An Introduction to the Civil Rights Movement



This lesson introduces students to the Civil Rights Movement’s direct-actions against segregation. In the 1960s, the New Orleans chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality participated in the Freedom Rides throughout the South. Students will examine a collection of photographs that includes four mug shots of C.O.R.E. activists and a Mississippi cotton field. They will then complete a photograph analysis sheet provided by the National Archive, and engage in a discussion about the civil rights movement and contemporary social justice issues.

Left: In the early 1960s, many cotton plantations in Mississippi were not mechanized, and people worked the land by hand. This photograph by Dorothea Lange from the 1930s shows cotton fieldworkers at the Aldridge Plantation in Washington County. The scene is similar to the work Jerome Smith would have witnessed during his organizing work in Mississippi. Photograph courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Farm Security Administration, Office of War Information Collection, LC USF34-017135-C. Right: Mugshots [clockwise from top left] of Julia Aaron, Dave Dennis, Jean Thompson, and Jerome Smith after they were arrested during the Freedom Rides through Mississippi. Photographs courtesy of the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission’s photograph collection housed at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. The Commission was the state’s official counter Civil Rights agency, which ran from 1956 to 1973, and kept an extensive archive of its surveillance of Civil Rights workers.




•  Introduce or allow for practice of photograph analysis as a means of historical research and understanding.

•  Deepen understanding of the conditions of rural life and work.

•  Deepen understanding of struggles of the Civil Rights Era.

•  Deepen appreciation for the struggles of advocates of Civil Rights.



Two class periods of at least 30 minutes.



•  Archival photographs on page 25 of Talk That Music Talk

•  Handout of photograph analysis from National Archives.

•  Colored pencils/highlighters (optional)


STEP 1:  Distribute photograph analysis sheet. If students are not familiar with photographic analysis, walk them through the sheet, explaining expectations. You can also do a trial group analysis using another photograph.

STEP 2:  Have students turn to p.25 and direct them to the photograph at the top of the page. Tell them that they are to deal with all five pictures as ONE picture.

• Direct them to the worksheet’s “Step One: Observation” and point out that as they first observe the picture they should divide the picture into its FIVE sections, rather than the four quadrants as the sheet suggests.

• Although students can read the caption, their job is to form their own impressions, not simply recount what the book tells them.

• Set a two-minute time frame for them to observe without writing.

STEP 3:  At the end of the two minutes, direct them to Section B. They will have five to ten minutes to complete this part of the chart using their own observations and impressions.

STEP 4:  When theyy are finished, students can complete Steps 2 and 3. Five minutes should be sufficient. When they are finished, ask students to highlight their comments.

STEP 5:  To set up the classroom discussion, use a smart board if possible to project the photographs and document analysis sheet.

• Ask students to share their observtions of the photographs. If the images are projected, they can come up to the board and point out different parts of the images.

• Students will fill-in other impressions from their classmates during discussion, adding extra sheets if necessary.

Follow Up Questions:

• Why would the four persons in the mug shots put themselves at risk by facing arrest?

• What might be the thoughts of young New Orleans men and women upon seeing field workers like those in the photograph?

• How might seeing people working in the fields like that affect the attitudes of the New Orleans young people towards work and schooling?

• What might be the thoughts of the field workers upon seeing young people from New Orleans coming into their county and breaking segregation laws?

• What might be the thoughts of white landowners when young New Orleans residents came to their county to violate segregation laws?

• How might segregation laws relating to buses and bathrooms play a role in maintaining a system in which poor rural black families were the main workforce on lands owned by wealthy whites?

• What might be your reaction if people from some other place came into your neighborhood with the message that the social system under which you live is wrong and should be changed?

• How do we bring about reasonable discussion between people about the good and bad in our lives and societies?

• What is something in your neighborhood that in your opinion needs to be changed?

• What can you do to change it?

STEP 6: After a class discussion, students will read Jerome Smith’s chapter, and then return to the original photographs. Ask them how their impressions changed after reading about Jerome’s experiences with the Freedom Ride in Mississippi.

• What did he say about the woman who raised her hand “on solo” to show her support?

• How were the conditions in Mississippi different than New Orleans? What about where your students live?

• What is the importance of preserving these kinds of photographs?


Photo Analysis Worksheet