Teaching about Selma and the Civil Rights Act of 1964


Bloody Sunday (1965) - Alabama officers await ...
Bloody Sunday (1965) – Alabama officers await demonstrators at the Edmund Pettus Bridge From http://www.usdoj.gov/kidspage/crt/voting.htm (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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. Although the Civil Rights Act of 1964 legally desegregated the South, discrimination was still rampant in certain areas, making it very difficult for blacks to register to vote. In 1965, an Alabama city became the battleground in the fight for suffrage. Despite violent opposition, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (David Oyelowo) and his followers pressed forward on an epic march from Selma to Montgomery, and their efforts culminated in President Lyndon Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965. 

(CNN)“Selma,” the new feature film about the civil rights struggle, is igniting a struggle of its own over who deserves credit — or blame — in the events of 50 years ago that are depicted in the movie.

Some have taken issue with the portrayal of President Lyndon B. Johnson. Former LBJ administration officials are crying foul, saying that the portrayal of Johnson distorts and tarnishes the record of a man who had become an ally in the fight, committed to the goal and focused on how best to achieve the goal — given the role of Congress and outside forces.  Source CNN
President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the 1964 Civ...
President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the 1964 Civil Rights Act as Martin Luther King, Jr., and others, look on. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Johnson believed that the Civil Rights Act was “in the interest of the white South as well as the black South,” Woods says, as the situation had reached a point at which things could turn even more violent if African-Americans’ more peaceful attempts to win justice didn’t yield some results. And more importantly to people like Russell, who “loved the South more than anything,” as Woods puts it, he told them that “the region would be forever relegated to cultural and political backwater.”

“He always had this true, deep compassion to help poor people and particularly poor people of color, but even stronger than the compassion was his ambition,” LBJ biographer Robert Caro once said. “But when the two aligned, when compassion and ambition finally are pointing in the same direction, then Lyndon Johnson becomes a force for racial justice, unequalled certainly since Lincoln.”  Source Time magazine.

Lesson plan

  1. Look carefully at the map. Where did the march route begin? Where did it end? Use the map scale to estimate the distance between the two places. If average walking speed is 3 miles per hour, how long would it take to walk that distance?
  2. Watch the movie Selma
  3. Reading 1: Alabama Literacy Test, look at the questions on this test and write your thoughts on that 
  4. Read the “The Selma Voting Rights Struggle: 15 Key Points from Bottom-Up History and Why It Matters Today
  5. The Selma to Montgomery Voting Rights March: Shaking the Conscience of the Nation
  6. The movie paints a somewhat bleak picture of Lyndon B Johnson. Watch this interview with Woody Harrelson and Rob Reiner and write your thoughts about this. At 18:30 they talk about the transition from Kennedy to Johnson.

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