civil rights movement.
Todd Moye: I think a good starting assignment could be the integration of your school, or, you know, a pioneer by some definition in your school: the first African American to attend the school that you teach in or the first Mexican American to attend the school that you teach in or the first openly gay or lesbian or transgender person to attend the school that you teach in. Somebody had that experience of being a civil rights pioneer. So introducing your students to that person, giving them a chance to ask questions, giving them a chance to interpret what they hear, is doing the work of history.
Todd Moye: When you're having young people do interviews like this, you do need to do a little bit of vetting, I would think, and a little bit of trust-building with the people who you want them to interview, or who they have identified as interviewees for their project. Sometimes you'll find people who have just been dying to tell their story for years and years and years. Other times, you really do have to get people to trust you. I always go back to the first oral histories that I did. I moved into the Mississippi Delta to write a dissertation about the civil rights movement in the Mississippi Delta and white resistance to it. It involved going to NAACP meetings and just sitting there and listening and being seen there. It involved going to the public high school basketball games. The public high school was nearly all African American, and so I was often the only white person in the stands. But I was there, I was seen, people were striking up conversations with me. I was there for weeks if not months before the people who I was asking to do oral histories with me said yes.
Todd Moye: If you're doing interviews with students, you may have to do a lot of the background grunt work beforehand in order for whomever you're trying to get interviews with to trust you. But when people approach would-be oral history narrators and they just send the signal that you've done something that I think is important and I want to know more about it, people tend to respond well to that. So if you and your students can place yourself in that situation, I think you're likely to succeed, right? I think your stories are worth saving, and I would like to help you do that.
Todd Moye: One of the great resources that's available out there is the Oral History Association's principles and best practices for oral history education. So this is one that's been created by educators for educators. It's really pitched at middle school and high school, it's very accessible language, walks you through a list of things that you need to consider before the interview, gives your students a little checklist of the sorts of things that you need to be conscious of while you're doing the interview, and then it offers some quick best practices for how to deal with the interview after it's been recorded.
Todd Moye: The Oral History Center at Cal Berkeley recently published a really extensive guide to how to use oral history in the classroom, how to build a class around oral history. The Zinn Education Project, the Teaching Tolerance website, all of these resources are easily searchable. You can easily pull up lesson plans that other people have developed that will help you develop oral history projects for your students to do.
Todd Moye: It's also very easy for classes to participate in the StoryCorps initiative, in which people interview loved ones on all kinds of different subjects. StoryCorps actually offers an app that your students can download on their phones, which allows them to record interviews on their phones with people, and then have those interviews archived at the Library of Congress. And that could be pretty powerful when you give students a chance to record something that they know is so important that it's going to be archived there and it'll be available to researchers. It really gives students a chance to be a part of a community of scholars, allowing students to be a part of this human pyramid of scholarship, right? They have stood on the shoulders of other scholars, and this is a chance for them to go out and create knowledge that is going to support the work of other scholars. And I think it can be really powerful when we give students that opportunity.
Todd Moye: There's some really good digital projects that you can use in the classroom to help provide models of the sorts of things that you and your students can do. Going North is a project created by historians at Westchester University in Pennsylvania. This is something that history professors have co-created with their students, and it's an award-winning digital project. It makes use of oral history interviews with people who took part in the Great Migration to Philadelphia. So they're from South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi. And during the 1920s and subsequent decades, made the trek north and remade their lives in Philadelphia. It uses oral history as sort of the centerpiece to tell those stories, but it uses a lot of other interesting digital tools, including mapping technologies to tell those stories as well.
Todd Moye: Going North is one of the very best projects that uses a platform called Omeka. O-M-E-K-A. It's a software platform created by the people at the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University. And so it's created for history teachers. To use it, you do not have to be expert at digital media, but what it amounts to really is a digital archive in a box. It's a way to archive and then interpret and share with the world digital artifacts, whether they are documents, digital photographs, digital recordings. In my classes, we have used it to create what we call "digital museums." It's great for classroom use at the college level, but I think gifted high school students could really make a lot of hay with Omeka projects as well.
Todd Moye: In a high school setting, maybe you just want them to create short oral histories. Maybe you just want them to go out and find objects on the web that have to do with the subject that you're studying. You can use Omeka and set students loose on these kinds of projects to go out and either find or create primary sources. And it's a great way to give students the chance to actually do history, to actually go out and find primary sources and interpret primary sources, and try to make sense of them and try to come up with statements of why people should care about this, why this is important to the world. And it really gives us a chance to tell stories in interesting ways, and ways that, frankly, I haven't thought about because I'm 50 years old and I'm used to the old ways. You know, my students have surprised me with ways that they can tell stories using these digital tools that frankly didn't occur to me. So that's one of the things that makes it so exciting.
Todd Moye: And so I really want to encourage teachers to just trust yourself to do this, and to get out and do it. You know, you can always convince yourself that you need to read one more book about this subject before you know enough about it to go out and do interviews, but it's one of those places where you really learn by doing. And your students will definitely learn by doing this. But as a teacher who's putting together these projects, you'll learn a lot as well. And the resources are out there to help you get started. So it's just a matter of trusting yourself to get started. And I really want to encourage people to do that.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: This is Teaching Hard History, and I'm your host Hasan Kwame Jeffries. To continue making this podcast a valuable resource, we need your input. You can help us by taking a few minutes to complete our brief listener survey. Just click on the link in the show notes, or visit learningforjustice.org/podcasts. It's only 10 questions, and your feedback will help us make each episode even more impactful for educators just like you.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: We asked Dr. Moye to talk with Guha Shankar about the Civil Rights History Project and how you can use it in your lessons. This oral history collection is sponsored by the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. Let's hear what they have to share with us.
