American Civil Rights Movement
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American Civil Rights Movement
Civil Rights Movement WebQuest
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Freedom Riders

Freedom Riders | American Civil Rights Movement |

The mob was already waiting for James Zwerg by the time the Greyhound bus eased into the station in Montgomery, Alabama.


Looking out the window, Zwerg could see men gripping baseball bats, chains and clubs. They had sealed off the streets leading to the bus station and chased away news photographers. They didn't want anyone to witness what they were about to do.

Zwerg accepted his worst fear: He was going to die today.


Only the night before, Zwerg had prayed for the strength to not strike back in anger. He was among the 18 white and black college students from Nashville who had decided to take the bus trip through the segregated South in 1961. They called themselves Freedom Riders. Their goal was to desegregate public transportation.


He was drawn to the Freedom Rides after he was assigned a black roommate while attending Beloit College in Wisconsin. He grew to admire his roommate and was shocked to see how the young man was treated by whites when they went out in public together. So he volunteered to be an exchange student at Fisk University in Nashville, an all-black college, for one semester. He wanted to know how it felt to be a minority.


Zwerg's parents were unaware of the changes taking place in their son. They were enraged when they opened their local newspaper the day after he was attacked and saw the now-famous picture of their battered son on the front page.


Zwerg's anguish was compounded by his father's weak heart. He suffered a heart attack after he learned his son was attacked by a mob, and his mother had a nervous breakdown. "I had a tremendous amount of guilt," he says.

Even as the years passed and he was featured in documentaries and history books, Zwerg's parents never gave their approval.


After he stepped off the bus, Zwerg says, the crowd grabbed him.

In "Parting the Waters," Taylor Branch wrote that the mob had swelled to 3,000 people and described what happened to Zwerg: "One of the men grabbed Zwerg's suitcase and smashed him in the face with it. Others slugged him to the ground, and when he was dazed beyond resistance, one man pinned Zwerg's head between his knees so that the others could take turns hitting him.'"


Yet in the midst of that savagery, Zwerg says he had the most beautiful experience in his life. "I bowed my head," he says. "I asked God to give me the strength to remain nonviolent and to forgive the people for what they might do. It was very brief, but in that instant, I felt an overwhelming presence. I don't know how else to describe it. A peace came over me. I knew that no matter what happened to me, it was going to be OK. Whether I lived or whether I died, I felt this incredible calm."


Zwerg blacked out and didn't wake up until he was in a car. The mob had continued to beat him after he was unconscious. Being unconscious saved his life, he believes now. His body was relaxed, so it took the punishment better than if he had stiffened up to protect himself. Incredibly, no Freedom Riders were killed during the mob attack.


Even after he was taken to a nearby hospital, Zwerg learned later, he was not safe. "A nurse said she drugged me the first night because there was a mob coming within a block of the hospital to lynch me," he says. "She didn't want me to be aware of anything if they got me."


Zwerg entered the ministry after the beating. But he left in 1975, dejected by the politics of his job.


He never found the bond he experienced with the other Freedom Riders. "Each of us was stronger because of those we were with," he says. "If I was being beaten, I knew I wasn't alone. I could endure more because I knew everybody there was giving me their strength. Even as someone else was being beaten, I would give them my strength."



Read the passage above and answer the following questions:


1. What was the goal of the Freedom Riders?
2. Why was Zwerg drawn to the Freedom Riders?
3. What happened to Zwerg when he got off the bus?
4. Why did the nurse drug him while he was at the hospital?

5. Why do you think his parents did not support him?

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James Meredith

James Meredith | American Civil Rights Movement |

James Meredith was born in Kosciusko, Mississippi, on 25th June, 1933. While attending Jackson State College (1960-62) Meredith attempted to become the first African American to gain admission to the University of Mississippi.


Twice rejected in 1961, Meredith filed a complaint with the district court on 31st May 1961. Meredith's allegations that he been denied admission because of his colour was rejected by the district court. However, on appeal, the Fifth Judicial Circuit Court reversed this ruling. By a 2 to 1 decision the judges decided that Meredith had indeed been refused admission solely because of his race and that Mississippi was maintaining a policy of educational segregation.


