Oh Freedom! Teaching African American Civil Rights Through American Art at the Smithsonian

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This content package contains a variety of content resources related to February’s theme of Black History Month. Topics include civil rights, racial equality, nonviolence, social justice, African American history, and more. We have split the content by the type of media or usage: Activities and Lesson Plans; Online Exhibitions; Podcasts and Music; Videos; Articles. We also provide ideas for ways to use the content in an American Spaces program. Please send any feedback to Lauren Appelbaum (AppelbaumL@si.edu).
Activities and Lesson Plans
Choosing to Participate (Social Change and Tolerance)


Encourage youth to be active promoters of social change with this free downloadable poster series that examine everyday decisions, social inclusion, and positive social behavior. Display the posters and host a discussion around the exhibit and encourage participants to create their own posters with similar messages.
Comic Book Hero (Nonviolence, Racial Equality, Civil Rights)


Use this activity guide to discuss the Civil Rights movement by introducing key vocabulary and discussing a 1960s comic book. Encourage participants to make a list of the “do’s” and “don’ts” of nonviolence into a handy “pocket card” and discuss local community issues.
Oh Freedom! Teaching African American Civil Rights Through American Art at the Smithsonian (Artistic Expression, Civil Rights, African American History)


Oh Freedom! is an interdisciplinary resource that helps K–12 teachers and students explore and interpret the history, influence, and legacy of the Civil Rights movement through Smithsonian collections. This resource draws connections among art, history and social change to help participants reimagine and reinterpret the long struggle for civil rights, justice, and equality. Consider using a lesson plan submitted by educator colleagues for use in your space or explore the More Resources section to guide your inspiration for a lesson or discussion. A helpful glossary of important terms is located within the More Resources section of the website.

Online exhibitions
The Struggle for Justice (Democracy, Racial Inequality, U.S. History, Social Justice)


The civil rights struggle reached a crescendo in the 1950s and 1960s, bringing important changes to American society and contributing to ongoing campaigns being waged to bring equal opportunity to all Americans. This exhibition from the National Portrait Gallery showcases major cultural and political figures who struggled to achieve civil rights for disenfranchised or marginalized groups. Using these portraits, biographies, and short videos of notable individuals and moments in history, encourage participants to choose a particular historic figure or historic event for further research that can be presented to the group. Consider hosting a poster show with student-made posters that highlight their research of these notable individuals and events in U.S. History. An additional lesson plan is provided on the website as well as a suggested reading list for a variety of age groups. Videos are closed captioned to promote English language learning.
One Life: Martin Luther King, Jr. (Nonviolence, Racial Equality, Civil Rights)


Nonviolent protest became the defining feature of the modern civil rights movement in America under the leadership of Martin Luther King, Jr. Use this online exhibition and the images of Martin Luther King, Jr. to facilitate a discussion about the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. Consider discussing his inspirations, his non-violent protest methods, his death, and his lasting legacy for civil rights and the African American community. Use the downloadable lesson plan compiled by the National Portrait Gallery to facilitate discussion about activism and encourage participants to consider the types of contemporary activism or social issue that exist either locally or in the U.S. Consider incorporating the article “The Power of Imagery in Advancing Civil Rights” into programming to learn more about King’s use of powerful imagery to convey his messages of equality.

Lesson Plans: http://www.npg.si.edu/exhibit/MLK/MLK_web_lesson_dd_12-23.pdf

Additional Reading: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/the-power-of-imagery-in-advancing-civil-rights-72983041/?no-ist
Changing America: The Emancipation Proclamation, 1863 and the March on Washington, 1963 (Racial Equality, Civil Rights Movement)


Use this online exhibition and the teacher resources and/or the free iPad app to plan programming about two pivotal moments in civil rights history in the United States. Encourage participants to use the iPad app to find stories of people they identify with to share with a group to promote English language learning. Consider using the Teacher Resources as inspiration for programming.

iPad App: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/to-be-free/id626327632?mt=8

Teacher Resources: http://americanhistory.si.edu/changing-america-emancipation-proclamation-1863-and-march-washington-1963/teacher-resources
Black Wings: African American Pioneer Pilots (Racial Equality, Civil Rights Movement)


