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TIP: Prior to teaching, bookmark all of the Web sites used in the lesson and create a word processing document listing all of the links. Preview all sites and videos before presenting them to the class.
- Unholy Bedfellows: Political-Religious Boundaries. September 1, 2000, Episode 401
http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/week401/cover.html Religious groups have long tried to influence American political and social issues based on their commitments and beliefs, from abolition to women’s suffrage to civil rights. But there were diverse reactions during the 2000 presidential campaign to Senator Joe Lieberman’s plea for more religious faith in American public and political life.
- Rev. Gardner C. Taylor , January 12, 2007, Episode 1020
He worked with Martin Luther King Jr., and today he is still widely regarded as one of the greatest preachers in America.
- Legacy of Howard Thurman. January 18, 2002, Episode 520
http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/week520/feature.htmlA report on the pastor and theologian who had a profound spiritual influence on Martin Luther King Jr., as well as other civil rights leaders.
- News Feature: Civil Rights Pilgrimage. April 4, 2003, Episode 631
http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/week631/newsfeature.html This report discusses an annual pilgrimage to civil rights sites in Alabama sponsored by the Washington-based Faith and Politics Institute in an effort to remind members of Congress about the objectives of the civil rights movement.
- Interview: Rep. John Lewis. January 16, 2004, Episode 720
http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/week720/interview.htmlRep. John Lewis, a veteran of the civil rights movement and a Democratic congressman from Georgia, discusses the impact of religion on him and on the movement.
- Interview: Carolyn Mazloomi. February 20, 2004, Episode 725
http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/week725/interview1.htmlA founder of the Women of Color Quilters Network and co-curator of the exhibition “Threads of Faith” describes how faith guided her and many others in the civil rights movement and how their needlework bears witness to both faith and history.
- Feature: Black Churches and Gay Marriage. July 16, 2004, Episode 746
http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/week746/feature.htmlAlthough black churches in the United States have always been at the fore of the civil rights movement, some have taken a firm stance against homosexuality and same-sex marriage. This report explores the challenges and the collision of values apparent in these congregations.
- Interview: Joe Madison. August 19, 2005, Episode 851
http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/week851/interview.html Civil rights activist and radio talk show host Joe Madison discusses the role of church activism on the civil rights movement and also on the issue of slavery in Sudan. See also the related Religion & Ethics story on Black Churches and Darfur Activism.
- Essay: The Bible Told Them So by Allen Dwight Callahan. Viewer’s Guide, 2005
http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/resources/vg_default.html A look at the role of the messages of the Bible in slavery and in so many areas of African American life, including art, music and politics.
- Center for American Progress: The Role of Religion in the Civil Rights Movement
http://www.americanprogress.org/site/pp.asp?c=biJRJ8OVF&b=87308 Civil rights activist, educator and minister Bernard LaFayette explores how faith and religion propelled the civil rights movement and other similar quests for justice.
- Civil Rights Movement Veterans: Religion and Politics by Bruce Hartford
http://www.crmvet.org/comm/04elect2.htmBruce Hartford, a radical Jewish civil rights worker, discusses his involvement in the faith-based Southern Freedom Movement and suggests that issues of religion and politics be intertwined.
- Civil Rights 101: Religion
http://www.civilrights.org/library/civilrights101/religion.htmlThe Civil Rights Coalition for the 21st Century discusses the involvement of the religious community in the civil rights movement and in the fight against hate crimes.
- Polysigh: Religion, Politics, and the Civil Rights Movement. April 11, 2006
http://polysigh.blogspot.com/2006/04/religion-politics-and-civil-rights.html This political science Weblog entry suggests that while many religious leaders of various faiths are staunch supporters of civil rights, the civil rights movement is not a religious cause.
- This Far by Faith
http://www.pbs.org/thisfarbyfaith/journey_4/p_1.htmlThis PBS series on the African American religious experience explores the many notable men and women who, powered by their faith, toiled for centuries to achieve freedom, justice, and equality.
Teachers will need the following supplies:
- A chalkboard, dry-erase board, or flip chart
- Chalk, dry-erase markers, or Sharpie markers
- Internet access (If students cannot access the Internet from their classroom, provide hardcopies of the necessary web resources.)
- Student Organizers 1, 2, and 3
Faith and Inspiration
In this activity, students consider how religious faith inspired the civil rights movement and its greatest advocates.
1. Ask students to visit the following three sites and read the appropriate interview transcripts. If students do not have access to the Internet, feel free to provide printed copies of the transcripts.
- Interview: Rep. John Lewis http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/week720/interview.html
- Interview: Joe Madison http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/week851/interview.html
- Interview: Prof. Lewis Baldwin http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/week920/interview.html
2. When students have finished reading, form a discussion with your class about the interviews. Ask the following questions and any other questions you feel are appropriate:
- Judging from what you read in each of these interviews, do you think religious faith had a significant impact on the civil rights movement and its activists? How so?
- The civil rights movement pressed for social justice and equality among people of all races, cultures, and religious backgrounds. Since it was a social and political movement, do you think it was appropriate for advocates to draw inspiration from their religious beliefs? Why or why not?