Todd Moye: Guha, thank you so much for speaking with me today. Tell people what they will find when they go to the Civil Rights History Project online.
Guha Shankar: So the Civil Rights History Project, a collection at the Library of Congress, contains interviews from across the spectrum of activists, in the broadest sense of the term, in the freedom struggle of the 1940s, '50s, '60s. They're all video documentaries with full-length transcripts attached to them. These interviews are online, both at the library's loc.gov site, but they're also available on the YouTube channel. So you have a couple of different platforms that educators, researchers, students anywhere around the world can find them.
Todd Moye: And so I know the library brought on several activists, several people who had been historic actors in the events that you're documenting, also several leading historians of the civil rights movement. So what was the importance of that advisory board?
Guha Shankar: Well, the advisory board was central to the way in which the interviews were shaped. Just brief mention of names who were on the advisory board at the time, Dr. Bernice Reagon Johnson, Taylor Branch, Julian Bond, Patricia Sullivan, they were fundamental to the way in which we shape the interviews. And I remember Julian Bond saying very distinctly, "I don't need to be interviewed for this project. I've been interviewed over and over again. None of the people around this room really need to be interviewed because our interviews are in other repositories. And you need to find the grassroot workers, the people whose names get mentioned in passing, but very few take a deep dive into it." The people who don't necessarily make it into the telling, the way that the Ralph Abernathys, the Dr. Martin Luther Kings and others do. So that's the way in which they shaped the thrust of the interviews that we ended up recording for the project.
Todd Moye: And the list of people who are interviewed for the project really does reflect that. So teachers who are interested in teaching more than just the, what Julian Bond called the "master narrative" of the civil rights movement, more than just the history of the major civil rights organizations, will find some really, really rich resources here in this body of video interviews. We have a few that we'd like to highlight here. Let's start with Chuck McDew. You've identified a clip for us where he talks about the earliest days of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, when the Southern Christian Leadership Conference has brought the students who have been participating in sit-ins in early 1960 together. And McDew talks about how the students reacted to that, what they did at that meeting. And he gets into the issue of philosophical nonviolence.
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Chuck McDew: We got a letter from Dr. King at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference that there would be a meeting of students at Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina. that took place in April, 1960. I attended that meeting as a representative of the South Carolina State students. Dr. King felt we should all join SCLC. I disagreed, because Dr. King felt if you joined, that you should accept nonviolence as a way of life in your life. I disagreed with that. I said, "Yes, I use nonviolence," but for me, it was strictly a tactic. And personally, I didn't believe it would work. It was a tactic that I felt had a short life and wouldn't work.]
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Chuck McDew: And said in the United States, nonviolence won't work. When Gandhi used in India the tactic of having people lay down on railroad tracks to protest it worked, but if a group of Black people lay down on railroad tracks here, a train would run you over and back up to make certain you are dead. You cannot make a moral appeal in the midst of an amoral society. And I felt it was not immoral. We lived in a society that was amoral, and as such, nonviolence was not going to work. So I said I couldn't, and the people with me could not join Dr. King. Thank you, but no thanks.]
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Chuck McDew: And then send those who think like I do, we'll have a meeting down the hall and talk about it. And that meeting we had down the hall was the genesis of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. And at first, we were going to call that group, the Student Coordinating Committee, and we were just going to exchange ideas between campuses, but there were some people in the group who still greatly believed in nonviolence, and we felt they should be a part of the group. And most of those students were from Nashville and had been taught by Jim Lawson. I knew Jim Lawson, and he was an important person to me. And so we thought that it was a good thing to include "nonviolence" in our title. And so we created this new group and called it the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.]
Todd Moye: So Guha, that gets at so many issues. The generational differences between SNCC and SCLC, the conversations over philosophical and tactical nonviolence. I think it's so important to share stories like this with our students, number one, because Chuck McDew can explain that better than I can, right? When they can hear it from the direct participant, the person who was there, it has such power.
Guha Shankar: You're right, it comes directly from a particular person's perspective, who was not just an eyewitness to history, but participated in the kind of the formation of that history, right? Chuck McDew became the first chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in 1960. And one of the things that happens for me is that as I listen to it, I'm inevitably drawn to look for other sort of sources to figure out all of the rich dimensions of the struggle that Chuck McDew is talking about. So he keeps talking about nonviolence as a philosophy. Well, who said that? That's Jim Lawson. Who was Jim Lawson? Well, you come to find out that he was one of the stalwarts of the early years of nonviolent direct action. And he studied Satyagraha, a form of nonviolent resistance developed the Mahatma Gandhi in India.
Guha Shankar: So then you can start thinking about the international dimensions, and the backdrop against which Dr. King and others formulated their notions of how to engage a system of oppression.
Todd Moye: I agree with you, and I like the picture that you created of, this clip is one fragment of a mosaic, and you need to go find the other fragments to put them together to get a whole picture. So SNCC was pushing, SCLC was pushing, Dr. King was certainly pushing powerful people in the Democratic Party for change. One of the ways that they did that was through the March on Washington, right? Which SNCC participated in, and which obviously the SCLC participated in because Dr. King gave the most famous of his speeches there. But all along the way, SNCC was pushing King and the SCLC to be a little more aggressive, to be a little more radical. And you've shared a couple of clips with us in which Courtland Cox and in which Dorie and Joyce Ladner talk about some of these tensions. So if we could, I'd like to listen to the Courtland Cox clip.
[ARCHIVE CLIP, interviewer: Early on, how did you gauge the prospects of substantial structural change through the nonviolent protest strategies that were emerging through SNCC?]