Meredith's admission to the University of Mississippi was opposed by state officials and students and the Attorney General, Robert Kennedy, decided to send federal marshals to protect Meredith from threats of being lynched. During riots that followed Kennedy's decision, 160 marshals were wounded (28 by gunfire) and two bystanders were killed.


Despite this opposition, Meredith continued to study at the University of Mississippi and successfully graduated in 1964. Meredith's account of this experience at the university, Three Years in Mississippi was published in 1966.
On 5th June, 1966, Meredith started a solitary March Against Fear from Memphis to Jackson, to protest against racism. Soon after starting his march he was shot by sniper. When they heard the news, other civil rights campaigners, including Martin Luther King, Stokely Carmichael and Floyd McKissick, decided to continue the march in Meredith's name.


When the marchers got to Greenwood, Mississippi, Stokely Carmichael made his famous Black Power speech. Carmichael called for "black people in this country to unite, to recognize their heritage, and to build a sense of community". He also advocated that African Americans should form and lead their own organizations and urged a complete rejection of the values of American society.

After hospital treatment Meredith rejoined the March Against Fear on 25th June, 1966. The following day the marchers arrived in Jackson, Mississippi. Once again the civil rights movement had shown that it would not give in to white racism.

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We Shall Overcome -- Selma-to-Montgomery March

We Shall Overcome -- Selma-to-Montgomery March | American Civil Rights Movement |
Photographs and description of the Selma-to-Montgomery National Historic Trail and All-American Road...


The Selma-to-Montgomery March for voting rights ended three weeks--and three events--that represented the political and emotional peak of the modern civil rights movement.


On "Bloody Sunday," March 7, 1965, some 600 civil rights marchers headed east out of Selma on U.S. Route 80. They got only as far as the Edmund Pettus Bridge six blocks away, where state and local lawmen attacked them with billy clubs and tear gas and drove them back into Selma.


Two days later on March 9, Martin Luther King, Jr., led a "symbolic" march to the bridge. Then civil rights leaders sought court protection for a third, full-scale march from Selma to the state capitol in Montgomery.


Federal District Court Judge Frank M. Johnson, Jr., weighed the right of mobility against the right to march and ruled in favor of the demonstrators. "The law is clear that the right to petition one's government for the redress of grievances may be exercised in large groups...," said Judge Johnson, "and these rights may be exercised by marching, even along public highways."


On Sunday, March 21, about 3,200 marchers set out for Montgomery, walking 12 miles a day and sleeping in fields. By the time they reached the capitol on Thursday, March 25, they were 25,000-strong. Less than five months after the last of the three marches, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965--the best possible redress of grievances.


Read the passage above and answer the following questions:


1. What happened on “Bloody Sunday”?
2. Why did Dr. King seek court ordered protection?
3. What justification did Judge Johnson cite when ruling in favor of the marchers?
4. How many marchers were there by the time the group reached the capitol?
5. What was the Voting Rights Act of 1965? (you might need to google this)

Aaliyah Lawson's curator insight, March 3, 2015 7:47 PM

This is when Martin Luther King Jr. marched in Selma.

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Sit Ins

Sit Ins | American Civil Rights Movement |

On February 5, 1960, four black college students sat down at a "white-only" department store lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina. This Woolworth's counter was but one of the many segregated public facilities in the American South where African Americans were prohibited from such activities as eating, swimming, and drinking by whites who not only opposed equal treatment of the races, but feared any possibility of bodily contact. When the restaurant refused these students service, they remained seated until the store closed for the evening. The students returned each morning for the next five days to occupy the lunch counter, joined by a group of protesters that grew to the hundreds. Faced by a mob of angry white residents and management that refused to serve them a cup of coffee, the students maintained their protest until they forced the store to close its doors.


