JFK, Freedom Riders, and the Civil Rights Movement
"I was an original 'Freedom Rider.' I was attacked and beaten by the Klu Klux Klan [sic] in Alabama; and I walked among the giants of the Civil Rights Movement and I felt at home. The lumps and bruises on my head are a daily reminder of my commitment and my obligations."
— Charles Person, "My Reflection of Years Gone By"
Most lessons on the 1960s Civil Rights Movement focus on key national leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and President John F. Kennedy. This lesson is no exception; however, it will also look at less well-known members of the civil rights struggle: those whose courageous actions triggered a federal response. This lesson will help students learn more about these members of the grassroots civil rights struggle through the use of primary documents, audio sources, and photographs.
The first part of this lesson focuses on the Freedom Riders. It demonstrates the critical role of activists in pushing the Kennedy Administration to face the contradiction between its ideals and the realities of federal politics. In this case, the Kennedy Administration finally acted in defense of individual rights at the risk of offending powerful Southern politicians.
The second activity revisits the famous Birmingham Movement of 1963. It allows students to learn something about the grassroots protests against segregation and exclusion, the reaction of Alabama and Birmingham officials, and President Kennedy's public response-a renewed commitment to civil rights.
Finally, the 1963 March on Washington remains a touchstone of the Civil Rights Movement, and the "I Have A Dream Speech" will be familiar to teachers and students. Here, that speech is contextualized by three other speeches: President Kennedy's June 11, 1963 speech on civil rights, the John Lewis speech given at the March (in the slightly censored version demanded on the day of the March), and a Malcolm X speech critiquing the March. Collectively, these readings will give students a fuller perspective on the "I Have a Dream" speech, one shaped by the diverse viewpoints of contemporaries.
Evaluate the significance of the Freedom Rides, the 1963 Birmingham Movement, and the 1963 March on Washington to the civil rights movement.
Analyze the speeches and competing perspectives regarding how to establish civil rights protections in the U.S.
Analyze and evaluate the relationship between civil rights activists and the Federal Government.
Why did the issue of civil rights divide people in the U.S.?
Whose approach to advancing civil rights appears most plausible?
Why do the speeches and perspectives regarding civil rights in the U.S. given at the time remain relevant today?
A More Perfect Union
History & Social Studies
JFK, LBJ, and the Fight for Equal Opportunity in the 1960s
"We are confronted primarily with a moral issue. It is as old as the scriptures and it is as clear as the American Constitution. The heart of the question is whether all Americans are afforded equal rights and equal opportunities, whether we are going to treat our fellow Americans as we want to be treated. ... [O]ne hundred years of delay have passed since President Lincoln freed the slaves, yet their heirs, their grandsons, are not fully free. They are not yet free from the bonds of injustice. And this nation, for all its hopes and all its boasts, will not be fully free until all of its citizens are free."
This lesson provides students with an opportunity to study and analyze the innovative legislative efforts of Presidents Kennedy and Johnson in the social and economic context of the 1960s. By reading and listening to Kennedy's and Johnson's statements, students will examine their intentions for mounting the fight for equal opportunities for all Americans. Students will use online primary source documents to examine and analyze the Americans' struggles over social and economic rights in these tumultuous years.
Explain the reasons why the Kennedy administration developed the "New Frontier."
Identify the ways in which the Johnson administration expanded upon the Kennedy administration's proposals.
Assess the strengths and weaknesses of United States domestic policies adopted in the 1960s.
Analyze the political techniques President Johnson used to persuade Americans to support this legislation.
What factors shaped the domestic policies of Presidents Kennedy and Johnson?