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Courtland Cox: We had big debates about that. The Nashville group had one view, the Howard group had another. The Nashville group believed in nonviolence as a philosophy and a way of life. John is probably the poster child for that. Diane Nash, you know, Jim Lawson, those guys. The people at Howard, we viewed nonviolence as a tactic. The nonviolent people's philosophy, they felt that, you know, you could appeal to men's hearts. My view, and which I've said to them, was that you might as well appeal to their livers because they're both organs of the body. There was nothing to that. You engaged in nonviolence because the other side had overwhelming force. There was not a sense that the other side would do the right thing if you told them. Because at the end of the day, the other side knew what it was doing to you better than you did. So it's not that they didn't know what they were doing, they wanted to do it. So I mean that—so we had huge, huge—I mean, that was a source of early tension. I mean, early '61, '62, so forth. We did not believe in nonviolence as a philosophy.]
Todd Moye: Of course, the John from Nashville, who Mr. Cox is referring to there is John Lewis. He came to SNCC through the Nonviolent Action Group at Howard, which was another one of the big student organizations that came together in SNCC. We've heard Courtland Cox talk about SNCC's participation in the March on Washington, and we also have a clip from Dorie and Joyce Ladner, who are two sisters from Southern Mississippi. I believe they were both students at Tougaloo College in the early 1960s, which was another center of real activism in the civil rights movement. And you have a clip of them talking about this as well. Let's listen to that.
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Joyce Ladner: Of course I remember King's speech. But we had an ambivalent relationship with King as well. We referred to him as "de Lawd," D-E-L-A-W-D. Like the Lord, you know? And everybody's looking up to him. When, in fact, SNCC people went into the most dangerous areas, and we called "breaking an area," and staying there under the toughest conditions until you finally have a breakthrough with a local community. When they begin to let you stay with them, then they come out to the meetings and they'd start getting involved in organizing as well. And then it builds up to a crisis stage. And that's when King would come in, we felt. And so we had an ambivalent relationship with him. We respected him, of course. But it wasn't all, "Oh, this is a fantastic man. This great speech he gave." I don't recall having seen that as something that I savored and carried with me. The reality was that we knew we were leaving that next day. I left the next morning with John Lewis on a flight back to Atlanta. We were right back in that same tough environment. Three weeks later, we got on a bus and rode—Bob Moses drove a school bus to ...]
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Dorie Ladner: Birmingham?]
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Joyce Ladner: Birmingham. And he took a dozen or more SNCC workers.]
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Dorie Ladner: September 18.]
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Joyce Ladner: To the funeral of the three little girls who had been murdered. So I always saw that as, "Okay. Back in your face. You had your big march, but we're back in control." You know, the white racists. So we didn't have time to savor things, the march or anything else. But I remember the contradiction in my mind. All these people there and then we are now at a funeral.]
Todd Moye: That really underlines for me how quick the pace of change was, how stacked up these events were on one another, and how little time there was to process them for people who lived through these things.
Guha Shankar: Absolutely. The other thing which is central about these interviews is that they complicate a single narrative about the uniqueness and the greatness of the event, and everybody of course focuses on the soaring rhetoric of Dr. King. We need to understand the multiplicity of perspectives that's embedded within the freedom struggle, which I think these interviews and other collections like them can really bring to the fore.
Todd Moye: I think that's the great thing about a collection like this. You can't help but complexify everything. One thing I really like about the way that y'all have conceived of and set up the Civil Rights History Project is that it doesn't define "civil rights" quote-unquote, in a narrow way. It includes interviews with Brown Beret activists. They were Mexican American activists who, in the shorthand, they get reduced to the Mexican-American version of the Black Panthers. And that, of course, oversimplifies things, but it's a shorthand that's somewhat useful. You have interviews with members of the Brown Berets like Carlos Montes from Southern California. You've brought a clip where he talks about the Brown Berets' participation in Resurrection City and the Poor People's March from 1968. Why don't we listen to that?
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Carlos Montes: We went down to the Resurrection City. We would go down there and have meetings with the Blacks and the other groups. So we met a whole lot of different organizations. We met Puerto Ricans, Blacks from different organizations, different cities, whites from the South and Appalachia, Native Americans. It was a major learning experience.
[ARCHIVE CLIP, interviewer: So what do you think the effects were on the Brown Berets of having participated?
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Carlos Montes: Well, it definitely opened up our mind to see there was a wider struggle, wider struggle in the US. Before that, you know, we used to blame white racism and our oppression on the white man. The white man is the enemy, the honky, the white man, the whitey, right? And to me, the beginning of the poor people experience and all of that changed to say it's not the white man, it's the one percent or the corporate structure or the rich people. The rich corporations is the enemy, that they monopolize and they discriminate. I started to see—you know, I guess you could call it class analysis, the upper class and the working class. And that it was a wider struggle. It wasn't just LA or the Southwest, it was a national struggle. And even so that it was a worldwide struggle. The example of the Vietnamese, Africa, Latin America against the US domination of their economies, politically and militarily, like in Puerto Rico or in Cuba, right? It was a political transformation for me and many of the other Brown Berets. But I think not all the Brown Berets made that transformation.]
Guha Shankar: You know, the Poor People's Campaign give you evidence of yet another one of these moments which the interviews contradict, you know, the dominant narratives, which are that the Poor People's Campaign was a failure because, after the death of Dr. King, the moment just—the movement foundered and fell apart. And there was no major legislative accomplishments. And that overlooks, I think, one of the central things that Carlos Montes and other activists are saying was that it galvanized him to, like, keep continuing the struggle, not to stop. And the Poor People's Campaign is part of the great awakening, you know, part of that the burgeoning consciousness on the part of activists that there are other dimensions to the struggle besides these kinds of, you know, just a Black and white or the voting rights or so on. Moments like these presumed failures were actually really successful in enabling people to think outside of their own particular struggles and look at them in a wider perspective.
