The Civil Rights Movement: Grassroots Perspectives - guest post by Teaching for Change

By Teaching for Change // August 15, 2018

Banner image: On the second day of the Institute, Barbara Ransby (left) spoke on the life and work of Littleton, North Carolina native Ms. Ella Baker, who built a network of activists instrumental to the Civil Rights Movement. Mark Anthony Neal asked questions. Photo by Avery Rhoades.


This summer, Teaching for Change was proud to partner with a team of scholars, veterans, and educators from the Duke University Franklin Humanities Institute, the SNCC Legacy Project, and Tougaloo College on a National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Teacher Institute, The Civil Rights Movement: Grassroots Perspectives.

Thirty classroom teachers were selected from across the country to study the bottom-up history of the Civil Rights Movement, addressing key narratives that challenge the textbook version of history. They learned from people who were active in the Civil Rights Movement and from leading scholars of the era including William Chafe, Charles Cobb Jr., Courtland Cox, Emilye Crosby, Hasan Kwame Jeffries, Charles Payne, Barbara Ransby, Judy Richardson, and more. The institute was held in the Franklin Humanities Institute at Duke University.

Some of the key narratives and themes that participants explored were:

  • The Movement was based on the work of thousands of local “ordinary” people who both organized and sustained it.
  • The Movement was not simply a series of spontaneous demonstrations—it was often carefully planned and executed.
  • The tradition of protest grew out of a long history of activism and resistance in the Black community.
  • and many more.

In their evaluations, teachers commented on how the institute changed them personally and how it will change their teaching. Here are just a few of their reflections:

The institute grew me. I have stepped out of everything that I thought I knew and I have been expanded. I feel more confident in teaching a narrative based on real people and their stories and not the mythical characterizations of history that focus on a protagonist and an antagonist. I have changed because I now see my classroom as a platform for change.

This institute has completely transformed how I think about the Civil Rights Movement and ultimately how I am going to teach it in the classroom. I have received so many resources to use for teaching this hard history. I am a part of the movement that will change the way history is being taught and preserved. We are making history. I am making history. Words cannot express how happy and powerful this program has made me feel. My life has changed.

I learned lessons about education, community-based engagement, and processes of social transformation that placed women front and center, and my mind soared throughout those talks —at times I felt lifted out of myself.

For an overview of the entire three-week Institute, including daily highlights, please visit the Teaching for Change website. Teaching for Change Executive Director Deborah Menkart was the Institute's Curriculum Coordinator.

Throughout the institute, Franklin Humanities Institute staff enjoyed the sound of freedom songs echoing from the Ahmadieh Family Lecture Hall, and sometimes even joined in! In the below video, teachers and community members close out the Institute with a song, and Franklin Humanities Institute Financial Manager Mary Williams sings along.