Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The resource we all should use to explain the Civil Rights Movement to our students

It's a recurring challenge for us to explain to our students about attitudes, especially pernicious attitudes.  When we are studying the Civil Rights Movement we can certainly read and discuss historical events like the murder of Emmett Till or the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing.   But it's much harder to have students understand the pervasiveness and deep-seated nature of the attitudes that made those events possible.

One resource we should all use to explain underlying attitudes that were shared by many Americans is the annual editions of the Negro Motorist's Green Book.
Photograph of the cover of the 1940 Negro Motorist Green Book.
In the Jim Crow era, many African Americans were denied access to lodging accommodations and other facilities while on the open road.  As a result, the Green Books were created to show which businesses would serve African-Americans.  Reading excepts of these guides with your students would be a powerful way to bring these racially-charged attitudes to your students.  Start your lesson by asking your students the most obvious question: "Why were these guides printed in the first place?"  Then lead them through a discussion of racial discrimination in public accommodations.
Photograph of a segregated Greyhound bus rest stop in 1943.
The Smithsonian's National Museum of American History has a terrific blog post on this subject.  At the bottom, it links to a New York Public Library site that has digitized copies of the Green Book.

(Thanks to Cheryl Davis, @digitalteacher, for retweeting a blog post about the Green Books from the Smithsonian's American History Museum, and of course to the Museum for writing the original post.)

No comments: