Teaching Civil Rights with DocsTeach

DocsTeach, the online tool for teaching with documents from the National Archives, is full of primary sources and tools for teaching about civil rights.

For instance, you could do the following photograph analysis challenge with your students:

This photo is cropped to reveal only this young girl’s face. Look for context clues and try to determine where she is. Even the smallest details may reveal the answer!

Young girl
Students may notice the top of a fence, that she’s standing next to something – or someone taller. They might see that she’s holding something – maybe a sign. All that’s visible is “CH.”

We can zoom out a bit further and ask: What’s her expression? What do you think her mood is?

Girl holding sign
These kinds of questions guide students in photograph analysis and build interest. Reveal the full image and share that she celebrated her 12th birthday at the March on Washington in 1963.

Girl at the March on Washington

You can use We Shall Overcome: March on Washington on DocsTeach to zoom in and out on the photograph in an online version of this analysis. (Here is the direct student activity.)

You can also share with students the incredible story of how this girl, Edith Lee-Payne of Detroit, Michigan, found out she’d been photographed many years later. On August 28, 1963, photographer Rowland Scherman, working for the United States Information Agency (USIA), took this photograph. It has become an iconic image of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Edith Lee-Payne celebrated her birthday by attending the March on Washington with her mother. In the photograph she carries a March on Washington banner and concentrates intently on the scene before her.

Ms. Lee-Payne had no idea she’d been photographed until her cousin saw the photograph in a calendar celebrating African-American history. Students can view this video short about her and photographer Rowland Scherman on the National Archives YouTube Channel:


More Civil Rights Resources on DocsTeach

Marchers with signs
March on Washington, 8/28/1963 (Records of the U.S. Information Agency) View on DocsTeach

We’ll highlight just a few topics from the Civil Rights Movement here; but you can access over 300 documents, photos, videos, and more on DocsTeach.

Check out documents related to school desegregation. These include court cases like Brown v. Board, Davis v. Prince Edward County, Mendez v. Westminster, and Green v. New Kent County. We also have many letters to the President and Congress urging action.

We have many primary sources related to voting rights during the Civil Rights Movement and beyond. One example is this powerful letter that begins “For God sakes help those poor innocent people in Selma Alabama.”

Letter from Mrs. E. Jackson in Favor of Voting Rights, 3/8/1965 (from the Records of the U.S. House of Representatives) View on DocsTeach

See also primary sources related to the March on Washington and other acts of protest, organizing, and civil disobedience.

Fingerprint Card of Rosa Parks, 12/1/1955 (from the Records of District Courts of the United States) View on DocsTeach

DocsTeach also has ready-to-use online teaching activities for Civil Rights for all grade levels. Activities cover topics like the Civil Rights Act, integration, protests & marches, Rosa Parks, discrimination, Jackie Robinson and more. Search at www.docsteach.org/activities and use the filters to refine your search by grade level, historical era, skill, or type.

Examine Rights in America more broadly on our feature page – with primary source sets and online activities. Explore topics of slavery, racism, citizenship, women’s rights, immigration and more.

Right in America
Voters in Peachtree, Alabama, 5/3/1966 (from the Records of the United States Information Agency) View on DocsTeach

You and your students can also explore our Records of Rights online exhibit, with documents from our holdings illustrating how Americans have endeavored to define, secure, and protect their rights throughout our history

5 thoughts on “Teaching Civil Rights with DocsTeach

  1. As I watched this image, I realized the value of freedom and the importance of many many rights which I always took for granted. Thanks for sharing these amazing moments and get me back to past.

  2. After the destruction caused by the Civil War, some Americans believed Congress was warranted on trying to remove the marks left behind by slavery. This act conveyed the ideals of the Radical Republicans, who saw the end of the Civil War as an opportunity to create an egalitarian society. Opponents argued that this was an unprecedented and unwanted intrusion into local government by the Federal Government.

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