2020 has seen eruptions of violence and protests
across the country due to racial injustice and the
continued denial of basic human and civil rights
to people of color. These events have forced many
Americans to face an uncomfortable and discouraging
realization: America has yet to live up to the legacy
and promises of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement.
Too often, students view the Civil Rights
Movement as a chapter in U.S. history that is far
removed from their daily lives. The people and events
of the 1950s and 1960s are snapshots in time that they
have learned about in school and, for many, they hold
no relevance to them. However, the riots and protests
that center around the death of George Floyd have
the potential to show students how the past connects
to the present. Middle school social studies teachers
can use current events to illustrate how certain issues
from the past are unresolved and how the past—its
people and events—has meaning in their daily lives.
Teachers may use trade books as a means to
examine historical figures, events, and concepts
in more depth (Schell & Fisher, 2006). Brimner’s
(2011) Black and White: The Confrontation Between
Reverend Fred L. Shuttlesworth and Eugene “Bull”
Connor focuses on how two men’s paths were destined to clash and shape the future of civil rights
in Birmingham, Alabama. Some of the most iconic
moments in the Civil Rights Movement played out
on the streets of downtown Birmingham. I provide
two activities that utilize Black and White to provide
students with the opportunity to analyze the
perspectives of Shuttlesworth and Connor, the causes
of pivotal events, and how the past impacts the
Shuttlesworth vs. Connor:
Examining Their Perspectives
History is full of historical figures who engage in
confrontations due to their polarizing views. For
example, The opposing ideologies of Alexander
Hamilton (a Federalist) and Aaron Burr (a Democratic-
Republican) led to personal acrimonies and resulted in
political and personal mudslinging and, finally, Burr’s
death at Hamilton’s hands. Conflicts over divergent
views are rarely simple or due to one reason. Graphic
organizers aid students in comparing historical
figures’ views, values, and biases.
Graphic organizers are ideal for students to compare
Shuttlesworth and Connor’s views about civil rights.
The teacher selects pages 83-85 as an excerpt from Black and White (Brimner, 2011) that illustrates
Shuttlesworth and Connor’s views on equality,
integration, and preservation of the South’s segregation
laws. Students read and annotate the text in pairs.
They highlight and define words they do not know and
summarize the text in their own words. The examples
of each man’s views on civil rights are underlined. By
annotating, students look for main points, question the
text, and think about their own thinking.
Graphic organizers allow students to organize
information logically when writing a narrative or
essay. This activity requires students to use the
fully annotated text to complete a graphic organizer
that helps to deconstruct the text (see figure 1 for a
sample graphic organizer). Then, the teacher brings
the students together to discuss their responses.
This debrief is important because students share the
rationale for their responses. The teacher may also
ask guiding questions to encourage students to think
deeper about the text. Example questions are “How
might the culture and conditions in the South have
impacted Shuttlesworth and Connor’s perspectives?”
and “What were Shuttlesworth and Connor’s motives
in staging and stopping protests in Birmingham,
respectively?” The graphic organizer and subsequent
discussion provide students with the opportunity
to analyze the text in depth and understand how
cultural, political, and geographical factors impact
people’s perspectives (Barton & Levstik, 2004).
Using Historical Monologues to Connect
the Past and the Present
The eyes of the country have once again focused
on Birmingham, Alabama, in 2020. In the wake of
George Floyd’s death, violent and peaceful protests
have taken place on the same downtown Birmingham
streets that were the sites of similar demonstrations
during the 1960s. Teachers can use current events to
show how then and now the streets of Birmingham
have been ground zero in the African American
struggle for identity, culture, and justice (Helfenbein,
2006). In the Civil Rights Movement and the recent
uprisings after Floyd’s death, protestors marched
in downtown Birmingham over marginalization
and the denial of a voice in a democratic society.
Teaching students the “power of place” allows them
to understand how historic places such as the streets
of Birmingham, have the potential to reinforce the
realities of the past and evoke emotions that students
may find easy to relate to, especially when they see
its relevance to their daily lives (National Park Service,
2015; Witherspoon et al., 2017). They may do this
through the voice of a person who is emotionally,
politically, socially, and/or culturally connected to
historical figures or events under study.
In the following activity, I discuss the power of
place and historical dialogues to show how issues
such as racial injustice, and civil rights connect the
past to the present. Historical monologues are a form of perspective writing that allows students to express
their understanding of historical figures and events
by conveying one’s innermost thoughts, feelings,
and motivations. To write the monologue, they use
a script format, including a name for the character, a
setting, and time, and noting physical movements in
parentheses. The prompt is provided below.
Pretend you are a member of the Birmingham
Historical Committee. During the recent
outbreak of violence in downtown Birmingham,
the Confederate memorial was damaged. The
Committee has drafted a new monument and is
meeting to vote on the proposal. This monument
shows Rev. Shuttlesworth sitting on a park
bench reading the Jim Crow laws, with the U.S.
Constitution next to him on the bench. Write a
historical monologue that justifies your “yes” or
“no” vote. Provide at least two reasons to support
your vote. Explain how this monument may show
past and present race issues in America. Use at
least two details from the graphic organizer and
evidence from the book Black and White (Brimner,
2011) to support your answer.
This activity allows students to make connections
between one historical era and another. For instance,
while students may have a tendency to see the 1960s
Civil Rights Movement as an isolated episode in
history, this activity can show how the challenges
people of color face today are connected to events
from more than 50 years ago. Students can more easily
see how certain issues develop and reoccur over time.
Writing the historical monologue challenges students
to examine the complexities of historical events and
people. They explore differing perspectives and make
informed decisions based on evidence.
A Fresh Look at an Ongoing Problem
Social studies teachers have the often-daunting task
of showing students how important the past is to
their daily lives. There may be a tendency to feel like
history is relegated to the pages of history textbooks.
However, 2020 has revealed to many people that
America has persisting issues of racism that refuse to
remain in the past and very much affect the present.
Social studies classrooms are places where teachers
can engage students in activities that encourage
the examination and discussion of issues of racial
discrimination and the denial of human and civil rights
to people of color. These activities show how history is
not only complex and multi-layered but allows students
to see the legacies of the past in the present.
Barton, B. C., & Levstik, L. S. (2004). Teaching history
for the common good. Lawrence Erlbaum.
Brimner, L. D. (2011). Black and white: The confrontation
between Reverend Fred L. Shuttlesworth and
Eugene “Bull” Connor. Calkins Creek.
Helfenbein, Jr., R. J. (2006). Space, place, and identity
in the teaching of history: Using critical geography
to teach teachers in the American south. In A.
Segall, E. E. Heilman, & C. H. Cherryholmes (Eds.),
Social studies – the next generation: Re-searching
in the postmodern (vol. 272, pp. 111-124). Peter
National Park Service. (2015). The “power of
place” in the history/social studies methods
Schell, E. & Fisher, D. (2006). Teaching social studies:
A literary-based approach. Pearson.
Witherspoon, T., Clabough, J., & Elliot, A. (2017).
Marching into Birmingham: Children as agents
of social change. Social Studies and the Young
Learner, 30(1), 22-26.
Nefertari Yancie, Ph.D. is a middle school social studies
teacher at Clay-Chalkville Middle School in Birmingham,
Alabama. She has a Ph.D. in Education Studies in Diverse
Published in AMLE Magazine
, October 2020.