Civil Rights and Identity Politics


The struggle for equality has been an ongoing battle in the United States. Throughout the 1950’s and 60’s, significant victories were achieved by various minorities on this front via the Civil Rights Movement. Events such as the mass immigration of African Americans to the North during the second World War, the heavily segregated South, and the federal government’s desire to defend itself against Soviet propaganda were several important factors that fueled the fight for equality. During this time, leaders like Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Caesar Chavez emerged as key figures in the Civil Rights Movement. African Americans, Mexican Americans, Asian Americans, and Native Americans organized in significant numbers, crying out for the equality and freedom they deserved as citizens under the protection of the Constitution. Issues of American inequality, segregation, and racial integration manifested themselves into varying forms of mass protest, bringing change to American society through legislation and a determination to see that legislation enforced.

One cannot forget that the United States is a country founded through the contributions of an ethnically diverse population. The Civil Rights Movement raises the question of how such a pluralistic nation can continue to function as an integrated whole if specific groups of citizens are denied the rights that form the basis of the American ideal simply because of their skin color.


11.10 Students analyze the development of federal civil rights and voting rights.

11.10.1 Explain how demands of African Americans helped produce a stimulus for civil rights, including President Roosevelt's ban on racial discrimination in defense industries in 1941, and how African Americans' service in World War II produced a stimulus for President Truman's decision to end segregation in the armed forces in 1948.

11.10.2 Examine and analyze the key events, policies, and court cases in the evolution of civil rights, including Dred Scott v. Sandford, Plessy v. Ferguson, Brown v. Board of Education, Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, and California Proposition 209.

11.10.3 Describe the collaboration on legal strategy between African American and white civil rights lawyers to end racial segregation in higher education.

11.10.4 Examine the roles of civil rights advocates (e.g., A. Philip Randolph, Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Thurgood Marshall, James Farmer, Rosa Parks), including the significance of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "Letter from Birmingham Jail" and "I Have a Dream" speech.

11.10.5 Discuss the diffusion of the civil rights movement from the churches of the rural South and the urban North, including the resistance to racial desegregation in Little Rock and Birmingham, and how the advances influenced the agendas, strategies, and effectiveness of the quests of American Indians, Asian Americans, and Hispanic Americans for civil rights and equal opportunities.

11.10.6 Analyze the passage and effects of civil rights and voting rights legislation (e.g., 1964 Civil Rights Act, Voting Rights Act of 1965) and the Twenty-Fourth Amendment, with an emphasis on equality of access to education and to the political process.


When examining the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960’s, one can see that there were many events that led up to the massive social change that took place during this time.  Not one single event started the movement, but collectively the social and political sphere in the 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s the set the foundation for the people to gain momentum and fight for their civil rights.  It is very important that students have an understanding of the events that built up to the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960’s.  Without these events and social and political settings, the Civil Rights Movement might not have taken place.


  1. AAA: Agriculture Adjustment Administration
    1. Franklin Roosevelt developed many programs through the New Deal.  One of the programs was the AAA, which demanded that farmers not plant full crops or cut down on the amount of live stock that they had.  This downsizing of farms was supposed to make prices of food to go down, but there were other consequences.  Not only did the AAA decrease the amount of food available, but farmers fired many of their tenant farmers and workers whom the majority of them were Black Americans.  With the displacement of Black Americans, many of them moved to cities to find jobs.  This movement of Black Americans from the rural areas to the more urban areas allowed them to work together to start demanding changes.

Significance: Encouraged Black Americans to move to the cities where the heart of the Civil Rights Movement started. 


  1. World War II
    1. Black Soldiers who fought for democracy in World War II had to face the reality that they did not these rights in America.  They did not want to risk their lives for a cause abroad that they were losing at home.  This hypocrisy caused the Black Americans to question their role in society and why they were denied many of their civil rights.

Significance:  Black Americans realized that they could accept the position that society put them in because they had the right to the freedoms and liberties of the nation.  After WWII, Black Soldiers did not want to fight for a country that was denying them their rights.