The protest by Joseph McNeil, Ezell Blair Jr., Franklin McCain and David Richmand marked the beginning of a grassroots sit-in movement led by CORE against the segregated public spaces of the South. Black or racially integrated students and CORE organizers would sit down in white-only spaces and refuse to move until they were served or forcibly removed. By the end of 1960, about 70,000 Black students had participated in a sit-in or marched in support of the demonstrators.


Although there had been a few sit-in protests before 1960, including two in 1943, the mass mobilization of 1960 was new. Few in the economically struggling black community of the South had been willing to undertake these types of direct action protests, since they would be in danger of losing their jobs after an arrest. CORE organized Black students since generally they had fewer financial responsibilities than their older counterparts and they were interested in forcing change more immediate than that promised by the legal reform advocates.


In 1960, through CORE's "Sit-ins", African American students entered the political arena in large numbers for the first time, the character of the civil rights protesting began to change. Influenced by the success of CORE protests, black students saw the potential for using nonviolent resistance to undermine the system and thinking of segregation.


 The pivotal demonstration was the Greensboro sit-in. But CORE had already begun organizing elsewhere. During 1960, sit-ins began to break down the segregation of the upper South, and lunch counters were integrated in cities in Texas, North Carolina, Tennessee. The reasons for integration were economic as well as moral. Boycotters, both black and white, supported the protesters, and many merchants did not want to lose the revenue of customers.


Woolworth Sit-In -  Jackson, MS, May 28, 1963


"This was the most violently attacked sit-in during the 1960s and is the most publicized. A huge mob gathered, with open police support while the three of us sat there for three hours. I was attacked with fists, brass knuckles and the broken portions of glass sugar containers, and was burned with cigarettes. I'm covered with blood and we were all covered by salt, sugar, mustard, and various other things.

Read the passage above and answer the following questions:


1. What did the black students do when the lunch counter refused them service?
2. What was CORE? (you might have to google this)
3. Why did CORE rely on young, black students for the sit-ins instead of older citizens?
4. In what 3 states were lunch counters first desegregated due to sit-ins?
5. How do you think police, customers, and employees would react today to a similar type of demonstration?


De'Andre King's curator insight, February 2, 2015 10:39 PM

This sit-in is another perfect example of how determined black people are. I think that this scoop depicts the best thing ever. The fact that these students are so persistent may be over bearing to the whites but wonderful to the blacks to keep hope alive. 

Traveise Ray's curator insight, February 10, 2015 2:33 PM

This image made me feel bad because all of the thing blacks went through just to sit at a counter. this shows how careless whites were and shows how much they didn't care about blacks feels at all.

Aaliyah Lawson's curator insight, March 3, 2015 7:46 PM

This is just to show how blacks weren't allowed to the same places as whites.

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Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks | American Civil Rights Movement |

The roots of the bus boycott began years before the arrest of Rosa Parks. The Womens’ Political Council (WPC), a group of black professionals founded in 1946, had already turned their attention to Jim Crow practices on the Montgomery city buses. In a meeting with Mayor W. A. Gayle in March 1954, the council's members outlined the changes they sought for Montgomery’s bus system: no one standing over empty seats; a decree that black individuals not be made to pay at the front of the bus and enter from the rear; and a policy that would require buses to stop at every corner in black residential areas, as they did in white communities. When the meeting failed to produce any meaningful change, WPC president Jo Ann Robinson reiterated the council’s requests in a 21 May letter to Mayor Gayle, telling him, ‘‘there has been talk from twenty-five or more local organizations of planning a city-wide boycott of busses’’(‘‘A Letter from the Women’s Political Council’’).


A year after the WPC’s meeting with Mayor Gayle, a 15-year-old named Claudette Colvin was arrested for challenging segregation on a Montgomery bus. Seven months later, 18-year-old Mary Louise Smith was arrested for refusing to yield her seat to a white passenger. Neither arrest, however, mobilized Montgomery’s black community like that of Rosa Parks later that year.


King recalled in his memoir that ‘‘Mrs. Parks was ideal for the role assigned to her by history,’’ and because ‘‘her character was impeccable and her dedication deep-rooted’’ she was ‘‘one of the most respected people in the Negro community’’ (King, 44). 


