Achieving equal access to civil rights for all Americans and meeting the mandate of “justice for all” (stated in the Pledge of Allegiance as well as the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights) has been a continual struggle of the nation. The Civil Rights Era in American history usually focuses on the 1950s, 1960s, and early 1970s because it marks a time when many civil rights movements erupted on televisions and news outlets throughout the nation. Civil rights were sought for decades before this era and continue today; however, this period marks a particularly powerful nexus of activism and social change. This historical era is commonly taught in middle and high school social studies and history courses. The National Center for History in the Schools identifies this period of US history as Era 9, Standard 4: “The struggle for racial and gender equality and for the extension of civil liberties.” Related works of literature and other texts are sometimes used either in social studies or US history courses, or in English language arts and American literature classes.
The Civil Rights Era and, in particular, the African American struggle for equality are often taught with a focus on people and events in the southern region of the United States. Other regions in the United States—north and west—also reacted against racism and institutionalized inequality through violent and non-violent protests. This collection of photographs and activities offers the chance to explore and compare events across three regions of the country. While the collection explores the African American equality movement through the lens of school integration, it also offers ways to consider the unique but related struggles of other groups: Chicanos, women, and Native Americans.
The photography of the Civil Rights Era—and indeed the ongoing and contemporary quest of many people for equality—is vast and rich. This photo collection is not intended to be comprehensive. Rather, it provides several specific photographs and ways to use them in the study of particular topics. Hopefully it will also serve as a model for creating collections of your own around additional areas of your curriculum.