  1. Cold War
    1. United States had to confront the racial inequality between minorities and Whites.  This is because the United States claimed to have the most liberal and free society compared to the Soviet Union, however the US was hypocritical since Black American citizens did not have the same rights as white citizens.  The Jim Crow Laws were still the rule of the land in the south.
    2. White, middle-class, nuclear family was the focal point of the 50’s.  Black Americans were held at such a disadvantage that Americans realized that that there was a denial of civil rights in the US.

Significance: This setting forced the United States government and people to be more receptive to social change.  Minorities had the attention of the American people and government, so demanding social change through protest and demonstrations were moving the process of gaining civil rights forward.


Specifically examining the 1950’s, there were many events that set the foundation for the Civil Rights Movement to take place. 


  1. NAACP
    1. In order to understand how Black Americans organized themselves in the beginning before leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X stepped forward, it is important to explain the NAACP.  The NAACP stands for National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.  This group was established in the early 1900’s, but continued to play a vital role in advancing and starting the civil rights movement in the 1960’s.  NAACP focused on the advancement and changing of legal and court action.  The NAACP would later be replaced with the SNCC and SCLC, which focus on peaceful civil disobedience.
    2. Some civil rights protests that the NAACP were involved in:  Desegregation of schools- Brown vs. Board of Education, Desegregating of public areas- Montgomery Bus Boycott.

Significance: This group, NAACP, was able to organize two very important events that set the stage for Black Americans to gain their civil rights through court cases.  This organization ended the Jim Crow Laws and segregation that was prevalent in the south.  The NAACP also set the foundation for the very important SNCC and SCLC, which continued to organize Black Americans to gain their civil rights


  1. Brown vs. Board of Education- 1954
    1. A court case that challenged “separate but equal” public facilities between Black and White Americans.  The “separate but equal” facilities were actually unequal and violated the 14th Amendment.
    2. Linda Brown, a young black student, had to walk much further to her black school because she was not allowed to attend the white school that was a block away.  The Brown family fought in court to end segregation of school based on race.
    3. Decision of the court Justices was unanimous that “separate but equal” schools were in violation of civil rights.

The effects and significance of this court case and decision:

a.       Desegregating school was a slow process.  Southern schools found ways around the court ruling.

b.      Lack of Eisenhower’s support delayed progress of desegregation.

c.       Little Rock: Nine Black students attended a White school in Arkansas.  President Eisenhower sent in 1000 paratroops to control the situation and finish out the year with the students.

Significance: Southern schools, regardless of the legislation outlawing segregated schools, still had hostile feelings of the mixing of races.

d.      Commission for Civil Rights was established, which involved federal efforts to ensure the right to vote was protected for Black Americans.


  1. Montgomery Bus Boycott- 1955
    1. Rosa Parks did not give her seat on the bus to a white man.  Parks was arrested, which set the whole movement to protest this racial segregation.
    2. Supreme Court ruled that the buses segregation laws were unconstitutional.


-Women played a vital role in promoting the protest of the Montgomery Bus Boycott.  They made and passed out fliers to support the fight for their civil rights. 

-Martin Luther King Jr. emerged from this protest and started to take on leadership positions in promoting civil disobedience to gain rights.  

-Peaceful movement protesting came from this time, which was used during “sit-ins” at segregated public areas.


  1. Kennedy’s Presidency
    1. Kennedy’s presidential finally set the foundation for the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement.  He was young and his attitude was focused on change.  Many Black Americans felt that Kennedy was the president that would change the social structure to be more intergraded.  Unfortunately, Kennedy lacked strong convictions to focus on the civil rights movement.  Nevertheless, there were some strides made to secure civil rights for minorities.

Significance:  Political action taken: Robert Kennedy secures voting rights for southern blacks; Johnson headed the Commission on Equal Employment Opportunities; Kennedy appointed Robert Weaver to be chief of federal housing agency and Thurgood Marshall to U.S. Court Circuit; Civil rights legislation was draft up and was being passed by Congress by Kennedy’s death.


