This lesson invites students to step into the long history of the freedom struggle in Selma, introducing them to people, turning points, and issues.
The lesson offers students the scaffolding for deeper study and is based on a format that is often used as a pre-reading or pre-film viewing activity. Each student takes on the role of a key person in Selma history.
Annie Lee Cooper
Sheriff Jim Clark
Bettie Mae Fikes
Jimmie Lee Jackson
Richie Jean Jackson
Rev. Frederick D. Reese
Coretta Scott King
Martin Luther King Jr.
Mayor Joseph Smitherman
Malcolm X/El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz
Visit Teaching for Change to download the teaching activity.
I teach in a dropout recovery program to at-risk students (homeless, couch surfing, or living in more than one place) in Montana. Many of my students don’t know anything about U.S. History and certainly do not know much about the history of the oppressed. I use Zinn to help bring this history to them.
This semester I chose to teach my U.S. history class in reverse chronological order, as best I could. I allowed my students to name things that they see occurring in the present. After listing them on the board and holding a class vote, my students chose to look at Ferguson and police violence against African Americans as well as the lopsided race per capita prison population. After looking at police violence and Ferguson, we began talking about prisons. Prisons led us to the end of slavery and the beginning of the convict lease system. I gave them a homework assignment to read A People’s History of the United States chapter 9 to help them better understand the role of slavery and how vital it was to the economy and way of life of the South.
We then went to Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Movement. I followed the ZEP’s Selma activity point by point. The role play activity was a huge success. Students were incredibly excited to learn about their activist and spent more time than I expected meeting each other and filling out the interview sheets. In fact, they wanted to investigate their person even further so I allowed them an hour to do some online research and then we went back to the “meet and greet” with great success. After the investigation and interviews I introduced the movie Selma and asked students to write a response to the film that included writing about how their characters were portrayed, and to discuss how they felt about the film, what they learned, and whether or not I should use it in future classes. After they turned in this typed response we had a class discussion on the film. What I expected to be a 20-30 minute conversation ended up being an hour long. In their responses students talked about how learning about people who were active in the Civil Rights Movement helped them understand the film better, but how much more invested they were in the film. In response to using this activity and film in the future, every student said yes. Some even said that if they wanted to come back and do it again the next time I teach it. I would call that last bit of information the best testament to an amazing topic and a great teaching activity to accompany it. —Sharla Crawford, high school social studies teacher, MT