African Americans shared the widespread enthusiasm for flying shortly after the invention of the airplane but found themselves routinely denied access to training as pilots and mechanics. Use this online exhibition from the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum to learn more about the men and women who challenged racial discrimination to pursue their ambitions to fly. Lessons guide participants to use primary source documents to explore the challenges and successes of African American pioneers who established a place in aviation and the space industry for subsequent generations. Encourage participants to read the brief profiles of notable African American aviation pioneers to facilitate discussion of these eras of U.S. History. Additionally, participants could use these profiles as a basis for further research on these notable Americans to present to a group or promote discussion and encourage English language learning. Suggested Classroom Resources: African Americans in Aviation Teacher Poster and African American Pioneers in Aviation Teacher Guide
Let Your Motto Be Resistance: African American Portraits (Civil Rights, Racial Equality)


Participants are asked to look at both African American history and the history of portraiture in these activities ranging from creating your own calling card to researching an African American figure. Use these downloadable lesson plans, articles, and activities to aid in discussions of the issues of civil rights, discrimination, stereotyping, or the dangers of bullying. Lessons are available for a variety of age groups.

Additional National Museum of African American History and Culture activity guides:


Separate is Not Equal: Brown v. Board of Education (Education, Racial Equality)


These lesson plans accompany the National Museum of American History’s online exhibition Separate is not Equal: Brown v. Board of Education and deliver a variety of historical primary-source materials from the exhibition. Through these activities, participants can build a deeper understanding of the struggle for social justice leading up to and following the Court’s ruling on the Brown case and the decision’s impact on today’s society. Lesson plans are organized by grade level and include a Teacher’s Guide with discussion questions and relevant materials (photographs, worksheets, articles) to accompany each lesson and activity.

Podcasts and Music
Memorializing Martin Luther King, Jr. (Memorials, Civil Rights, Leadership)


Listen to Harry Clarke discuss memorializing Martin Luther King, Jr. in this podcast from the National Museum of American History. Use this podcast and Teacher Guide to facilitate a discussion on the celebration of Martin Luther King’s birthday and his involvement in the Civil Rights Movement and encourage participants to think critically about the U.S. observance of Martin Luther King Day. The Teacher Guide includes pre-listening and discussion questions as well as worksheet for participants to complete during this listening activity. The related resources section provides helpful links for further exploration.
Civil Rights in Songs / Voices of Struggle: The Civil Rights Movement 1945-1965 (Civil Rights Expression through Song)


Use these clips of civil rights songs or the radio stream to discuss ways that music can inspire socio-political movements or community building and other non-violent means of bringing about change. Use the teacher resources to provide a framework for a public program or have participants write their own lyrics about a topic that is important to them.

March on Washington videos from Smithsonian Magazine (U.S. History, Civil Rights, Democracy)

On August 28, 1963 more than 200,000 Americans gathered in Washington, DC for a political rally known as the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The event was designed to shed light on the political and social challenges continually faced across the country. Use these short videos to facilitate a discussion or a larger lesson on the March on Washington. Closed captioning is available to promote English language learning.

Eleanor Holmes Norton: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/videos/category/3play_1/march-on-washington-eleanor-holmes-norton/

John Lewis: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/videos/category/3play_1/march-on-washington-john-lewis/

Julian Bond: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/videos/category/3play_1/march-on-washington-julian-bond/
The Scurlocks and Black Washington (History, Racial Equality, Civil Rights)


For over 80 years, the Scurlock photography studio catalogued the lives of the black middle class of Washington, DC. Use this video in a program for Black History Month and the struggle for civil rights. Consider exploring the juxtaposition of the symbolism of the Nation’s capital as a center of freedom, justice, and equality with the inequalities that African Americans faced in the images seen in this video. Discuss the importance of photographers taking images not only of famous people, but also of everyday life to preserve history.

