Ordinary People, Ordinary Places: The Civil Rights Movement

Let freedom ring … from every village and every hamlet

--Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr., framed the goals and strategies of the Civil Rights Movement for a national audience, and with his message of nonviolent protest, he inspired ordinary African Americans to demand equal rights as American citizens. This lesson will focus on the individual men and women who embraced King’s message and advanced the Civil Rights Movement on a local level. By researching these people and the now historic places where they brought about change, students will discover how the simple act of sitting at a lunch counter in North Carolina could be considered revolutionary, and how, combined with countless other acts of nonviolent protest across the nation, it could lead to major legislation in the area of civil rights for African Americans.

Note: Discussion of the Civil Rights Movement can elicit strong responses from individuals, even today. Teachers should be aware of this and closely monitor class discussion, particularly when addressing the derogatory language used to describe different groups of people during this time period. This language is present on some pages of the We Shall Overcome: Historic Places of the Civil Rights Movement website.

Guiding Questions

How did the contributions of ordinary men and women advance the larger movement for which King was a symbol and spokesman?

Learning Objectives

Analyze Martin Luther King’s message of nonviolent protest discover how individuals adapted his message to their own communities and situations.

Identify several of the defining events of the Civil Rights Movement, the people who participated in them, and the historic places where these events occurred.

Understand how protest at the local level contributed to the success of the Civil Rights Movement as a whole.