Civil Rights


The many important events of the Civil Rights Movement often get lost in our study of “the movement” as a whole. After the Supreme Court decision in the case of Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas in 1954, events outside of the legislative and judicial systems helped fulfill the goals of gaining civil rights for African Americans. The nation’s youth were instrumental in confronting prejudice and inequality through nonviolent methods including protests, boycotts, and marches. While the Supreme Court called for “all deliberate speed” in desegregating schools, public resistance, particularly in the South, was sometimes met with violence, requiring the use of federal troops like in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957.

Citizens must understand that social change does not occur in isolation; that a Supreme Court decision, like Brown vs. the Board of Education, or a piece of legislation, like the Voting Rights Act of 1965, does not in itself create change in society. It is the action by individuals that can create change. In this case, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “it was high school, college, and elementary school young people who were in the front line of the school desegregation struggle.” Their actions, whether intentional or not, helped fulfill the goals of the Civil Rights Movement. As you study the resources in this digital documentary toolkit, consider the following:

We often lose the chronology of significant events in history by putting them all under the umbrella of one “movement.” It is our job as students of history to realize that events do not occur in isolation; rather, each is influenced by the events that have come before it and by the conditions of the time. How did the actions of young people after the Brown decision help continue the struggle for civil rights?

Introduction to Collection:

The sources in this toolkit were gathered mostly using the Library of Congress exhibition The African American Odyssey: A Quest for Full Citizenship. The exhibition displays more than 240 items, including books, government documents, manuscripts, maps, musical scores, plays, films, and recordings. Other exhibitions represented in this kit include American Treasures: Civil Rights, With an Even Hand: Brown v. Board at 50, and the collaborative project Voices of Civil Rights. The documents, images, and audio included in this toolkit were chosen specifically to help students understand the chronology of some of the key events of the civil rights era and the impact that young people’s actions can have in social change.


A partnership between the College of William & Mary School of Education, the University of Kentucky College of Education,
and the Library of Congress Teaching with Primary Sources Program