Lastly, Martin Luther King Jr. and Kennedy created a relationship.  The involvement of the President with a Civil Rights leader created a perfect setting for the Civil Rights Movement to take place.



The Civil Rights Movement was a moment in history that advocated a series of reforms to eliminate public acts of racial segregation, particularly in the South. The civil rights leaders of this time engaged in different tactics. Thurgood Marshall advocated using the judiciary to challenge discriminatory laws while Malcolm X employed radical action and supported separatist views on racial relations. Martin Luther King, however, encouraged non-violent protests and civil disobedience against laws that were fundamentally unjust. The movement was fostered by religious conviction (in the case of Malcolm X and Dr. King) and aided in the cause. Since one of the major strategies employed during the movement was civil disobedience, the media coverage of such events brought the cause to millions of people watching the protests around the world. Though it was a very contentious time in terms of race relations, the various kinds of protests and rallies was a major factor in passing federal legislation that protected civil rights.



Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC): The significance of introducing this organization is to show the students the group that was responsible for the sit-in and freedom rides.


Sit-Ins & Freedom Rides: The importance of explaining these concepts is to show students civil disobedience in action against segregation laws as well as effectiveness of these types of protests.


Martin Luther King: As the central figure in the Civil Rights Movement, it is imperative for the students to reexamine (since they studied him in elementary) the role of Dr. King in leading the movement. His powerful speeches and moving ideas of a society that is equal and harmonious appealed to the mass who believed that violence between races needed to end.


Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC): It is important to inform the student of the organization from which Dr. King derived his leadership. The significance introducing this group is to explain their strategy of non-violent and civil disobedient protests and how the protests were effective.


Birmingham Campaign: The significance of explaining this events is to show the students not only the non-violent protests at work but to show how the brutality from authorities (particularly under the orders of Eugene “Bull” Connor) was covered by the media and brought sympathy and passion to the civil rights cause from the world. This event also led to the arrest of Dr. King and prompted him to write his famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail”.


March on Washington of 1963: This large and significant political rally is important to cover in a history class in order to show how the mass rally was a major factor in passing the civil rights legislation. It also served as a picturesque gathering that showed the amount of support that the Civil Rights Movement had. Perhaps the most significant part of this event was Dr. King’s delivery of the “I Have A Dream” speech.


Passage of Federal Civil Rights Legislation: It is important to introduce these laws to the students in order to explain the significance of the Civil Rights Movements and its mission. The passage of civil rights legislation, which abolished racial discrimination in the public sector and guaranteed voting rights and protection, was considered the goals that the movement worked to achieve.


Primary Sources:


“Letter From Birmingham Jail” - This source is important to shows the students the reasoning behind Dr. King’s advocacy of civil disobedience against unjust laws. This letter served as an answer to those who advocated bringing civil rights issues to court rather than through non-violent protests.


“I Have A Dream” Speech (possibly in audio) – The speech by Dr. King is one the most important primary sources for the students to examine (and hear) as it lays out the focal points of the movement and explores a future that is in racial harmony. Since the eloquent speech is noticeably more powerful when heard by the actual speaker (Dr. King), I feel it is important for the students to hear the original speech that was given to the large audience in the Washington D.C. Hearing the speech would draw more attention from the student and allow them to hear exactly what the whole world heard during that event.


Civil Rights Act of 1964 & 1968 – This source shows the actual legislation that abolished racial segregation in public facilities and forbade discrimination in the sale or renting houses. This source is significant as it shows the achievements by the Civil Rights Movement.


Voting Rights Act of 1965 - This source, like the Civil Rights Act, is the actual legislation that outlawed literacy tests as a requirement for voting and established federal registration and protection for voters. This source is significant as it shows another achievement by the Civil Rights Movement.


Pictures: I will use various picture of the protests and marches to give the student visual sense of what the Civil Rights Movement looked like and how some pictures can bring about powerful emotions for the cause.




The cry for African American equality spread from the South to the rest of the nation.

