In this BrainPOP movie, Tim and Moby introduce kids to the American Civil Rights Movement of the ’50s and ’60s. | brainpop.com
Among other things, your students will learn about the famous Brown v. Board of Education trial case, and about what happened when Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat in Montgomery, Alabama. They’ll also learn about sit-ins, Freedom Rides, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and what he did to contribute to the Civil Rights Movement. Its success has continued to inspire other groups—from union workers to the LGBT community—in their quest for equal treatment.
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Before the 1960s, America was a very different place. In many parts of the country, African Americans were barred from lots of public spaces. Movie theaters, restaurants, buses and trains, all had separate areas for black and white customers. African American also had to live in separate neighborhoods, and couldn’t hold the same jobs as whites. This practice of separating African Americans from white people was called segregation. Segregation was widespread, touching every part of society. Even at school.
One turning point came in 1951, with an African-American student named Linda Brown. She was barred from attending the school closer to her home. Instead, she had to ride a bus to a black school across town. So, her father joined a dozen other parents and sued the school board. By 1954, the case had gone all the way to the Supreme Court. The Court ruled that segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. It was a landmark case known as Brown versus The Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas.
These new laws had to be enforced. And there were still lots of other laws and customs that discriminated against African Americans. In 1955, an activist named Rosa Parks took a seat on a public bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Soon the bus filled up, leaving no free seats for white passengers. When the driver told Parks to give up her seat, she refused, and was arrested. That was the rule back then in Alabama, and throughout most of the South. African Americans had to give up their seats if any white people were standing.
Jo Ann Robinson, another activist, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a Baptist minister, organized a boycott of the city’s bus system. Black citizens of Montgomery refused to ride on the buses for more than a year. They chose to walk rather than submit to unfair regulations.
The boycott led to a lawsuit, and in 1956, a Supreme Court decision banned segregated buses. But the fight still wasn’t over. Dr. King and other brave activists organized nonviolent protests across the nation. During sit-ins, black students visited “whites only” lunch counters. They quietly sat there until they were served, or until the store closed. As a result, they were often harassed, or even arrested. And Freedom Riders rode buses from other states throughout the South. They were there to make sure the buses were integrated, with blacks and whites sitting next to each other, like the law said. These peaceful protests were often met with anger, and sometimes violence.
Yeah, it’s hard to imagine how something like that would make people so mad. But people often feel threatened by change. The movement reached a high point with the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. On August 28, 1963, hundreds of thousands of people marched through the heart of the country’s capital. Dr. King delivered his momentous “I Have a Dream” speech. The very next year, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed all discrimination based on race, religion, sex, or ethnicity. Public facilities could no longer be segregated, and businesses would have to make an effort to hire a more diverse workforce.
Changing people’s prejudices—that’s something no law can fix. African Americans have continued to face violence and discrimination. But dedicated activists are keeping the world’s attention on the issue. The legacy of the Civil Rights Movement lives on in these new generations. And in other groups who have been inspired by its successes.
Women, immigrants, gay and transgender people. These groups and others are still struggling to be treated with dignity. Whether it’s fighting for equal pay, the freedom to live proudly and openly, or the right to simply be left in peace. If there’s one thing we’ve learned from the Civil Rights Movement, it’s that history is on their side.