Todd Moye: So one of the things that makes studying the civil rights movement so engaging, especially for K-12 students and college students, is that a lot of this is the history of what young people did. And young people like hearing that young people had an effect on the world, that they didn't just sit back and let history happen to them, but that they went out and made history. And that's, of course, not always a happy story. You know, in many of these cases in this particular collection, you have people talking about responding to traumas and responding to atrocities. So we have one clip here that you've identified from Cleveland Sellers, where he talks about being roughly the same age as Emmett Till when he was killed in Mississippi. Sellers was in rural South Carolina, but he recognized Emmett Till as someone like him, and this is something that could have happened to him. So why don't we listen to that clip?
[ARCHIVE CLIP, interviewer: You were, I think, 11 years old when Emmett Till was murdered in Mississippi. What kind of impact did that have on you?]
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Cleveland Sellers: I was—I was devastated by the fact that Emmett could have been me or any other Black kid around that same age. And so I related to that very quickly. And so we had rational discussions in our class about Emmett Till. And, you know, the question comes up, how do you address that? And I think for us, it was projected out that that would be our destiny to try to find remedies to a society that would allow that to happen, would condone that, and would actually free those who were responsible for that murder. And I think that that was a way in which we actually got away from revenge and hatred and those kinds of things. We talked about how we were going to use Emmett Till to build on. That we would rectify in our work and in our effort, the dastardly tragedy that happened to Emmett Till.]
Guha Shankar: Emmett's murder galvanizes a whole generation of activists. And it was a fundamental defining moment for many people who became involved in the struggle. And it wasn't the legislation which galvanized them to it necessarily, but that visceral attachment and that emotional connection they had to the murder of Emmett Till.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Listen up, educators. We've cooked up something new, just for you. You can now earn a certificate—issued by Learning for Justice—for one hour of professional development just by listening to this episode. All you have to do is go to learningforjustice.org/podcastPD—PD for professional development. That's "podcastpd," all one word. Then enter the special code word for this episode: "listen"—all lowercase. You'll also find a link in the show notes. Now let's continue our conversation with Todd Moye and Guha Shankar.
Todd Moye: We're here talking about teaching hard history, and a really hard part of this particular subject is how much violence there was, and just how much bloodshed. And we can't look past that, and it has to be part of what we teach. You have a clip from Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons, who was a young activist who was among those who was training for Freedom Summer in Mississippi in the summer of 1964 when three civil rights workers associated with CORE— Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner—were abducted in Neshoba County, Mississippi and murdered. And the students who were training for Freedom Summer had to react to that, had to deal with it, had to process it, as they themselves were setting off for rural Mississippi.
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons: I think the main reason that I thought we might survive was because of the white students who were going to be going. You know, a thousand. And I was like, "They're not going to kill them," you know? So that'll give us some protection. So, of course, that was shattered, you know, because before I left the second week of the orientation, the three Mississippi workers had disappeared and two of them were white. And when we were called in to a plenary where we were told this, and Bob said, "They are probably dead," I just—I couldn't believe it. I was like, "Dead?" I mean, you know, because I had met James Chaney that first week, and it was like, oh, these people really will kill us. I mean, it was like even whites? They will kill whites, you know, white males?]
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons: It was—so that definitely made me say, "Oh, we really could lose our lives. This is—this is no joke," you know? And so then I get assigned to Laurel, Mississippi, with two other Black people, because it's too dangerous to send whites into Laurel. Well, that—that just—I thought, "Oh, my God. But I thought that was the whole plan," you know, to have middle-class whites and some upper-class, that's going to bring some help, you know? The government is not going to let this happen, the federal government. They're going to send people in there to protect us, you know? So I just—when I went with my two colleagues, I just thought, "We're never gonna get out of here alive," you know?]
Guha Shankar: Listening to that clip is important for me to realize how these kind of personal experiences, you know, get you to the heart of what those other abstract concepts like racial terror or suppression, and all of those words which may not really have a resonance until you hear how they're set out and articulated by people who experienced racial terror and trauma.
Todd Moye: And as you say, you get just a really visceral illustration of that, but you also get a very compelling illustration of the perseverance and the determination that people like Simmons showed. And that leads to great discussions in the classroom, right? If she's willing to do that, what are you willing to do? Is there something that you would risk your life for?
Todd Moye: The Civil Rights History Project includes, gosh, hundreds of hours of these video histories, all of which are indexed. They're searchable, so teachers can find clips themselves that they're interested in. I understand that not everyone has time to go in and do the sort of search that we might wish we had unlimited hours to do. There are a couple of resources associated with the project, in which Guha and others have sort of cooked the raw ingredients from the interviews. And one of these that I really like is the Freedom Map. Guha, could you walk listeners through this resource?
Guha Shankar: Guha Shankar: Sure. Freedom Map is essentially a geo-locating platform, comes out of the ArcGIS folks, there's also Esri, which is another content provider for the library and for a lot of educational institutions. And what it allows you to do is to just take, for instance, a very crude baseline map, a baseline map of the United States, but then tag stories from the Civil Rights History Project interviews and other library resources—or any resource for that matter, even if you're not within the library—and attach them to specific places, so that you have a sense of time and space in which things and events happen.
Guha Shankar: So if you look at the Freedom Map, which is on the Library of Congress site, it'll give you a sense of where the struggle took place, and for obvious reasons of trying to condense some of these very important events and places and people, we focused on about six or seven different thematic and event-driven spaces.
