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Suggested teaching time

10 hours


4. The role of individuals, groups, and state and federal authorities

Topic outline

Suggested teaching and homework activities

Suggested resources

Points to note

The role of individuals, groups state and federal authorities


  • Teachers outline and explain to students the content and associated skills of this part of the course. This may simply be a case of drawing attention to the relevant section of the course handbook.

  • Teachers facilitate a discussion on the roles of individuals and the way that ‘individuals’ may be interpreted as the ‘great man’ version of history. Can sources be used to interpret history from the perspective of the mass of individuals?

  • This important issue could be given more prominence - useful issues could be raised about the importance of individuals compared to broader structural factors, a counter-factual approach could be raised - would changes have happened without the individual?

The role of individuals

Big Brother

  • Teachers explain to students that they are about to take part in a series of ‘Big Brother’ – with a difference. The housemates in this series of BB are all key individuals associated with Race and American Society 1865-1870.

  • Students work in pairs (or individually in smaller classes) to ‘become’ a key individual. They must first research their individual in depth to create detailed profiles noting and explaining the following about them:

  • Period (timescale) of activity

  • Background – family, education etc

  • Character and personality

  • Key events in life

  • Success/effectiveness - achievements

  • Failure/ineffectiveness

  • Notoriety

  • Support

  • Opponents and opposition

  • All profiles are to be word-processed and uploaded to a college/school intranet/VLE site that has been created for the duration of this exercise. Students are given a period of time to study all the profiles and to make notes in their own time on all the individuals.

  • The next part of the activity (this would probably require a double lesson or be spread over two consecutive lessons) would see the individuals entering the Big Brother house. Upon entering, each housemate would have the opportunity to deliver a 2 minute speech outlining who they are, what their main achievements have been and why they should be voted ‘Person making the largest contribution to race and civil rights issues in the USA between 1865 and 1970’.

  • Voting could then begin on evictions from the house. This could be done in a mock-up ‘Diary Room’ and would require each individual to vote two others out of the house based on their record in race and civil rights issues. Each eviction must be explained. This would be done in private and filmed, diary room entries would then be played back to the rest of the housemates.

  • At this point Davina (the teacher) may choose to intervene and re-cap on the discussions so far. Students could then work together as a group (out of character) to say who they think was the key individual in race and civil rights issues between 1865 and the 1970s.

  • The activity could be consolidated in a number of ways:

  • Students produce A3 mind-maps showing the key individuals and the key points relevant to them as major figures in race and American society 1865-1970s.

  • Students undertake a note-making task that arranges key individuals in terms of periods of influence and makes judgements on the nature of their contributions.

  • Individuals to study could include:

  • President Johnson

  • Booker T Washington

  • WEB Du Bois

  • Marcus Garvey

  • A Philip Randolph

  • President Roosevelt

  • President Truman

  • James Meredith

  • Rosa Parks

  • Martin Luther King

  • Presidents Kennedy and Johnson

  • Malcolm X

  • Stokely Carmichael

  • Huey Newton

  • There are clear links here to the specification requirements to examine the methods, aims and effectiveness of civil rights organisations and the importance of leadership of these organisations.

  • Teachers may take the opportunity to continue to develop student skills of using historical evidence. It may be appropriate to begin by recapping some of the issues surrounding the interpretation, evaluation and use of historical sources as evidence in context, and the role and nature of interpretations.

  • Students could be asked to produce two different types of source related to the individual they have studied as part of their preparation for the ‘Big Brother’ exercise.

  • Teachers encourage a discussion on the importance of the questions that historians ask about the sources they are using. Students could then be asked to frame a series of questions relevant to the sources they have chosen. Whilst sharing these questions with the rest of the group, teachers may ask students to note:

  • The reasons for certain questions being asked

  • The importance of how the questions are framed

  • The significance of the questions that the historian chooses not to ask

  • Alternatively, teachers may wish to consider constructing separate case studies of certain individuals such as Marcus Garvey, Martin Luther King, John Kennedy and Malcolm X.

  • Stretch and Challenge activity – provide students with two different views of historians about the significance of an individual – what different views emerge? Why?