- In Kim Lawton’s interview with Rep. John Lewis, he mentions that he is concerned that many people today fail to acknowledge the religious convictions on which the civil rights movement was built. Why do you suppose this concerns him? Why is it necessary to recognize the role of religion in the civil rights movement?
- Joe Madison mentions that when he returned from Sudan, he reconnected with civil rights organizations and tried to get churches involved in the movement. Why do you think he sought help from churches over other organizations or institutions? How might churches have benefited the cause?
- Professor Lewis Baldwin speaks of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his roles as pastor and civil rights activist. He mentions that many people feel compelled to separate these roles. They feel that pastors and other clergy should focus on overseeing their congregations and faith communities, while civil rights advocates should align themselves with a broader group of social activists. Why do you think people might feel this way? What might be the conflict of merging these two roles? Do you think these two roles can co-exist? Should they co-exist? Explain.
3. As students participate in this discussion, record key points on a flip chart, chalk board, or dry-erase board. Ask additional questions as necessary, and encourage students to ask questions of their own.
4. When you have finished this discussion, ask students to attempt a collective decision regarding the role of religious beliefs in the civil rights movement and other social change movements. Do students feel that faith plays an important role? Or do they feel that political and social issues should not be influenced by religion? Ask volunteers to share thoughts that support their answer.
Activity One: Church and State
In this activity, students investigate whether the influence of religious beliefs and faith on the civil rights movement violates the separation of church and state.
1. Explain to students that in this activity, they will interview a U.S. history teacher, current events teacher, social studies or political science teacher about the influence of religious beliefs on the civil rights movement. Explain to students that the purpose of this interview is not necessarily to identify examples of how faith influenced the movement; rather to determine whether this influence violated the separation between church and state. If there are too few teachers to accommodate all the student interviews, interviewees could also come from the community – a local lawyer or judge, a journalist, a professor at a local college or university, a politician or city council member, for example.
2. Distribute Student Organizer 1 and review the questions provided. Ask students if they have any questions, and encourage them to add or modify questions as they wish.
3. When students have completed their interviews, ask them to compile their findings in a brief report (3-5 paragraphs).
4. Form a discussion with your class about their findings. Ask the following questions and any other questions you feel are relevant:
- What was the general feeling of the person you interviewed about the presence of religious beliefs in the civil rights movement?
- Did he or she feel it is reasonable to be powered by faith when fighting for justice, equality and social change? Why or why not?
- Overall do you agree with this person’s beliefs? Why or why not?
- By accepting faith as a cornerstone of the civil rights movement, are citizens obligated to allow all religious beliefs to permeate social activism? Why or why not? In what ways might this be positive? How might the results be negative?
- Can you think of an example of a social issue that is somehow hindered by staunch religious beliefs?
- What, if anything, should be done to prevent religion from weighing too heavily on social or political issues?
5. Record key points on a flip chart, chalk board, or dry-erase board, and encourage further discussion as necessary. Collect and review their reports.
Activity Two: The Responsibility of Religion
In this activity, students explore the responsibility religions have to support and be engaged in the civil rights movement.
1. Divide students into groups of four. Explain that in this activity, they will participate in small-group discussions regarding the responsibility religions have to support and participate in the civil rights movement.
2. Ask students to begin their discussion by thinking of lessons they have learned via religion about the ways we are expected to treat people. (For example, many students might be familiar with the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have done to you.”)
3. Ask students to continue by discussing how these lessons might obligate religious groups and institutions to play an active role in the civil rights movement. Students should focus on the following questions as they complete their discussion:
- If a religion preaches equality, respect, love, and honor for all people, should that religion also preach the importance of participating in social causes such as the civil rights movement? Why or why not?
- Do you think it is hypocritical for a religious group to preach fair treatment; but do nothing to encourage the passage of laws that ensure equality for all people? Why or why not?
- If loving and honoring others is a lesson that is generally taught via religion, do religions bear the responsibility of seeking out examples of social injustice and promoting reform? Why or why not?
- Is it possible both to be religious and to discriminate against others? Explain your answer.
4. Distribute Student Organizer 2. Encourage students to use the organizer to record their thoughts and key points throughout the discussion. 5. When students have finished their discussion, ask volunteers from each group to share their thoughts. Record key points on a flip chart, chalk board, or dry-erase board, and encourage further discussion as necessary.
In this activity, students will consider how extreme religious beliefs might hinder the civil rights movement.
1. Begin this activity with a brief discussion of whom the civil rights movement intends to benefit. Explain that the movement does not call only for racial equality; rather it calls for the equal treatment of all people regardless of race, cultural background, religious beliefs, and sexual orientation.
2. Divide students into groups of four and ask them to discuss how extreme religious beliefs might work against the civil rights movement. Students should consider the following questions and any other questions you feel are relevant as they complete their discussion:
- Can you think of certain religious beliefs that might prevent people of different races, religions, cultural backgrounds, and sexual orientations from receiving fair and equal treatment?