Guha Shankar: One of the other things that the Freedom Map allows us to do is to plug in collections which are not oral history interviews, but still images. One of my own sort of personal favorites is a section of the Freedom Map about the Selma to Montgomery march of 1965. And these were taken by Glen Pearcy, and he was a student photographer for the Harvard Crimson. And he went down to Montgomery with some colleagues of his to cover the involvement of student activists who were agitating and having protests in Montgomery. Glen Pearcy documented student activists marching on the capital at Montgomery and being beaten back by sheriff's posses who were in league with the sheriff's office in Montgomery.
Guha Shankar: You see these amazing images of counterprotests by the KKK flying Confederate flags, having these racist banners. Really quite, you know, fraught and brutal photographs of young college students with their heads sort of bleeding from the baton charges of the posse. And those are some of the resources which you will find within the Freedom Map. Again to illustrate just the many dimensions of the struggle, but also in another way, it highlights the kinds of resources that are available for teachers and students to sort of consult as they begin to get a fuller understanding of the movement.
Guha Shankar: I'm hoping that people will use that as an exemplar to use these resources at the library—some of which are in the public domain, some of which you have to ask permission for rights—but to reuse them in classroom projects, so that people could do a story map for their own purposes as a school assignment. And it allows, I think, people to think in very multi-dimensional terms about cultural documentation and cultural resources, and how to use that to have a product beyond the sort of standard paper that, you know, you might be asked to present.
Guha Shankar: And these, I think, might be really important ways to enable people to get a perspective, young people to get a perspective on how the movement was documented, and how they themselves can fashion their own narratives.
Todd Moye: That's a great point. Some really magical things can happen when we set students loose with primary sources like that, and allow them to do the work of historians. It's always exciting.
Todd Moye: Well, we want to close with my favorite clip, and I think this makes such a powerful conclusion to all of the themes that we've been talking about. In this one, Ruby Sales talks about why she calls what we've been calling the civil rights movement, the freedom movement. And freedom, of course, is a word that has come up again and again today. We've talked about Freedom Summer, the Freedom Schools, the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The concept comes up again and again and again throughout this period, and at Ruby Sales talks in a very personal way about why that is the important concept, not the concept of citizenship rights, but of freedom and of human dignity. And that when we talk about this movement, that's what we need to center.
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Ruby Sales: I prefer to call it, in retrospect, the Southern Freedom Movement, because it was not only a movement for civil rights, but it was also a movement for human dignity. It was also a movement to abolish the violence and terrorism that whites executed against Black people for more than a hundred years during segregation. It was also a movement that—where we wanted to move from the small spaces that segregation pressed us down into, into larger spaces that gave us expression, creative, political and social expression.]
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Ruby Sales: And the reason why say it was a Southern Freedom Movement, on the other hand, is that the results of this movement not only humanized Black people, but it had the possibility of opening up the world for white people so that they could lead a more meaningful life. And the other part about being a movement is that this was not an event, this was a dynamic process that was connected to many events that had happened in the Black community, like the student movement, the Southern Negro Youth Cooperative in the 1940s. So we just didn't spring up out of nowhere. And so the other part about the Southern Freedom Movement is that there was a direct connection between the aims of Southern Black education and the ultimate explosion of the Southern Freedom Movement.]
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Ruby Sales: And I think that when you limit it to civil rights, you obscure, first of all, the horrors of segregation. You do not have to come to terms with the violence. You do not have to come to terms with the economic oppression. You do not have to come to terms with white people who wanted to turn Black schools into plantations. You do not have to come to terms with the fact that no Black girl was safe from rape in that society. No Black girl was safe from rape in that society. You obscure all of that. And at the same time, you obscure the long, hard years of Black struggle, and the blood and the sacrifice that we had poured into that struggle. I think that it does not do justice by limiting it to—and it's really not accurate to limit it to the movement. And one other point I want to make about that is that when we look at Rosa Parks, people often think that she did that because of her civil rights and wanting to sit down on the bus. But she also did that—it was a rebellion of maids, a rebellion of working-class women who were tired of boarding the buses in Montgomery, the public space, and being assaulted and called out of their names and abused by white bus drivers.]
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Ruby Sales: And that's why that movement could hold so long. If it had just been merely a protest about riding the bus, it might have shattered. But it went to the very heart of Black womanhood. And Black women played a major role in sustaining that movement. And so that's why I think it's really important to see the larger context. I don't think a civil rights movement could have lasted as long as this movement did without the cultural nuances of God, without the theology, without the intimacy, without the connections, and without the strong desire to be first-class human beings.]
Todd Moye: Todd Moye: Wow! Just listening to that, I realized that when I teach my civil rights course at the University of North Texas, I have an entire lecture on this subject, and all I need to do is play that four-minute clip. And there's so much in that that underlines and emphasizes what we've talked about today, and the themes that have come up throughout this series. I feel like I could set my grad students loose on that and they could write 10 dissertations on just what she has to say in those four minutes. It's so deep. So thank you, Miss Sales, so much for that. And thank you to the Civil Rights History Project for recording it.
Guha Shankar: Thank you so much for having me. It's a real privilege.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Music was vital to the civil rights movement, and continues to be critical to global freedom struggles today. In this installment of "Movement Music," historian Charles Hughes explains how music—like oral history—can expand our understanding of the past by capturing nuances of the times, and by filling in gaps in our knowledge about the Black freedom struggle. Here's Charles.
Charles Hughes: Music is a primary source through which students and teachers directly experience a historical period and gain insight into the past. Take "Everyday People," the 1967 Sly & The Family Stone hit. The title celebrates the potential for community building. The verses expose differences in identity and ideology that challenge but do not necessarily preclude the creation of community.
Charles Hughes: "Different strokes for different folks." A well-known colloquial wisdom that offers both affirmation and caution to a movement then negotiating a variety of constituencies, and all centered on the reminder that in the movement and beyond, the power came from the everyday people.
