Civil Rights

The right of people to live free of domination by others is the most fundamental goal of democracy. The will of the majority becomes the law, but that law must protect the rights of everyone, not just those of the majority. Thomas Jefferson declared, "The minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect."

Every citizen in a democracy or democratic republic has the same basic rights as every other citizen. These rights are protected by the Constitution. Civil rights are the private rights of all citizens. They include the right to vote, own property, receive equal protection of the law, and have freedom from involuntary servitude.

The Declaration of Independence contains a statement about human rights..." We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. " It was written in 1776. In 1787, the Constitution of the United States gave all men the right to carry weapons, the right to free speech, and the right to follow their own religion. Note that the Constitution did not give rights to women. And slavery was well established in America at the time the Constitution was written. It took amendments to the Constitution to abolish slavery and give women the right to vote.

But change was slow to come, and not all Americans could legally exercise the civil rights promised to them at the end of the Civil War. Even with constitutional amendments, many, if not most, African Americans dealt with racism, ignorance, and injustice. The civil rights movements of the 1950s and 1960s continued the struggle of African Americans to gain and protect the rights that had long been denied to them. Other groups in the United States, such as Japanese Americans, Chinese Americans, and Native Americans, have also had to struggle to gain basic rights.

Sample some of the following activities to learn more about civil rights.


Places To Go    People To See    Things To Do    Teacher Resources    Bibliography

Places To Go

The following are places to go (some real and some virtual) to find out about civil rights.

Greensboro Sit-Ins
Four young men who came to be called the "Greensboro Four" were refused service at a white-only lunch counter at a Woolworth store. So they staged the first sit-in. These four college students became heroes of the civil rights movement, and theirs was the first of many sit-ins.
Little Rock Central High School
Visit Little Rock Central High School and learn about its tumultuous efforts to desegregate in 1957. Find out what happened to the original nine African American students who attended the school.
The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change
Virtually visit the King Center in Atlanta, Georgia. It is dedicated to promoting the legacy and teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. through research and education in his principles, philosophy, and methods of nonviolence.  
We Shall Overcome
Travel to historic places of the of the civil rights movement. Do you know why the Moulin Rouge Hotel was significant in the history of civil rights? How about the Elizabeth Harden Gilmore House in Charleston, West Virginia or the Dorchester Academy Boys' Dormitory in Midway, Georgia?

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People To See

Beyond the Playing Field: Jackie Robinson, Civil Rights Advocate
Spend some time with Jackie Robinson. Not only was he a groundbreaking baseball player, he was also a civil rights advocate.
Biographical Outline of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Learn more about the major architect of the Civil Rights Movement and his policy of nonviolent, passive resistance.
Biography of Thurgood Marshall
Learn about the man who successfully argued before the U.S. Supreme Court the case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954) and later became the first African American U.S. Supreme Court Judge.
Charles Houston: The Man Who Killed "Jim Crow"
Houston orchestrated a series of legal battles throughout the 1930s and '40s that laid the groundwork for the landmark 1954 Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education, which legally ended segregation in the United States.
Fanny Jackson Coppin
Meet Fanny Jackson Coppin. She was a former slave who became a teacher and was tireless in her efforts to educate other freed slaves.
Ida B. Wells
Ida B. Wells became a crusader for women's rights and for the rights of African Americans. In the 1870s, Ms. Wells was forcibly removed from her seat for refusing to move to a "colored car" on the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad. She helped lay the groundwork for the organization now known as the NAACP, the oldest civil rights organization in the country.
Medgar Evers
Learn about Medgar Evers. He was a civil rights leader from Mississippi who was shot and killed in the driveway of his home in June of 1963. There were no consequences for his accused murderer after two mistrials, and this led to many protests and disturbances in states throughout the south.
Rosa Parks: The Woman Who Changed a Nation
Get to know Rosa Parks. When she refused to give up her seat to a white man on December 1, 1955, her "act of courage began turning the wheels of the civil rights movement."
Viva Cesar E. Chavez
This is a rich site with speeches, photos, interviews and documents related to Chávez' life and work.