Watts Riot

Los Angeles

A ghettoized population

Racism adapted to new legislation

Tensions flared throughout urban America.

From "their" problem to "our" problem


More riots throughout the latter half of the 60’s

Detroit 1967 - 43 dead, 7,000 arrested, 1,300 destroyed buildings, 2,700 looted shops

Was nonviolence really getting anyone anywhere?


Students need to be aware that the struggle for civil rights was not confined to the South and that Watts Riot played an important role as a transitional force in the movement for equality.

Students should understand that despite the passage of new legislation, the condition of many African Americans, especially those living in crowded urban areas, was not improving.

Students should be familiar with the principal factors that led a number of African Americans to dismiss nonviolent protest as a realistic means for achieving their goals.

Malcolm Little

He grew up in poverty.

Foster homes

Top of his junior high class

He wanted to be a lawyer

He was told this was "no realistic goal for a nigger"

He turned to crime.

New York City

The ways of the ghetto

He went to prison.




Students should be familiar with Malcolm’s background in order to better understand the point of view he would develop and the messages he would communicate.

Students should be able to compare and contrast the conditions Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X faced growing up, and connect these differences to their opposing perspectives.

Malcolm X

Malcolm Little became Malcolm X.

The Nation of Islam

African American nationalism

Malcolm X had something to say.


Be proud


Human rights

Malcolm X had an audience.

Primarily poor African Americans living in ghettos


A communist?


Students should be familiar with Malcolm X’s message and be able to detect its influence in the black power movement.

Students should understand why Malcolm X’s message was received with enthusiasm by many ghettoized African Americans.

Students should be aware of why Malcolm X was perceived as a threat to the status quo.


Black Power

Frustrations mounted among SNCC members.

Facing violence

Questioning "accomodationists"

SNCC chairman Stokely Carmichael

The insult of assimilation

Chants for black power became louder.




Students should be able to contextualize the growth of the black power movement.

Students should be able to identify Carmichael with the popularization of the term and the movement

Students should understand the basic principles underlying the black power movement.

Black Panther Party

The Black Panther Party was a byproduct of the black power movement.

Frustrated African American youths

Influenced by Malcolm X

More aggressive, more confrontational

The Black Panther’s political philosophy was shaped partly by communist ideology.

Black nationalism

International communalism

"Power to the people"

The Ten-Point Program and Platform of the Black Student Unions was distributed throughout African American communities.


Students should understand the forces that influenced the Black Panther Party.

Students should be familiar with the Black Panther’s message and have the ability to compare and contrast the party’s beliefs and tactics with those of the overarching black power movement.




Black Panther Party

White law enforcement was seen as a principal source of racism.

Violent confrontations between African Americans and white police officers

Targeted by the FBI, state, and local authorities

The Black Panther Party ultimately crumbled.

Internal conflicts

External opposition


Students should be able to understand events related to the Black Panther Party within the context of the Cold War.

Black Is Beautiful

The call for black power was more than just a call for political and social change.

Cultural pride




Students should be aware that the principal ideas behind the black power movement manifested themselves in a variety of ways, including a revitalized pride in African heritage.


The Impact

Significance: The black power movement provided an outlet for varying groups of African Americans to vent their frustrations in different ways. Students should be aware that the manifestations of this movement attracted widespread attention, both positive and negative. The more radical groups were eyed with suspicion by the FBI and generally did not obtain the degree of support that less extreme movements did. Students should also keep in mind that Martin Luther King Jr. remained a key figure in the fight for equality. Finally, the impact the black power movement had on motivating other minority groups in the country to take a stand for their rights should be highlighted.

Chicano Movement and other Cultural Efforts for equality

Cesar Chavez/UFW

Brown Berets

Native Americans/Red Power

Asian Americans/Yellow Power

Sig: The events taking place in the African American community were an example for these minorities and paved the road for their organization for changes and redefinition.