Charles Hughes: The sound too, is a primary document of the mid-1960s movement. Its gospel roots call back to the spaces that nurtured activists. Its soul power proclaims their mid-decade victories, while yearning for breakthroughs not yet realized. And it calls out to other forms of pop-rock, particularly the burgeoning counterculture that proved crucial for Sly—and complicated for the movement. As a learning tool, "Everyday People" complements the oral histories and original sources that spotlight the grassroots.
Charles Hughes: Music helps frame an appreciation of primary sources too. Song references appear in other documents—from letters to legal papers. And music-making suffuses all aspects of the movement era, reinforcing the importance of learning about and from the past.
Charles Hughes: Unsurprisingly, Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon, movement veteran, scholar, and founder of legendary musical collective Sweet Honey In The Rock, has created several of the best examples. She put music to the words of Ella Baker and Langston Hughes. And in Sweet Honey In The Rock's "I Remember, I Believe," she and her collaborators confirm why remembering is a revolutionary act in itself.
Charles Hughes: "I don't know how my mother walked her trouble down," she admits. Or how her "father stood his ground," or how her "people survived slavery." But she remembers, a process necessary for those who hope to quote, "Raise my voice for justice."
Charles Hughes: Paying attention to music also helps us document the current moment. Musical reactions to recent history can be deeply instructive in framing subsequent discussions. On Martin Luther King Day in 2021, up-and-coming Black country artist Willie Jones released "American Dream." Steeped in cultural traditions yet urgently linked to its present, Jones offers a deep, rumbling meditation on injustices and resistance. "When you're a Black man, it's a different kind of American dream."
Charles Hughes: Only time will tell if this song becomes as key a primary source as "Everyday People," or as lastingly poignant as "I Remember, I Believe." But we already know that it is a remarkable example of the many responses that fill our playlists, helping us understand and teach events as they occur. All we need to do is keep listening.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: If you're not teaching about everyday people when you're teaching about the civil rights movement, then I just don't know what you are teaching about. Because we are charged with helping our students do that revolutionary act of remembering, remembering what they never experienced. And that's the best way of introducing them to everyday people. This is also how we help our students raise their voice for justice, and that, to me, is the different kind of American dream. Black love.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Be sure to check out our latest Spotify playlist. Dr. Hughes has curated dozens of songs that amplify even more of the ideas raised in this episode. Just follow the link in the show notes at learningforjustice.org/podcasts.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: The National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, is an amazing institution. We asked Noelle Trent to introduce us to the museum and share some of the rich resources that they have developed for students and educators. Here's Dr. Trent.
Noelle Trent: The National Civil Rights Museum is located in the historic Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. This is the motel where Dr. King was assassinated on April 4, 1968, at 6:01 p.m. The hotel has a very long, storied history. In 1945, an African-American business couple, Walter and Lloyd Bailey purchased the motel. And they begin to rapidly expand the hotel as times are changing. It becomes a place where African-American travelers can find some respite from the segregated South. They also host integrated groups as well.
Noelle Trent: So it wasn't unusual to see people like Sam Cooke, Aretha Franklin, Jackie Robinson all visit the Lorraine. And in addition, it wasn't unusual to see artists from the Stax music label. So Isaac Hayes and others hanging out by the pool of the motel. After Dr. King's assassination, the motel goes into a decline, and together between the community's advocacy and fundraising efforts, the motel was preserved, and in 1991, we opened as the first museum in the country dedicated to telling the African-American civil rights story.
Noelle Trent: Part of the mission is that we also look at current events. We build connections between the social injustices we see today and what has happened in the history. And we serve as a catalyst for positive social change. And it allows us to straddle the line between past and present. That is where that energy around inspiring the younger generations to action comes from. And so there's a number of different ways that we do that. If you visit our website, CivilRightsMuseum.org, and you click on "Learn" and you scroll down, you will see a section that says "Educator Resources." If you click on that, you'll see learning links. And this is where we feature some materials that we have put together, including a curriculum called Creating Change Through Action.
Noelle Trent: This is a set of lessons or activities that teachers or parents or students can do to help them understand the nature of protest, the nature of service. The structure of this curriculum is based off of six pillars that were featured in Dr. King's final work, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? And they are: justice, peace, quality education, better jobs, housing and stronger communities, ending poverty and continuing the movement. So we've taken these concepts and broken them up, redefine what the theme is and what its impact has been. We talked about their meaning historically, as well as what are the current issues that they relate to.
Noelle Trent: So in "justice" we describe the impact of incarceration in families. There was a question of whether or not we should do that for children, and the reality is that odds are your child has a friend who has an incarcerated parent, or there's more than one student in your class that has an incarcerated parent or relatives. It's just not something that they talk about openly because there's still a lot of shame around it. It's very prevalent in society, but not widely discussed. And so we not only feature that, but resources for families with incarcerated people. And we have activities for different grade levels.
Noelle Trent: With peace and education, those are pretty self-explanatory, but we also promote people beginning to think about college. How do you plan for college? What does that look like for you? And community, how do you define a community? How do you change your community? What do you want that to look like?
Noelle Trent: And poverty is a complicated issue. We acknowledge that a lot of students in this country are living in poverty. The number of children who are going hungry, without school meals as their critical foundational nutrition is astounding. We talk about what it is, what are the challenges and what is it like to experience homelessness and how can you help remedy that? We know that there's no Utopian solution to any of these issues that we present, and we've been very careful not to be overly prescriptive with this. But it is an opportunity to put the story out there, so that there is an ability to have a discussion about these ideals.