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Things To Do

A Short History of American Civil Rights Law
Find a timeline of civil rights laws beginning with the Declaration of Independence.
African American Odyssey: The Civil Rights Era
Read about major events of the Civil Rights Movement. Includes photographs and primary documents.
Brown v the Board of Education
Learn about the groundbreaking 1954 case that ruled that separate facilities for blacks were not equal to those set aside for whites and that separation of the races was harmful. The case involved the rights of black children to attend a white public school.
Civil Rights Act of 1964
Read the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which secured for African Americans the right to eat at any restaurant, rent a room in any hotel, ride in any section of public transportation, be hired for any job whose qualifications they met, or attend any school. In 1964, Congress passed the first of several voting rights acts to enforce the rights of blacks to register to vote.
Civil Rights Speeches
Read full text speeches and writings pertaining to civil rights such as Henry David Thoreau's essay on civil disobedience, President Truman proclaimed equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services, a letter written by Martin Luther King, Jr. from a Birmingham jail, and many others.
Creating an Anti-Bias Learning Environment
Learn how to create a positive, anti-bias environment where respect for diversity is taught, modeled, and experienced firsthand.
"Jim Crow" Laws
Learn about the system of segregation used before the Civil Rights Movement in the United States.
PBS: Civil Rights Era Timeline
Learn about the major events in the Civil Rights Movement from 1954-1971. Includes links to NPR interviews about several of the events.
Plessy v Ferguson
In 1896 the principle of separate but equal was established. Plessy had been removed from an all-white railroad car by authorities who said that the facilities for blacks on railroad cars were of equal quality.
Teaching Tolerance
This web page provides many activities and ideas to help people from all walks of life to fight hate and promote tolerance.
Timeline of the American Civil Rights Movement 
Find a timeline of the civil rights movement with information about the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott, the 1957 Little Rock desegregation school issues, the 1960 sit-in campaigns, and more.

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Teacher Resources

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  • Andryszewski, Tricia. The March on Washington, 1963: Gathering to Be Heard. Brookfield, Conn.: Millbrook Press, 1996.
  • Burby, Liza N. The Watts Riot. San Diego, CA: Lucent Books, c1997.
  • Fireside, Harvey. Plessy v. Ferguson: Separate But Equal? Springfield, NJ: Enslow Publishers, c1997.
  • George, Charles. Life Under the Jim Crow Laws. San Diego: Lucent Books, c2000.
  • George, Linda. Civil Rights Marches. New York: Children's Press, c1999.
  • Haskins, James. The Scottsboro Boys. New York: H. Holt and Co., 1994.
  • King, Casey. Oh, Freedom!: Kids Talk About the Civil Rights Movement with the People Who Made It Happen. New York: A.A. Knopf, c1997.
  • Levine, Michael L. African Americans and Civil Rights: From 1619 to the Present. Phoenix, Ariz.: Oryx Press, c1996.
  • Lucas, Eileen. Cracking the Wall: The Struggles of the Little Rock Nine. Minneapolis: Carolrhoda Books, c1997.
  • Murray, Peter. Dreams: The Story of Martin Luther King, Jr. Plymouth, MN: Child's World, c1999.
  • O'Neill, Laurie. Little Rock: The Desegregation of Central High. Brookfield, CT: Millbrook Press, 1994.
  • Rasmussen, R. Kent. Farewell to Jim Crow: The Rise and Fall of Segregation in America. New York: Facts on File, 1997.
  • Schaefer, Lola M. Martin Luther King, Jr. Mankato, Minn.: Pebble Books/Capstone Press, c1999.
  • Tackach, James. Brown v. Board of Education. San Diego, CA: Lucent Books, c1998.
  • Tushnet, Mark V. Brown v. Board of Education: The Battle for Integration. New York: Franklin Watts, c1995.