Use the Activities
Putting It All Together
Activity 1: Local versus national
The Selma to Montgomery Voting Rights March was the result of the coming together of local citizens and national civil rights organizations. Go back and review Reading 2. How many of the people quoted in this document were local? How many represented national organizations? What role did each one play in the events of March 7-25, 1965? What was Martin Luther King, Jr.’s role? Do you think anything would have happened without local activists? Would a march like this have taken place and could it have captured the attention of the whole country without national organizations and the national media coverage they could command? Divide the class into two groups and hold a general debate on whether the local activists or the national organizations were more important.
Activity 2: Nonviolence
Martin Luther King, Jr., was committed to nonviolent direct action. According to C. T. Vivian, “Martin understood . . . that America wanted us to be violent. They could handle that in a minute, all right? All right? And feel good about it and have an excuse for their behavior. That's what they wanted.” 6 Ask students what they think Vivian meant.
Assign some students to do some research on Mohandas Gandhi, who successfully used nonviolence to gain India’s independence from Great Britain and who was a powerful influence on King. Assign another group of students to study the Watts Riots in Los Angeles later in 1965 and other violent civil rights protests. Ask both groups to report back to the class, comparing what they learned with Martin Luther King, Jr., and the events in Selma.
The marchers at Selma did not return violence for violence on March 7; but when they re-grouped at Brown Chapel, many people thought that they were ready to abandon nonviolence because of the treatment they had received. Hold a general class discussion about the advantages and disadvantages of violence and nonviolence in opposing injustice, how easy or difficult they would have been to follow, and how effective they have been historically in achieving change.
Activity 3: What If . . .
It’s easy to think that history had to happen the way it did, but in the case of the Selma to Montgomery voting rights campaign, many things could easily have gone differently. Divide the class into groups. Have each group review Reading 2 and discuss what might have happened in each of the following cases:
- if Jimmie Lee Jackson had not been killed;
- if the people from Marion had been notified that the march planned for Sunday, March 7 was not going to take place;
- if the March 7 march had, in fact, been postponed;
- if Sheriff Jim Clark had been a more moderate man and had simply said "Let them march”;
- if there had been no television coverage of “Bloody Sunday”;
- if there had been a violent incident on the road to Montgomery.
Activity 4: Civil Rights Work in the Local Community
If no one in the community participated in the civil rights struggles of the 1960s, students might want to investigate the campaigns of other groups for what they see as their civil rights. Such groups might include women, American Indians, gays and lesbians, disabled persons. Some of these campaigns may still be contested. If so, what are the arguments on both sides? How has each group pressed its case? Are there any properties that are important for their associations with these campaigns?
Many communities across the nation participated in the civil rights activities of the 1950s and 1960s. Check local newspapers of the period and talk to members of your community about what civil rights activities took place there. If there are people still alive who participated in any of the civil rights marches, ask them to come speak to the class. The class may want to consider doing formal oral history interviews with these people and depositing the tapes and transcripts in a library or other suitable repository. Find out whether buildings or other structures associated with these activities still survive. Do some research on the histories of the buildings and prepare the text for markers that might be put on them to commemorate their involvement.