With yesterday's arguments before the Supreme Court about section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, I'm wondering if this has come up at all in your classes. Are you using it as an opportunity to discuss the Act and the civil rights movement? If so, how have you approached it? Have your students heard about the case and have they been curious about the Voting Rights Act or voting history? What are students in areas identified in section 5 saying about the case?
If you are having conversations about this topic, I wanted to be sure you know of a few key resources at the Museum that might be helpful. Our Preparing for the Oath website, developed in collaboration with the US Citizenship and Immigration Services, has a useful primer on voting and voting rights while our online exhibition Separate is Not Equal: Brown v. Board of Education includes a section on Jim Crow America, including a poll tax receipt from Alabama in 1896.
We hope you'll share how you're incorporating current events into your history classes!
National Museum of American History
Thanks so much Naomi for bring this topic up and alerting teachers to the excellent resources at the Museum. If I may, I'd like to add one from EDSITEment. Our lesson on the Election of Barack Obama focusing on the role the Voting Rights Act. The background section of the lesson gives a history of the Act and shows how it has made participation in the electoral process by African Americans and election of African America candidates possible
Thanks for sharing this resource from EDSITEment! I wish I'd posted about this issue sooner, but even if the conversation is past in some classes, perhaps it will be revived when the Court announces the decision. Certainly these should be useful for future history lessons!
The History of the Selma to Montgomery March and its Impact on the Voting Rights Act
On March 7, 1965, black citizens of central Alabama gathered together after more than a month of demonstrations in response to the death of a young civil rights activist, Jimmy Jackson Lee, at the hands of the police. Their purpose was to peacefully progress from Selma to the capital in Montgomery in order to gain national awareness for the denial of voting rights. The march began quietly, but several blocks from where they started, the 600 marchers were met with gas and violence by state and local police on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. They werebeat, trampled, and bloodied in an event that would become known as “Bloody Sunday.”
After reorganization and careful negotiations with—and support from—the federal government, the march lead by Dr. King and John Lewis started again on March 21, 1965, and reached Montgomery successfully five days later. On their arrival in the capital, on March 25, the marchers numbered between 20,000 and 25,000.
The television coverage of the violence shocked the nation. It provoked an outpouring of support for the voting rights movement from white religious and labor leaders as well as ordinary citizens. President Lyndon Johnson and key members of Congress who had been dubious about the need for a bill now committed themselves to its passage. Johnson delivered one of the most important speeches on his presidency, “We Shall Overcome,” in support of the act on March 15. The bill that Dr. King, Lewis, and so many other civil rights leaders had sought was signed into law August 6, 1965 by President Johnson.
Using Photographs as Primary Sources
In Picturing Freedom: Selma-to-Montgomery March, 1965, students use the lesson activities and interactive resource to learn about the Selma to Montgomery voting rights march and explore the role of photojournalists and media in the passage of the Voting Rights Act.
Students analyze James Karales’s dramatic picture for clues about the marchers and their rationale, drawing inferences about the American social and political sentiments of the time. They read background material on the photograph and generate critical questions about civil rights based on their interactive study of the image. After exploring the marchers’ goals and motivations, students are asked to produce a written and illustrated postcard recapping this civil rights event from a marcher's viewpoint.
Visual Learning, Research, and the Common Core
This lesson is especially pertinent to Common Core classrooms, in which all students are expected to “integrate visual information (e.g., in charts, graphs, photographs, videos, or maps) with other information in print and digital texts” and “analyze the relationship between a primary and secondary source on the same topic.”
Moreover, the CCSS emphasize the need for students to practice research skills using reliable sources. Students need to be able to:
With this lesson, teachers can introduce students to the Encyclopedia of Alabama a free, online resources supported by the NEH. By exploring the rich civil rights section, they will gain deeper background information on a number of the significant events, places, and individuals who helped shape the course of the movement. Through these entries, students can find out about the Selma to Montgomery March, as well as important figures that shaped the march, including Jimmy Lee Jackson, Viola Gregg Liuzzo, and John Lewis, and view a photo gallery of the march.
They will also be exposed to one of the best online repositories of state history now available and thus have an authoritative point of reference beyond popular but unreliable homework sites. Other NEH-supported online state encyclopedias can be accessed through EDSITEment’s handy teachers’ reference shelf index.