The bus incident led to the formation of the Montgomery Improvement Association, led by the young pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The association called for a boycott of the city-owned bus company. The boycott lasted 382 days and brought Mrs. Parks, Dr. King, and their cause to the attention of the world. A Supreme Court Decision struck down the Montgomery ordinance under which Mrs. Parks had been fined, and outlawed racial segregation on public transportation.



"Montgomery Bus Boycott (1955-1956)." King Institute Home. The Martin LutherKing Jr. Research and Education Institute, 1999. Web. 28 Apr. 2012. 



Read the passage above and answer the following questions:


1. Name two of the changes the WPC asked for from the Montgomery bus system.
2. Was Rosa Parks the first African-American woman to be arrested for challenging segregation on the buses?
3. Why did Dr. King thing Rosa Parks was the ideal candidate for challenging segregation?
4. What group was created as a result of Parks being arrested? Who was the head of the organization?
5. How long did the bus boycott last? What was the final decision of the Supreme Court in regards to segregation on buses?



Aaliyah Lawson's curator insight, March 3, 2015 7:49 PM

This is when the Montgomery bus boycott really began. Rosa Parks really made that come about. When she refused to give up her seat on the bus.

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Civil Rights Act of 1964

Civil Rights Act of 1964 | American Civil Rights Movement |

In an 11 June 1963 speech broadcast live on national television and radio, President John F. Kennedy unveiled plans to pursue a comprehensive civil rights bill in Congress, stating, ‘‘this nation, for all its hopes and all its boasts, will not be fully free until all its citizens are free’’ (‘‘President Kennedy’s Radio-TV Address,’’ 970). King congratulated Kennedy on his speech, calling it ‘‘one of the most eloquent, profound and unequivocal pleas for justice and the freedom of all men ever made by any president’’ (King, 12 June 1963).


The earlier Civil Rights Act of 1957, the first law addressing the legal rights of African Americans passed by Congress since Reconstruction, had established the Civil Rights division of the Justice Department and the U.S. Civil Rights Commission to investigate claims of racial discrimination. Before the 1957 bill was passed Congress had, however, removed a provision that would have empowered the Justice Department to enforce the Brown v. Board of Education decision. A. Philip Randolph and other civil rights leaders continued to press the major political parties and presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy to enact such legislation and to outlaw segregation. The civil rights legislation that Kennedy introduced to Congress on 19 June 1963 addressed these issues, and King advocated for its passage.


Following Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963, King continued to press for the bill as did newly inaugurated President Lyndon B. Johnson. In his 4 January 1964 column in the New York Amsterdam News, King maintained that the legislation was ‘‘the order of the day at the great March on Washington last summer. The Negro and his compatriots for self-respect and human dignity will not be denied’’ (King, ‘‘A Look to 1964’’).


The bill passed the House of Representatives in mid-February 1964, but became mired in the Senate due to a filibuster by southern senators that lasted 75 days. When the bill finally passed the Senate, King hailed it as one that would ‘‘bring practical relief to the Negro in the South, and will give the Negro in the North a psychological boost that he sorely needs’’ (King, 19 June 1964). On 2 July 1964, Johnson signed the new Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law with King and other civil rights leaders present. The law’s provisions created the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to address race and sex discrimination in employment and a Community Relations Service to help local communities solve racial disputes; authorized federal intervention to ensure the desegregation of schools, parks, swimming pools, and other public facilities; and restricted the use of literacy tests as a requirement for voter registration.


Read the above passage and answer the following questions:


1. What words did Dr. King use to describe President Kennedy’s televised speech on civil rights?
2. What was removed from the Civil Rights Act of 1957 before it was passed? Why is this significant? (you can google Brown v. Board of Education if you don’t remember what it is)
3. How long was the new civil rights bill held up in the Senate?
4. What kinds of workplace discrimination were outlawed by the bill?
5. What in the civil rights bill gave it “teeth”? (ask if you don’t understand the question)

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