Noelle Trent: One of the activities that I think is really great in our curriculum is the Service Over Self Bingo. It's your classic bingo card with a free space in the middle, but the other surrounding squares have different activities, and they can be as simple as leaving a thank you note for your sanitation worker or mailman. Another task can be paying someone a compliment, donating toys. It helps students to think about what are things that they can do to create positive change within their communities. The change that you create does not have to be this big, grandiose thing, but some of it is just hey, you can water a friend's plants, you can make a new friend, you can volunteer in a community garden, you can donate books to your library. You can give someone a compliment. You can donate food to your food bank. So it's very simple. It doesn't feel big or unwieldy to do something. It's something that is tangible in small, everyday actions. And that's the message we want to convey to young students.
Noelle Trent: There's another exercise that we do is which is called What's Your Sign? And kids make signs about things that they care about. I was talking to a little girl. She was looking at her sign and she said, "I don't know what to write." And I said, "Well, what's important to you?" And she said, "You know what? Girls should be treated just like boys." And I said, "So you believe in girl power." She's like, "Yeah!" And giving her that language to say that inspired her. And so it's that sort of act that happens with these resources.
Noelle Trent: It's a curriculum that we've gotten really great responses to. These are self-contained units that teachers can pull, so you can pick and choose from, and include them in your class or as part of your students' homework or extracurricular work or whatever sort of way that's meaningful for your classroom. We know that you only have a limited amount of time in your schedule to put something in to enhance the curriculum. And so what we've tried to do is create these opportunities for enhancement at different levels that allows the student to learn something, but also be able to take something home and continue that engagement.
Noelle Trent: Another resource that's available is a PDF of a PowerPoint called Resources for Exploring and Understanding Civil and Human Rights. And this is a compilation of books, online resources, films, etc. for all sorts of learners. Predominantly pre-K through 12, but we also have a few things for teachers and adults. And it's broken up by learning level, so that you can figure out what is the appropriate texts to introduce your students or your children to this topic. And it's not like you classic bibliography. We actually have photos of the book and a brief summary about the book, so that you can see what the book looks like. And it's visually very appealing. There are challenging stories, there are complex stories, there's talk about the national and international struggles. And they're emotionally challenging. This is difficult history. We don't shy away from it, but there's going to need to be additional contextualization and work that you do. I think the biggest mistake that you could make is give your child a story on Dr. King, have them read it and then walk away. You know what I mean? If you don't take the time to allow them to learn about Dr. King, and hear Dr. King, see what it was about, visit the National Civil Rights Museum, those sorts of things, that helps put that era and that discussion in broader context.
Noelle Trent: We start off with one of our favorite books by the author Doreen Rappaport, Martin's Big Words. It's a great book that goes through the life of Dr. King, but uses some really key words to help students understand what his life stood for. And one of our now classic activities is for students to make their own book of big words. You know, what are the words that feel special to you? What are the words that inspire change to you? And it's always surprising to see what kids care about. As we move forward, we have works from people who actually were in the movement. She Stood for Freedom: The Untold Story of Civil Rights Hero Joan Trumpauer Mulholland, and her work with the Freedom Riders, written by her son. Two books highlighting Claudette Colvin and Rosa Parks. There's a myriad of materials related to that. One of the books we really enjoy is Stamped Remix: Racism, Anti-Racism, and You. It's written by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi. It's an abbreviated version of Kendi's book Stamped From the Beginning. And it's meant for young adult readers. So it helps them understand the foundations of racism and anti-racism, and it's a great book for parents and teenagers to have a dialogue.
Noelle Trent: Another book that we featured is by Dr. Wesley C. Hogan. It's called On the Freedom Side: How Five Decades of Young Activists Have Remixed American History. So if you're working with young adults, teenagers, and they're kind of on the fence about how they can really impact change, this book does a great job of saying, yes, they can and here's how. And it looks at everything from SNCC to Black Lives Matter to Standing Rock to immigration reform. Who are the young people who did this? What did they do? How did they do it? And I think it's a really inspiring work for people to present to their students.
Noelle Trent: And then like always, we've got a ton of web resources, from other like-minded institutions. Because having to pivot to digital during the pandemic has forced all of us to really rethink what we're doing and do it in a more intentional way. This is by no means exhaustive. We know that things evolve year to year, but these are some of our top recommendations about what we think would be resourceful and useful for you.
Noelle Trent: There is power in visiting a museum. When you bring your students to a museum or a site where history happened, they're engaging with that. I think museums function hand in hand with our overall educational system in this country. It's just a shame that more opportunities are not presented—particularly in the public school system—for students to get into museums to see something. Most of the time, people come to us at the National Civil Rights Museum because they want to see the place where Dr. King died. They want to see where he spent his final hours. And there is something transformative that happens in the atmosphere of a historical event. That place has power. And we see that. You can see it as people leave their cars in the parking lot, walk into the courtyard, as the courtyard changes to brick and as they step into the area, looking up at room 306, which is the balcony where Dr. King was slain. There is a visceral reaction. People get quiet, people get contemplative, people get reflective. They step back, they step closer to their loved ones. There's this whole physiological, emotional response that happens. And that can only happen in a place where history happened. But they're not aware of, until they enter the building, is the vast history that we tell.
Noelle Trent: And so when they come through the museum, not only are they learning the history in a different way, it's very accessible because it's in the objects, it's in the technology, it's in the panels on the wall, it's in the interactives. There's so many different ways that you can choose to get into that story. And then we also have interpretive guides who can answer questions. So it's a multi-level learning experience, and that's why museums really matter. I know kids look at museums and they're like, "Great. Field trip! We're not in class." But what really happens with a well-structured visit, with a well-structured—with an intentional—because I don't mean "well-structured" like you're marching kids in two straight lines like in Madeleine, but you give your students some parameters of this is how we're going to engage. These are the things I want you to look at. Or you work with the education department at any given museum to figure out what it is you can do to guide your students through the experience, giving them that level of guidance and that freedom to make decisions about how much they engage or do not engage, allows them to experience something that cannot be experienced in the classroom, and can have a greater impact on their overall understanding of, not only the physical object that they saw and engaged with, but the overall historical and cultural or artistic context that's being presented to them.
