It Takes Courage to be Weak ~ Lesson Plan

Lesson Overview

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LESSON TITLE: It Takes Courage to be Weak


TIME ALLOTMENT: Two 45-60 minute sessions, or one session plus homework


In this lesson, students begin by analyzing quotations about activism and social change, and rewriting them in their own words. Students view video segments from The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross to learn about the philosophy of nonviolence and about the role of nonviolent protest in the Civil Rights Movement. They conclude by writing first-person accounts from the point of view of a civil rights protester in 1950s and 1960s America.

NOTE TO TEACHERS: These segments of The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross contain authentic archival footage of the struggle between African Americans and white Americans during the Civil Rights era. They include some violence and the use of derogatory racial epithets. Before teaching this lesson, please preview the video segments and assess their appropriateness for your students.

SUBJECT MATTER: Social Studies


After completing this lesson, students will be able to:

  • Explain the strategy of non-violent passive resistance as a mechanism of social change.
  • Describe the role of non-violence in the Civil Rights movement, listing the types of actions that were undertaken by nonviolent protesters.
  • View the actions of key individuals such as Rosa Parks in the context of the larger social movement that supported them.
  • Report on the role of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and of college students in desegregation efforts in the American South in the 1950s and 1960s.


From the Common Core Standards: English Language Arts:

Common Core Standards, now adopted in over 40 states, are designed to help educators prepare students for success in college and careers by focusing on core knowledge and skills.  The English Language Arts standards reflect the need for young people “to read, write, speak, listen, and use language effectively in a variety of content areas” including history/social studies.  This curricular resource developed to accompany The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross aligns most closely with the following Common Core Standards:

RH.9-10.2 Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of how key events or ideas develop over the course of the text.

W.9-10.3 Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.

From the National Standards for United States History for grades 5-12:

Era 9: Postwar United 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.

Grades 7-12: Analyze the leadership and ideology of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X in the civil rights movement and evaluate their legacies. [Assess the importance of the individual in history]

Grades 5-12: 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. [Explain historical continuity and change]


The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross, selected segments.

Access the video segments for this lesson at the Video Segments Page.
Segment 1: “Rosa Parks”
Rosa Parks was a seasoned activist whose actions on the Montgomery bus were well planned.

Segment 2: “Ruby Bridges”
Six-year-old Ruby Bridges’ entry into a formerly all-white school provoked outbursts of hatred that mobilized the movement.

Segment 3: “Preparing for the Sit-In”
Non-violent passive resistance required much preparation and mental strength.


For the class:

  • Computer, projection screen, and speakers (for class viewing of online video segments)

For each student:


Prior to teaching this lesson, you will need to:

Preview all of the video segments used in the lesson. Prepare to watch them using your classroom’s Internet connection.

Print out and make copies of the “In Your Own Words” Student Organizer, the “Non-Violent Protest” Student Organizer and “The Sit-In” Student Organizer for each student. Also make copies of “Nonviolence and Racial Justice” if the students will not be accessing it online.

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PBS is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization.
The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross is a film by Kunhardt McGee Productions, THIRTEEN Productions LLC, Inkwell Films, in assocation with Ark Media.