The role of groups

  • Students could be asked to research and prepare chronological tables that show the roles played by groups in relation to race and American society between 1865 and the early 1960s (groups may not necessarily have been involved in ‘positive’ activities in relation to civil rights). Groups to observe, list and note could include:

  • Freedman’s Bureau

  • Niagara Movement

  • African Americans in the North

  • African Americans in the South

  • Ku Klux Klan

  • White supremacists


  • Democrat and Republican parties

  • Native American groups (American Indian Movement)

  • To complete this activity, students could choose which sources to use and develop. The Spartacus website is particularly useful for American history - and the relevant chapters in basic texts such as Paterson and Murphy will also provide students with a sound overview.

The role of state and federal authorities

          • Teachers could introduce this section by providing a re-cap on discussions earlier in the course on reconstruction and the success of southern states in the introduction of segregation in 1877.

          • Students could then be asked to consider the question: ‘Which proved to be the most important in helping African Americans achieve their civil rights: state or federal government?’ Students could consider this question in a number of ways:

  • Students could list and compare legislation and reforms by both state and federal governments in relation to African Americans and their civil liberties.

  • Students could list and explain examples of state governments acting in such ways that were not in the best interests of African Americans (‘Jim Crow’ etc).

  • Students could list and explain examples/evidence of federal government being unprepared to act in the defence of African American civil liberties.

  • Students could list and explain examples/evidence of federal government being prepared to impose authority on state government in relation to civil liberties.

  • Murphy – Ch 10, sec. 10.2 and 10.6

  • Garson A. (ed) The Roosevelt Years (EPAH)

  • Teachers may consider creating a separate case study on the New Deal period.

  • A case study of civil rights in the Truman years would also be an appropriate extension activity in this part of the course.

  • A comparative study of change and continuity could be developed that looked at the Truman and Kennedy years.

  • A discussion of immigration policies since 1945 would be suitable either here or in the earlier discussion on attitudes towards racial minorities.

The role of individuals, groups state and federal authorities

Consolidation and Skills

  • Teachers could outline the key elements of roles played by groups, individuals, state and federal authorities. This could be a summary PowerPoint presentation.

  • Students could be presented with 10 short source extracts in the exam paper format. The sources should refer to the roles of individuals. Students should interact with the sources to address the question: To what extent did the role of those individuals who campaigned for changes in attitudes towards racial minorities in America change during the period 1865-1970?

  • Students could be asked to produce a revision timeline of the contribution of groups to the development of race issues in America between 1865 and 1970s. Students could then be asked to contribute to a discussion on the changing nature of group involvement and the extent to which groups brought about change in the life experience of African Americans

    • Students could be asked to produce evidence for and against the following statement: ‘The main factor affecting the rights of African Americans in the period 1865-1970s was federal government action’.

    • This activity itself could be consolidated by setting an exam paper question as homework.

  • Teacher produced PowerPoint presentation.

  • 10 sources in exam paper format

    • Student notes and any set texts

  • Course booklet

  • OCR SAM scripts.

  • OCR Examiner Reports and Mark Schemes.

    • Exemplar examination papers (one is available for this question)

  • Teachers may take the opportunity to continue to develop student skills of using historical evidence.

  • Students could be asked to consider the 10 source extracts they have been given to complete the consolidation exercise on the role of individuals and note the interests and intended audiences of the authors of those sources. Questions could include:

  • Why was each source produced?

  • How far were the sources produced for different reasons?

  • What, if anything, do the sources reveal abut the motives of those who produced them?

  • What was the intended audience of each source?

  • How far were the sources produced for similar audiences?

  • Students could be supplied with one source relating to the role of groups between 1865 and 1970 and asked to analyse it using the same questions as above. Teachers may consider choosing the photograph of a white woman stopping African Americans entering the lunch counter of a department store in Memphis, 1961 (p 331 in Murphy).

  • As an extension exercise for students, teachers could ask them to look at the photograph and apply some of the issues relating to historical evidence that have been outlined earlier in the course. These issues could include:

  • Interpretation of the source including the possibility of using informed imagination

  • The content/context of the source as an issue of interpretation

  • Questioning the source

  • Interests, purposes and intended audience of the author of the source (photographer and historian using source in book)

  • Perhaps at some stage students could be given two interpretations each supported by a body of source material - to open up the issue of different selections of sources leading to different interpretations. They could then be asked to produce an interpretation that encompasses all the sources from both groups.

GCE History b: H108. F984 nON-bRITISH hISTORY: Race and American Society 1865-1970s

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