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McREL Standards Activity

Perspectives on Civil Rights

Purpose:As a result of this activity, students will have a greater understanding of the leadership during the civil rights movement in the 1960’s by listening to significant speeches of that time.
Related Standard & Benchmarks:
United States History
 Standard 29.Understands the struggle for racial and gender equality and for the extension of civil liberties
   Level III [Grade 7-8]
   Benchmark 1. Understands individual and institutional influences on the civil rights movement (e.g., the origins of the postwar civil rights movement; the role of the NAACP in the legal assault on the leadership and ideologies of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X; the effects of the constitutional steps taken in the executive, judicial, and legislative branches of government; the shift from de jure to de facto segregation; important milestones in the civil rights movement between 1954 and 1965; Eisenhower’s reasons for dispatching federal troops to Little Rock in 1957)
Historical Understanding
 Standard 2.Understands the historical perspective
   Level III [Grade 7-8]
   Benchmark 1. Understands that specific individuals and the values those individuals held had an impact on history
Historical Understanding
 Standard 2.Understands the historical perspective
   Level III [Grade 7-8]
   Benchmark 2. Analyzes the influence specific ideas and beliefs had on a period of history
Language Arts
 Standard 8.Uses listening and speaking strategies for different purposes
   Level III [Grade 6-8]
   Benchmark 4. Listens in order to understand topic, purpose, and perspective in spoken texts (e.g., of a guest speaker, of an informational video, of a televised interview, of radio news programs)
Student Product:A written summary of the class discussion
Material & Resources:This activity is best done using the RealAudio program so that students can listen to the speeches rather than read them. To do this, teachers will need speakers for the computer and they will need to install RealAudio (RealAudio basic is a free program) from the following website:

Audio speeches can be accessed at numerous websites, suggested speeches and web locations are listed below: This site contains John F.Kennedy’s inaugural address (14 minutes), Martin Luther King, Jr.’s March on Washington Address/"I Have a Dream" (16 minutes), Lyndon B. Johnson’s "Signs Civil Rights Act" (4 minutes), and Malcolm X’s "Challenges to African-American Society"

An additional address by John F. Kennedy regarding civil rights (14 minutes) can be accessed at:

If internet access is unavailable, the instructor may locate tapes or videos of these speeches for use in the classroom.

Teacher's Note:
The civil rights era of the 1950’s and 60’s was marked by a diverse blend of leaders ranging from politicians seeking legislation to grassroots leaders seeking to inspire the masses. While many of these leaders shared a common goal, they each had a different method for achieving those goals. One way to determine what those differing perspectives were is to listen to the speeches by the notable leaders of that time.

To begin the activity, the teacher should first introduce guiding questions for students to consider in their interpretation of the speeches. This may be done through a handout or simply by taking notes.

1. Identify the historical context of the speech. Under what circumstances was it given?
2. Who is the speaker and what is the speaker’s background?
3. Who is the speaker addressing? What is the composition of the audience?
4. Does the speaker make any historical references (e.g., historical documents, such as the Declaration of Independence, or the conflicts over desegregation)?
5. Analyze the content of the speech. What was the main point and what were the supporting points?

Prior to playing each speech, the teacher should give a brief introduction to who the speaker is and where the speech is being given (this information is provided with each of the speeches listed in the resources). After the students have finished listening to the speeches, the teacher can lead a class discussion addressing the questions above. Through the course of the discussion, students should also explore common themes as well as the ways in which the messages differed. For example, the ideas presented by President Kennedy can be found in the content of the Civil Rights Act. However, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. had differing opinions on using violence to mobilize change. Students should discuss the reasons for these similarities and differences and the possible motivations of each of the speakers.