John Lewis and Cory Booker

Lesson Plan – Faith in Change: John Lewis

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GRADES: 9-12

TIME ALLOTMENT: Two 45-minute class periods


This lesson uses video segments from the PBS series Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr. to explore the American civil rights movement of the 1960s through the personal experience of one of its most prominent leaders—Congressman John Lewis.

In the Introductory Activity, students are challenged to complete a prohibitively difficult “Literacy Test” once administered to African Americans attempting to register to vote in the Jim Crow South. They then explore an interactive website to gain a wider understanding of voting challenges for African Americans during Jim Crow.

The Learning Activities focus on the early life of Congressman John Lewis—following him from a boy coming up against racial segregation for the first time as he tried to get a library card to the civil rights champion who led the famous March on Selma—a turning point for the movement which led directly to the passage of the Voter Rights Act of 1965 which overturned the last official vestiges of Jim Crow.

The Culminating Activity reminds students that the voting rights Lewis and others fought so hard for are commonly ignored by many potential voters today, and invites them to learn more about various organizations looking to raise turnout at the polls.

SUBJECT MATTER: American History, Social Studies


After completing this lesson, students will be able to:

– Outline the challenges faced by African Americans seeking to vote in the Jim Crow South.

– Discuss the spiritual and religious dimension of the civil rights movement.

– Explain the philosophical and practical rationales of non-violent protest.

– Discuss the “gray” nuances which have traditionally characterized certain black/white race relationships in the South.

– Describe the efforts and methods of contemporary organizations to increase voter turnouts.


US History Content Standards, National Center for History in the Schools

United States Era 9/Postwar Unites States (1945 to early 1970s)

Standard 4- The struggle for racial and gender equality and for the extension of civil liberties.

Standard 4A – The student understands the “Second Reconstruction” and its advancement of civil rights. THEREFORE, THE STUDENT IS ABLE TO:

– Explain the origins of the postwar civil rights movement and the role of the NAACP in the legal assault on segregation.

– Explain the resistance to civil rights in the South between 1954 and 1965.

– Analyze the leadership and ideology of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X in the civil rights movement and evaluate their legacies.

– Evaluate the agendas, strategies, and effectiveness of various African Americans, Asian Americans, Latino Americans, and Native Americans, as well as the disabled, in the quest for civil rights and equal opportunities.



Finding Your Roots, Episode 2, selected segments.

Access the video segments for this lesson at the Video Segments Page.

Clip 1: “Only In America”

An introduction to the life and times of John Lewis—a leader of the African American civil rights movement in the 1960s who now maintains its legacy as a member of Congress.

Clip 2: “A Long Struggle”

John Lewis discusses his childhood in rural Alabama, his early calling to preach, and his first transformative encounter with Jim Crow racial segregation.

Clip 3: “Relationships”

Henry Louis Gates explores the complicated relationships between John Lewis’ Civil War-era ancestors on both sides of the racial divide.

Clip 4:  “The Most Powerful Instrument”

John Lewis recalls his central role in one of the most pivotal moments of the civil rights movement— the violent dispersal of peaceful protest marchers outside Selma, Alabama in 1965 that came to be known as “Bloody Sunday.”


Voting Then, Voting Now

An interactive created in support of the PBS series The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow exploring challenges faced by African Americans seeking to vote in the Jim Crow South, and the need to treasure and exercise that right today.


“Literacy Test” Student Organizer

“Voting Under Jim Crow” Student Organizer

“Voting Under Jim Crow” Student Organizer Answer Key


Prior to teaching this lesson, bookmark all of the websites used in the lesson on each computer in your classroom, or upload all links to an online bookmarking utility such as Portaportal. Preview all of the websites and video segments used in the lesson to make certain they are appropriate for your students. Make enough copies of Student Organizers for every student in your class.

Proceed to Lesson Activities.