Civil Rights Teaching at the Schomburg Center

Teaching for Change encourages teachers and students to question and rethink the world inside and outside their classrooms. This makes it especially gratifying when our curricula and teaching guides become the cornerstone of after-school and summer educational programs. The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture used our publication Putting the Movement Back into Civil Rights Teaching (published with PRRAC) in its 2011 Summer Education Institute. For those unfamiliar with the Schomburg Center, for 85 years this research institution, a division of the New York Public Library, has collected, preserved, and made available the largest collection of materials documenting the history of African-descended peoples.

Centrally located in Harlem, N.Y., the center’s collection and programs serve approximately 87,500 residents, students, and scholars each year. This summer participants in both the Junior Scholars Program and the Summer Education Institute received copies of Putting the Movement Back into Civil Rights Teaching. The book connects the African American Civil Rights Movement to Native American, Latina, Asian American, gay rights, and international struggles. Deirdre Hollman, MSEd, director of education and the Junior Scholars Program at the Schomburg Center, offers the most succinct assessment, saying, “Teachers really appreciate Putting the Movement Back into Civil Rights Teaching because of the practical resources it provides.” In addition, Hollman proclaims, “I love it because it has so many perspectives on the movement that help me connect with different populations.” The book’s collection of songs, speeches, and classroom activities make it the ideal resource for both teachers and students.

“Naturally, I always turn to this resource,” says Hollman, who was first introduced to Putting the Movement Back into Civil Rights Teaching as a graduate student by her mentor and contributing author, Professor Bernadette Anand (Bank Street College). It challenges the dominant narrative of traditional textbooks and curricula that deify Martin Luther King Jr., pacify Rosa Parks, and teach students that only a handful of equally extraordinary individuals brought about the great social, cultural, and political transformation of the 1950s and 1960s. Our book expects students and teachers to see themselves as a necessary continuation of that struggle. Rather than separating ourselves from this history, Putting the Movement Back into Civil Rights Teaching draws a link between our lives today and the people’s movements for freedom and justice that we study. We provide teachers with the tools to help their students make that connection.

The Junior Scholars Program brings together 100 youth from the New York metropolitan area for a precollege black studies program that meets October through May annually. After 10 years, the program continues to teach the unique and rich contribution of African diasporic experiences on politics, social movements for justice and equity, and the arts. Teaching for Change’s discussion and teaching guides on the African American Civil Rights Movement offer a perfect complement to the goals of the program because the movement influenced and collaborated with other social movements.Learning through this seemingly narrow lens of African American experience places the students in the program at the center of what Hollman describes as “the complex social fabric of our histories.” By using Putting the Movement Back into Civil Rights Teaching, the Schomburg Center equips students and educators to understand how social movements connect people throughout history.

The inclusion of Teaching for Change materials in the Schomburg Education Institute this summer fulfills one of our own programming goals: professional development. The institute unites educators (schoolteachers, college faculty, and community educators) with premier historians and scholars to explore the history and cultures of African Americans and African peoples throughout the diaspora. It pleases us to learn that Dr. Yohuru Williams, one of the advisors to Putting the Movement Back into Civil Rights Teaching, led a session. Dr. Williams, a history professor at Fairfield University, used the book during his presentation about the ongoing movement for civil rights in the United States. An emphasis on the continuity of struggle and community involvement makes the history covered in the book and subsequent lessons both relevant and necessary to today’s students.

Judy Richardson (pictured left near podium with other presenters), SNCC veteran and associate producer of the landmark documentary Eyes on the Prize, also presented at the Summer Education Institute. Her chapter fromPutting the Movement Back into Civil Rights Teaching—an educational guide to Eyes on the Prize—exemplifies the links to the present that arise from effectively teaching movement history. The centerpiece of the chapter is a list of themes for the study of the Civil Rights Movement:

  • The movement was a primary force for the expansion of democracy for all.
  • The movement was based on the work of thousands of ordinary people who both organized and sustained it.
  • The movement emphasized our responsibility to each other.
  • The movement was based on humane values that brought out the best in each individual involved.
  • The movement was not simply a series of spontaneous demonstrations—it was carefully planned and executed.
  • A continuity of protest exists within African American history.
  • Women were a fundamental part of the leadership and the troops of the movement.

The past and present exist within a continuum in this list of themes. Richardson’s suggestions on how to use Eyes on the Prize to reach young people today mirrors the dynamism of the movement, thereby engaging students in the learning process. Interactive lesson plans, role plays, and other ideas to make the movement energetic are available online at civilrightsteaching.org. “The companion website,” exclaims Hollman, “is extremely valuable. It is really great how these resources envelop me and my students in the multiple and varied social justice issues of the day.” Together,Teaching for Change and the Schomburg Center encourage young people to become change agents and active citizens. We are honored to have our teaching materials used by one of the premier education and research institutions in the country.


For more information about the Schomburg Center’s education programs, visit www.schomburgcenter.org or email schomburged@nypl.org.

For more resources about teaching the civil rights movement, visit the dedicated website for Putting the Movement Back Into Civil Rights Teaching at www.civilrightsteaching.org.

Putting the Movement Back Into Civil Rights Teaching is available for bulk discount purchasing for your classroom, training or organization. Read more.

Posted Thursday, October 13, 2011 |

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