Noelle Trent: Someone's reaction to what we present may not happen in that moment. It may happen on the walk back to their car. It may happen in the day or the night after, weeks later, sometimes even years later, of the impact of the stories we tell of what they were exposed to all of a sudden clicks. People come back and tell us, "I visited this when I was in elementary school. Oh, my goodness, this was such a transformative moment in my life." That's why they're such an integral part of the educational experience.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: J. Todd Moye is a professor of US history at the University of North Texas, the director of the UNT Oral History Program and a past president of the Oral History Association. He is the author of Freedom Flyers: The Tuskegee Airmen of World War II. Dr. Moye has also co-created several digital history projects, including Civil Rights in Black and Brown: Oral Histories of the Multiracial Civil Rights Struggles in Texas.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Guha Shankar is a folklife specialist in the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, where he serves as director of the National Civil Rights History Project. He is the Center's resource person for community, place-based education projects. Dr. Shankar received his PhD in Anthropology from the University of Texas at Austin.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Noelle Trent is the director of interpretation, collections and education at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee. Dr. Trent is an accomplished public historian, and has worked with several noted organizations and projects including the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site and the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of African American History and Culture. She is a proud graduate of the mecca, Howard University, where she earned her PhD in United States history.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Teaching Hard History is a podcast from Learning for Justice, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, helping teachers and schools prepare students to be active participants in a diverse democracy. Learning for Justice provides free teaching materials about slavery and the civil rights movement that include award-winning films and classroom-ready texts. You can find these online at learningforjustice.org.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Most students leave high school without an understanding of the civil rights movement and its continuing relevance. This podcast is part of an effort to change that. We began by talking about slavery for two seasons. And now we're tracing that legacy of oppression—and resistance—into the present.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Thanks to Dr. Moye, Dr. Shankar and Dr. Trent for sharing their insights with us. This podcast was produced by Mary Quintas and senior producer Shea Shackelford. Russell Gragg is our associate producer. "Movement Music" is produced by Barrett Golding. And Gabriel Smith provides content guidance. Amelia Gragg is our intern. Our managing producer is Miranda LaFond. And Kate Shuster is our executive producer.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Our theme song is "The Colors That You Bring" by Damon Locks Black Monument Ensemble, who graciously let us use it for this series. Additional music is from their album Where Future Unfolds. And from Wendel Patrick's JDWP Tribute.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: If you like what you've heard, please share it with your friends and colleagues. And let us know what you think. You can find us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. We always appreciate your feedback.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: I'm Dr. Hasan Kwame Jeffries, associate professor of history at The Ohio State University—and your host for Teaching Hard History.
- Library of Congress, Abernathy family oral history interview
- Library of Congress, Civil Rights History Project
- National Civil Rights Museum, Education and Interpretation
- J. Todd Moye, Department of History, University of North Texas
- Guha Shankar, Department of Folklore, Memorial University of Newfoundland
- National Civil Rights Museum, Museum Directory
- Voices of the Civil Rights Movement
- Voices of the Civil Rights Movement, Tuskegee Airmen
- Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, SNCC Digital Gateway
- Civil Rights in Black and Brown, Oral History Project
- Oral History Association, OHA Principles and Best Practices
- UC Berkeley Library, Oral History Center
- Zinn Education Project, Teaching Materials
- StoryCorps, The Conversation of a Lifetime
- West Chester University, Goin’ North: Innovation in Digital History
- Center for History and New Media, Omeka (web publishing platform)
- Civil Rights History Project, Film and Video
- Civil Rights History Project, YouTube channel
- Library of Congress, Charles F. McDew oral history interview
- Southern Christian Leadership Conference, SCLC History
- The King Institute, James M. Lawson
- Library of Congress, Courtland Cox oral history interview
- Library of Congress, Dorie Ann Ladner and Joyce Ladner oral history interview
- SNCC, Nonviolent Action Group
- U.S. History Documents, Brown Berets
- Library of Congress, Carlos Montes oral history interview
- Poor People's Campaign, Resources
- The New York Times, In 1968, a ‘Resurrection City’ of Tents, Erected to Fight Poverty
- Library of Congress, Cleveland Sellers oral history interview
- PBS American Experience, The Murder of Emmett Till
- Library of Congress, Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons oral history interview
- CORE, Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner
- Library of Congress, Freedom Map
- Library of Congress, Glen Pearcy Collection, 1965-1988
- Library of Congress, Ruby Nell Sales oral history interview
- Bernice Johnson Reagon
- National Civil Rights Museum, Educator Resources
- The King Legacy, Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?
- National Civil Rights Museum, Curriculum and Compilation of Social Justice Resources (PDF)
- National Civil Rights Museum, Resources for Exploring and Understanding Civil and Human Rights (PDF)
- Doreen Rappaport, Martin's Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
- Loki Mulholland, She Stood for Freedom: The Untold Story of Civil Rights Hero Joan Trumpauer Mulholland
- Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi, Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You
- Ibram X. Kendi, Stamped From The Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America
- Wesley C. Hogan, On the Freedom Side: How Five Decades of Young Activists Have Remixed American History
- The UNT Oral History Program
- J. Todd Moye, Freedom Flyers: The Tuskegee Airmen of World War II
- Guha Shankar, American Folklife Center: Folklife Today