Now that the back-to-school rush is over, I finally have a minute to assemble my thoughts on my trip to the National Civil Rights Museum this summer. I had long wanted to visit the museum, but had never managed to make my way to Memphis. Well, in July, I finally planned my trip and, as I imagined it would be, it was simply stunning. The most memorable part of the museum for most visitors is surely the site where Dr. King was assassinated. For many, the tour begins with quiet reflection outside the Loraine Motel. For me, this was the most powerful moment of the visit. It seems fitting that as you reflect on ignorance, you are surrounded by inspiration, ideas and art.
If you have been there, you know that the National Civil Rights Museum is filled with exhibits that are powerful, moving and designed to engage visitors. There are many ways to learn. You can listen to audio recordings, view photographs, read summaries of major happenings, watch news reels, examine artifacts and engage with interactive displays.
You can also walk around, on and through scenes from our shared history. You can enter a jail cell to hear audio of Dr. King reading a portion of his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”.
You can observe non-violent protesters at a lunch counter.
You can also get on the bus with Rosa Parks.
I learned so much in my three hours at the museum and there were many highlights, but what I most appreciated was the focus on ongoing education and advocacy throughout. For instance, there were these fantastic “call to action” flyers posted at the museum’s exit. Each poster had a different target audience. The central message of the teacher poster is “education rights for all.” The text in the bubble reminds us that Rosa Parks, Fannie Lou Hamer, Dr. King and others attended leadership training and empowerment sessions. That is, our heroes in this movement were taught to question, to understand activism and to be agents for change.
This is such an important reminder for us in education. It’s certainly important to teach content to our learners, but also the skills that will help them be responsible, compassionate and informed citizens and community members. In the spirit of this work, I am attaching a few links to sites that will help you plan your lessons on human and civil rights:
- Civil Right Museum
- Civil Rights Teaching
- PBS.org – Freedom Riders
- PBS Learning Media – Civil Rights
- The Advocates for Human Rights
- Teaching Tolerance (guide for grades 6-12)
And, to take it a step further, I am also including a few links to help you expand the classroom conversation on civil and human rights to include those with disabilities:
- The Advocates for Human Rights (lesson plan)
- Teaching Tolerance – Civil Rights and Americans with Disabilities
- Teaching a People’s History
I hope that some or all of these resources are useful to you and that you will be able to use them to start or expand a conversation about inclusion, differences and the power of speaking up and speaking out.