- Should religious beliefs ever prevent someone from receiving fair treatment?
- Can citizens prevent extreme beliefs from standing in the way of an individual’s civil rights? If so, how?
- Should politicians ever allow their religious beliefs to prevent them from endorsing or passing laws that guarantee equal rights to people of all races, religions, cultural backgrounds, or sexual orientations? If so, under what conditions?
- If society prevents people from invoking religious beliefs that work against the goals of the civil rights movement, does it then have to prevent people from sharing religious beliefs that promote the movement? In other words, do societies have the right to choose who can express their religious beliefs freely? Why or why not?
3. Distribute Student Organizer 3. Encourage students to use the space provided on the organizer to record key points and ideas throughout their discussion.
4. When students have finished their discussions, bring the class back together. Ask volunteers to share their thoughts on how extreme religious beliefs might hinder the civil rights movement. Discuss the effects that these beliefs might have on people of various races, religious beliefs, cultural backgrounds, and sexual orientations.
5. Record key points on a flip chart, chalk board, or dry-erase board, and encourage further discussion as necessary.
- In this activity, students interview a priest, rabbi, minister, or other clergy member to determine how their religious beliefs and values influence their thoughts on the civil rights movement. Students should ask the following questions, and any others they wish to ask, during their interview:
- In your opinion, what can we all learn from religion about the importance of the civil rights movement?
- Do you think that people with firm religious beliefs are more likely to support the civil rights movement? Why or why not?
- Has your role as a religious leader helped you to understand the importance of civil rights for all people? If so, how?
- Do you think that all churches, temples, and other religious institutions should play an active role in supporting civil rights for all people? Why or why not?
- Can one consider himself or herself truly religious if he or she does not support the equal rights of all people? Why or why not?
When students have finished their interviews, ask them to compile their findings in a brief (3-5 paragraphs) report. Form a discussion with your class about the philosophies and ideas the interview participants shared. Record key points on a flip chart, chalk board, or dry-erase board, and encourage further discussion of key points as necessary.
- Ask students to visit http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/week746/feature.html and read the Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly Feature: Black Churches and Gay Marriage. Then divide the class into groups of four and ask them to discuss whether they feel it is either acceptable or hypocritical of these churches to show a lack of support for gay marriage. When students have finished their discussions, bring the class back together and ask volunteers to share their thoughts on this topic. Ask questions and encourage further discussion of key points as necessary.
- In this activity, students complete a journal entry that identifies the key lessons they have learned from religion about the way God or a similar higher power wants us to treat each other. Students should address the following questions as they complete their entry:
- Have you ever thought about these religious lessons from the perspective of the civil rights movement?
- Will you consider these lessons differently now that you have thought about them from this point of view? How so?
- Do you think you will be less judgmental of people of different racial, religious, or cultural backgrounds, as well as people of different sexual orientations, as a result of the discussions and activities you have participated in? Why or why not?
- Will you react differently when you hear someone make an unkind statement about people of different orientations or backgrounds? If so, how will you react?
When students have finished their entries, ask if there are volunteers who would like to share their thoughts. Ask questions and encourage further discussion of key points throughout the discussion.
Explain to students that music was a central part of the civil rights movement. Many activists and civil rights supporters expressed themselves through hymns, spirituals, freedom songs and sacred music. Play a sample of songs that held great significance to the movement such as “We Shall Overcome,” “Wade in the Water,” “Go Tell It On the Mountain,” “This Little Light of Mine,” “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Round,” “Keep Your Eyes on the Prize,” “Woke Up This Morning with My Mind Set on Freedom,” and “I Shall Not be Moved” for students. (If you cannot find recorded versions of these or other songs, printed copies of the lyrics are fine.) Listen to these songs and allow students to think independently about the spiritual significance of the words. Ask students to work on their own to interpret the spiritual or religious meaning behind the words, and ask them to write one to two paragraphs about why they think these songs moved or inspired civil rights activists. When students have finished writing, ask volunteers to share their interpretations and thoughts. Note similarities and differences that arise throughout the discussion, and encourage discussion of key ideas as necessary. Some additional resources and audio can be found on the Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly Web site:
- African American Spirituals
- Martin Luther King and the Arts
- Interview with Vincent and Rachel Harding
- Tribute to Martin Luther King Jr.
In this activity, your class will work together to develop a “Bill of Civil Rights.” The bill will identify specific behaviors that everyone should follow to ensure the civil rights of all people. Divide students into groups of four and ask them to brainstorm ideas that should be incorporated into the bill. When students have finished, ask a volunteer from each group to share the ideas that were generated and record them on a flip chart, chalk board, or dry-erase board. Note duplications as they arise, and ask for further explanation of ideas as necessary. When the list is complete, ask students to identify the ideas that seem to be powered by politics and law, and those that appear to be driven by spiritual or religious beliefs. Note any ideas that students identify as being inspired by law and religion, and ask students to discuss whether they feel it is acceptable to enforce a bill of rights that might be interpreted as spiritual or religious. Would this breach the separation of church and state? Ask them to explain their answers, and encourage discussion of key points as necessary.