New DocsTeach Activity: The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

In this new activity on—our online tool for teaching with documents from the National Archives—students will read, analyze, and summarize Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, that established the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Civil Rights Act 1964 DocsTeach Activity

We suggest teaching with this activity during a unit on civil rights in grades 9–12. Approximate time needed is 45–60 minutes. The activity can be found under Postwar United States (1945 to early 1970s), in a search for activities related to civil rights, or directly at

Ask students to define the term “affirmative action” in their own words. Then ask them to explain, if they are aware, of any controversy associated with this term.

After discussing students’ definitions, share the fact that the first use of the phrase “affirmative action” in an executive order appeared in March 1961, when President John F. Kennedy signed E.O. 10925. Explain how his successor, President Lyndon B. Johnson, ordered all executive agencies to require federal contractors to “take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed and that employees are treated during employment without regard to race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” Explain how later presidents and the courts interpreted (and continue to interpret) “affirmative action.”

Divide students into 5 small groups and assign each group one page of the Civil Rights Act, Title VII—”Equal Employment Opportunity” (pages 13–17 of the law) as part of a “jigsaw activity.” Direct students to open the activity, click on the magnifying glass and scroll to their group’s page. Once students have read and summarized the main points of their page, regroup them so that there is one expert for each page in each new group. Ask students to share what they each learned.

After completing the jigsaw activity, lead a class discussion on the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Ask students the questions posed in the “I’m Done” section of the activity:

  • What did the act do and what provisions were included for its enforcement?
  • In your opinion, was Congress overly careful in defining terms? Why did Section 702 included specific definitions?

This DocsTeach activity was adapted from an article formerly published on, written by Linda Simmons, associate professor at Northern Virginia Community College in Manassas, VA.

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