Cesar Chavez

Background: Spent most of life working in the fields and looking for work

-Important for students because he knew the harsh realities of working the fields. This led to involvement in organizing for better conditions

1962 traveled California visiting farm communities and inspired workers to do something about their condition

-Sig: Chavez was a lone man trying to lobby together farm workers. It shows his commitment to his people and hope to gain more numbers.

Non-violent tactics:

Inspired by MLK and Ghandi

Pledge of non-violence by strikers

- Chavez conducted a 25 day fast to recommit to non-violence

It epitomized his approach to social change

- Sen. Robert Kennedy in Delano at end of first fast to break


Sig: Through Chavez’s non-violent tactics he was able to gain

members and support from a senator. But his fast also shows

his dedication and sacrifice.

Poem written by Chavez

United Farm Workers-Viva La Causa!

1962 Chavez and Dolores Huerta started National Farm Workers Association (NFWA)

-Sig: Unified the some 1200 workers to organize strikes. This allowed him to accomplish what he envisioned for Chicanos.

1965 Merged with Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee- Filipino union

- strike with Delano grape growers- 5 years and support from millions of Americans.

Delano grape boycott turned into La Causa

Sig: was not just about farm workers but anyone who wanted to set their lives aside and make a difference

1966 March from Delano to Sacramento. Chavez hopes to dramatize strike and gain support from Governor Pat Brown. March left with 75 people- 10,000 supporters once they reached Sacramento.

Sig: By ’66 the strike was starting to receive attention and more supporters of La Causa.

By 1970 UFW signed contracts with grape growers-agreed to health insurance and pay increases

Sig: Students can know that the strikes had worked and the long haul had paid off. Many of the rights that farm workers have today stem from the UFW’s achievements in the 1960s.

Farm worker Movement Delano Plan

Time Magazine

Brown Berets-Chicano Urban Movement

Comprised mostly of youth revolutionaries-wanted to redefine themselves

Wore brown berets as symbol against oppression and form of unity

-Represented their militant approach

-March 1, 1968 planned and participated "blowouts" in east L.A. Thousands of students walked out of classrooms in hope for better education. There were many more walkouts throughout the southwest.

Took "direct action" against police brutality. They protested and exposed the L.A. sheriff department’s abuses in the barrio.

Sig: Examine two different movements of urban youth and rural farm workers. urban movement was a result of UFW, but they were fighting for something different and in a different manner.

Interview: Carlos Montes



Red Power

American Indian Movement (AIM): organization to promote

unification of Indians regardless of tribe or differences.

-Sig: They did not have a central leader, but were made up of chapters throughout cities. This allowed unification among many different tribes.

Wanted to establish recognition of international treaties

-Sig: Treaties were important because it documented the violations of the government. AIM went to extremes to prove that the United States government had broken treaties and their rights as American Indians .

Wounded Knee: AIM leaders and Sioux seized city of Wounded Knee-site of Sioux massacre by 7th Calvary 1890. Occupation wanted to draw attention not only to treaties but to conditions of the Sioux.

Alcatraz Island: 3 different occupations. November 1969 led by Richard Oakes and young urban Indians, represented by " Indians of all Tribes."

- Native Americans wanted the deed of the Alcatraz Island, make a university, create a cultural center and museum.

-Sig: Both of these events demonstrates that AIM was a organization that took extreme measures to express their lack of civil rights. Native Americans wanted the public to understand their need for self-determination.

Yellow Power

This movement was mostly centered in the western United States. It was concentrated in the Bay Area where there was a high percentage of Asian Americans.

Debate of Asian American definition

Oriental-means the east, but carries cultural colonial baggage

Students on campuses began term Asian-American

Slogans read, "Yellow Power" and "Yellow is Beautiful"

San Francisco State and UC Berkeley 1968 and 1969

-students went on strike demanding programs in Asian American Studies

Vietnam War: concerned about portrayal of Asians through media. Wanted to be reflected in positive light.

Sig: Asian Americans begin to come together to redefine themselves and demand for certain equalities. They wanted to be empowered by their identity.

Rally Flyer