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30-60 minutes
  • Civil Rights
  • Constitution
  • Journalism
  • Politics
  • 9-12
  • College/University

This video is a primary source account of the civil rights movement, including interviews with participants in the movement and original news footage from the 1950s and 1960s. Some of these sources include strong language and violence.


  1. Tell students that, using the civil rights movement as a case study, they will learn more about the First Amendment’s power to bring about profound social change and the role and challenges a free press embraces when tackling controversial issues. Check for background knowledge by asking:
    • What do you know about Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement?
    • What do you know about the First Amendment and freedom of the press?
    • How might the news media play a role in changing society?
  2. Remind students that the civil rights movement was rooted in the southern United States, where a system of so-called Jim Crow laws historically segregated the races, and reached its height in the 1950s and 1960s under the leadership of savvy and impassioned organizers, including Martin Luther King Jr. These leaders gained national attention for the cause with marches, boycotts and other dramatic, nonviolent forms of protest.
  3. Explain that as they watch the video, students will see how print and broadcast news media reported on protests both peaceful and violent, and the impact of their coverage resonated locally and nationwide.
  4. Hand out copies of the viewing questions. Instruct students to look them over in advance and then take notes as they watch the video.
  5. Watch the video.
  6. Ask students to complete the comprehension questions (in class or for homework).

  • “The Press and the Civil Rights Movement” Video Lesson worksheet (download), one per student
  • Internet connection to watch video
  • “Civil Rights Movement” handout (download, optional)

Ask your students to reflect on the tension between freedom of press and national security and unity. Discuss or assign one or more of these questions as short essays for homework:

  • Compare the media landscape today to that during the height of the civil rights movement. How have TV, radio and newspapers changed since that time? What new media have been invented? How have these developments changed the ways we get news?
  • What would happen if the civil rights movement occurred today and was trying to get national attention for its cause? Do you think it would be harder or easier to get media coverage of an event or cause today than in the 1950s and 1960s? Why?
  • Southern newspapers often supported segregation by ignoring or mischaracterizing the actions of the civil rights movement. This type of reporting — supporting or undermining certain viewpoints, instead of reporting fair and objective information — is called media bias. Is media bias an issue today? If no, discuss why not. If yes, discuss why media bias remains an issue, and give examples.
  • Does the civil rights movement continue today? What goals has it achieved? What goals is it still working toward?
  • How would this movement have been different if freedom of the press did not exist in this country? Cite specific events shown in the video, and consider what would and would not have been possible.
  • What are some other examples of civil rights issues throughout history and today? How did the civil rights movement depicted in this video pave the way for future civil rights campaigns?

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