Read more about the Scurlock studio: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/people-places/the-scurlock-studio-picture-of-prosperity-4869533/
March on Washington videos from Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (Civil Rights and Nonviolence)

These videos from the National Museum of African American History and Culture’s Exhibit Changing America: The Emancipation Proclamation, 1863 and the March on Washington, 1963 is a compilation of clips and interviews from the March on Washington. These videos can be used as part of a program on the Civil Rights Movement or important historical figures from the event. Encourage participants to discuss what they see and hear in the video. What messages are these individuals conveying through their signs and songs? After discussing the March on Washington, ask participants to create their own signs or songs that deliver similar messages of equality. The March on Washington Legacy video is closed captioned to promote English language learning.

March on Washington: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZA9TJCV-tks

March on Washington Legacy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xlGAimEKBAI

Marian Anderson Articles (Civil Rights, African American History, Women’s History)

Being an African American artist in a time when Jim Crow laws were still very much alive in the United States meant having to confront certain obstacles. Marian Anderson went on to pave the way for future generations of African American opera singers and musicians. Use these articles and imbedded video clip on the history of Marian Anderson’s monumental performance in front of the Lincoln Memorial to learn more about Anderson and facilitate discussion about the Civil Rights Movement.

  • http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/four-years-after-marian-anderson-sang-lincoln-memorial-dr-finally-allowed-her-perform-constitution-hall-180950468/?no-ist

  • http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/when-marian-anderson-sang-lincoln-memorial-her-voice-stunned-the-crowds-her-gold-trimmed-jacket-dazzled-180950454/

  • Video Clip: http://www.smithsonianchannel.com/sc/web/video/titles/13042/marian-anderson-in-concert

The Greensboro Sit-in (African American History, Equality, Nonviolence, Tolerance)


Over 50 years ago four college students sat down to request lunch service at a North Carolina Woolworth’s and ignited a struggle. Use this article and short video clips as part of a program on the Civil Rights Movement and peaceful protest. Discuss the value of non-violent protest and ideas of bringing peaceful change to a variety of social injustices. Consider encouraging participants to identify local social issues or brainstorm ideas for ways in which they can become peaceful activists for social change.

Video clips: http://www.smithsonianchannel.com/sc/web/show/136657/seizing-justice-the-greensboro-4
Growing Up Maya Angelou (African American History, Women’s Empowerment, Literature, Self- Expression)


Maya Angelou is an acclaimed African American poet, storyteller, activist and autobiographer. Use this interview with Angelou to learn about her childhood, her writing, and the importance of family. You may wish to pair this interview with selected poems written by Angelou or excerpts of her writings to facilitate the discussion on the importance of self-expression.
American History Through an African American Lens (U.S. History, African American History)


This Tumblr, created by the National Museum of African American History and Culture, features concise articles covering a range of topics from notable African Americans to prominent moments in African American history. Consider pairing one or more of these articles with a lesson on African American history or a specific notable figure. Encourage participants to choose a topic from one of these articles for further research. Participants can then share their research with the group to promote English language learning.

Freedom Riders, Then and Now (Nonviolence, Civil Rights, U.S. History)


Fighting racial segregation in the South, the Freedom Riders were non-violent protesters who were beaten and arrested. Learn more about where these protesters are today, over 50 years later. The associated video, Riding to Freedom, provides additional background on the Freedom Riders movement and audio of Martin Luther King, Jr. Use this article to discuss the power of nonviolent resistance and consider the question why do people risk their lives to challenge injustice?

Related video: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-freedom-riders-then-and-now-45351758/?no-ist#ooid=B5YzdwOgzGAKXzCO72UB5TM07NUHNrD-
A Collection of Rare Color Photographs Depicts MLK Leading the Chicago Freedom Movement (Civil Rights Icon, Nonviolence, Tolerance)


The Chicago Freedom Movement marked an important time during the civil rights era as efforts shifted away from fighting southern Jim Crow segregation to northern cities where racism was more subtle and therefore more difficult to combat. The Smithsonian has acquired some of the only known images of Martin Luther King, Jr. at the Chicago Freedom Movement in the mid-1960s. Incorporate this brief article and color images into a larger program on Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement.

February: Black History Month as_color_row

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