finding your roots

Faith in Change: John Lewis ~ Lesson Plan

Lesson Overview   March 26, 2012

(Click here for a printer-friendly version of this lesson.)

GRADES: 9-12

TIME ALLOTMENT: Two 45-minute class periods

OVERVIEW

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

LEARNING OBJECTIVES

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.

STANDARDS

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.

MEDIA RESOURCES

Video:

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.”

Websites:

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.

MATERIALS

“Literacy Test” Student Organizer

“Voting Under Jim Crow” Student Organizer

“Voting Under Jim Crow” Student Organizer Answer Key

BEFORE THE LESSON

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.

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Comments

  • Krystyna Zamorska, Ph.D

    April 5, 2012 at 10:31 am

    This is regarding the history of Poland and Polish Jews, the casual comment Dr. Gates makes in the narrative about Poland being a “dangerous place” for Jews. This is historically incorrect and socially borders on a stereotypical slur. Please fix this before it gets to schools; by the time I get them in college, they speak of WWII in Europe- for example – without Germany! (Poland was brutally occupied by Germany, turned into a slave nation and the filling fields German Nazis.)
    Poland was an early democracy in Europe – with a third oldest constitution in the world – a multicultural country in the 16th c. that accepted Jews expelled from Spain during the Inquisition. Poland was for centuries the heart of Polish Jewish culture, a success story by any measure. Since late 18 c. until 1918 Poland did not exist as a Political entity, partitioned by the three super empires surrounding it and manipulating ethnic groups against each other. To suggest that Walters’ ancestors left, as did millions of peasant of all backgrounds from all over Europe as the US was industrializing, for reasons other than poverty and oppression from the ruling gentry more than anything else, is to perpetuate cold war stereotypes that I have confronted as an educator and personally as a Polish American.
    Whoever wrote this scrip should hit the history books; even for an entertaining version of history, this is sloppy and dangerous work. There has been enough anti-Polish bias in the US media pre-1989 to keep all of us busy. Let’s not add to it with lazy historiography.

  • Krystyna T. Zamorska, PhD

    September 17, 2012 at 4:10 pm

    From: Krystyna T. Zamorska, Ph.D.
    To: PBS Producers of Finding your roots with Henry Lewis Gates, Jr.
    RE Barbara Walters and the Poland of her ancestors
    My roots are terribly misrepresented by this program. I am referring to the generalization Dr. Gates makes about the “history” of Poland and Jewish Poles, the casual comment he makes in the narrative about Poland being a “dangerous place” for Jews during the late 19th c. The statement is historically incorrect and borders on an ethnic slur. As a Polish American and a scholar, I am often confronted by similarly inaccurate anti-Poland stereotypes, reproduced assumptions rooted in misinformation and gaps left unchecked during the Cold War.
    Please fix this before it gets to teachers and students. We already have very inaccurate, very limited – and anti-Poland – versions of WWII history. German-occupied Poland was the most brutally repressed and exploited area by Germany for almost six year, turned into a slave nation through racist and genocidal German Nazi policies – against all Poles. It lost almost 18% of its pre-war population. By the time I get students in my college classroom, they speak of WWII in Europe as a war without the war or Germany in the picture – only some camps. Cold War, again. This is the popular version they bring along: Poland gets invaded by the Nazis (never Germany), and the country kind of turns over and plays dead while the Nazi build “death camps” to kill Jews.
    (There were 430 camps in occupied Poland during WWII, according to the Commission of German Crimes in Poland, some elaborate systems of camps e.g. Stutthof consisted of over 110 individual slave labor camps, victimizing all Poles, along with imported “slaves.” All of the camps were German camps, all of them deadly since most prisoners perished within months. Anyone teaching or writing about this subject should be familiar with this extensive document, digitalized in the UK: http://www.ess.uwe.ac.uk/genocide/gcpolindex.htm)
    The Commonwealth of Poland was a major empire during the 16th – 18th centuries. During the Inquisition, it welcomed Jews expelled from Spain. The nation was for centuries the heart of Jewish life anywhere, hence the world’s center of Jewish culture until the Holocaust. It was a success story by any measure. Note that Jewish Poles were a major minority in Poland for centuries, longer than African Americans have been in the United States. They constituted almost 10% of the nation’s population (1931 census), a major and thriving minority.
    Poland was an early democracy in Europe, with the second oldest constitution in the world – next only to the US. (Who knows this among us?) It was an organically multi-ethnic and multi-cultural nation. Since the late 18 c. and until 1918 (end of WWI), Poland did not exist as a political entity. It was partitioned by the three empires surrounding it and the occupying powers often manipulated ethnic groups against each other. To suggest that Barbara Walters’ Polish Jewish ancestors left “Poland” (not a political entity at the time), as did millions of peasants of all backgrounds from all over Europe – as the US was industrializing – for reasons other than the prevailing poverty and oppression from the ruling gentry, is irresponsible. It perpetuates the Cold War stereotypes of Poland. Whoever wrote this script should be sent back to (informed) history books.(Timothy Snyder’s Bloodlands is an excellent choice.) Even for an entertaining TV version of history, this is particularly sloppy and dangerous work. There has been enough anti-Polish bias in the US media pre-1989 to keep all of us busy. Let us not add to the lack of knowledge and ignorance with lazy historiography. The consequences are not attractive (This includes President Obama’s recent reference to “Polish” death camps.)

