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Civil Rights Unit: Making a Change

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Students understand the role of the First Amendment, especially freedom of the press, in shaping the tactics, objectives and perception of the civil rights movement.

In this unit, students deepen their understanding of the civil rights movement as they explore how the news media influenced public perception of the events, shaping its goals and outcomes. It includes pre- and post-visit activities designed to bracket the Making a Change EDClass, plus a class-specific Newseum gallery guide. (The activities can also be done independent of a visit.) Through these experiences, students will use primary sources to experience what it was like to live through the height of the civil rights movement, draw connections between the First Amendment and the tactics used by civil rights protesters, and explore the movement’s ongoing legacy.

OBJECTIVE: Students will understand the role of the First Amendment, and especially freedom of the press, in shaping the tactics, objectives and perception of the civil rights movement.

TARGET AUDIENCE: Middle and high school


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Overview PDF DOC
Worksheets PDF DOC
Extensions PDF DOC
Full Packet PDF DOC

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  • How did the civil rights movement use the First Amendment to effect change?
  • How does the press shape our perception of current events?
  • How does the press shape history?
  • What is the ongoing legacy of the civil rights movement?
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  • The civil rights movement
  • The role of the free press in advocating for social change
  • Social movements and protest
  • Primary source analysis
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  1. Before Your Visit
    • Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail”: Students analyze Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail” to understand his vision for the civil rights movement.
  2. During Your Visit
    • NewseumED Class – Making a Change: Students learn how the First Amendment was used as a vehicle for social change and analyze a documentary about the role of the press in the civil rights movement.
    • Making a Change Gallery Guide: This guide takes students through three galleries to see how others have used the five freedoms to foster social change.
  3. After Your Visit
    • Covering the Freedom Rides: Students read four newspaper articles about the events of May 1961 in Alabama and complete a worksheet to understand the causes and events of the Freedom Rides.
    • Coverage Now of Coverage Then: See how two Southern newspapers have publicly re-examined their coverage of the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s.


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Dive into specially curated collections of primary sources and lessons on civil rights, women's suffrage and more.


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