    (This one – previous was a “draft”)

  • Hue Beattie

    December 12, 2012 at 1:06 am

    John Lewis gave a great speech on voter supression at the 2012 Democratic National Convention It is available on line in the CSPAN archives.I was there and met him afterwards.

  • Krystyna T. Zamorska PhD

    January 4, 2013 at 1:09 pm

    From: Krystyna T. Zamorska, Ph.D. (krystyna.zamorska@gmail.com) To: PBS Producers of Finding your roots with Henry Lewis Gates, Jr. RE Barbara Walters and the Poland of her ancestors
    My roots are terribly misrepresented by this program. I am referring to the generalization Dr. Gates makes about the “history” of Poland and Jewish Poles, the casual comment he makes in the narrative about Poland being a “dangerous place” for Jews during the late 19th c. The statement is historically incorrect, an ethnic slur. As a Polish American and a scholar, I am often confronted by similarly inaccurate anti-Poland stereotypes, assumptions rooted in misinformation and gaps left unchecked during the Cold War being reproduced in the present.
    Please fix this before it gets to teachers and students. We already have very inaccurate, very limited – and anti-Poland – versions of WWII history. German-occupied Poland was brutally repressed and exploited area for almost six years, turned into a slave nation through racist and genocidal German Nazi policies – against all Poles. Poland lost almost 18% of its pre-war population. By the time I get students in my college classroom, they speak of WWII in Europe as a war without the war, with no Germany in the picture, and only some camps. Cold War, again. The “popular” version they bring along goes like this: Poland is invaded by the Nazis (never Germany), and the country kind of ‘turns over and plays dead’ while the Nazis build “death camps” to kill Jews. The long and genocidal German occupation, longest and most brutal, against the whole nation, was the epicenter the war.
    There were 435 camps in occupied Poland during WWII, according to the Commission on German Crimes in Poland, some elaborate systems of camps e.g. Stutthof consisted of over 110 individual slave labor camps, victimizing Poles of all ethnicities, along with imported ones. All of the camps were German camps, all of them deadly since most prisoners perished within months. Anyone teaching or writing about this subject should be familiar with German Crimes in Poland – essential reading – the official report on the crimes published in 1946, available in most academic libraries.
    The Commonwealth of Poland was a major power during the 16th – 18th centuries. During the Inquisition, it welcomed Jews expelled from Spain. The nation was for centuries the heart of Jewish life anywhere, hence the world’s center of Jewish culture until the Holocaust. It was a success story by any measure. Note that Jewish Poles were a major minority in Poland for centuries, longer than African Americans have been in the United States. They constituted almost 10% of the nation’s population (1931 census), a major and thriving ethnic minority.
    Poland was an early democracy in Europe, with the second oldest constitution in the world – next only to the US. (Who knows this among us?) It was an organically multi-ethnic and multi-cultural nation. Since the late 18 c. and until 1918 (end of WWI), Poland did not exist as a political entity. It was partitioned by the three empires surrounding it and the occupying powers often manipulated ethnic groups against each other. To suggest that Barbara Walters’ Polish Jewish ancestors left “Poland” (not a political entity at the time), as did millions of peasants of all backgrounds from all over Europe – as the US was industrializing – for reasons other than the prevailing poverty and oppression from the ruling gentry, is irresponsible. It perpetuates the Cold War stereotypes of Poland. Whoever wrote this script should be sent back to (informed) history books. Timothy Snyder’s Bloodlands is an excellent choice. Even for an entertaining TV version of history, this is particularly sloppy and dangerous work. There has been enough anti-Polish bias in the US media pre-1989 to keep all of us busy. Let us not add to the lack of knowledge and ignorance with lazy historiography. The consequences are not attractive (along with President Obama’s recent reference to “Polish” death camps).


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About the Series

The basic drive to discover who we are and where we come from is at the core of the new 10-part PBS series Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr., the 12th series from Professor Gates, the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor at Harvard University and director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research. Filmed on location across the United States, the series premieres nationally Sundays, March 25 – May 20 at 8 pm ET on PBS (check local listings).

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