The Occupy Wall Street Movement is so . . . last century. In 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. announced his plans for the Poor People’s Campaign, an economic fight in which protestors intended to “occupy” the capital and shut it down to “redress policies that create and substantiate poverty.” Most historians say that King’s untimely death was not motivated by racial hatred, but by King's new focus on economic justice for all people. Have your students made this connection? Read on for easily digestible audio bites from Dr. King’s speeches, fresh resources for Black History Month, and a new look at some old favorites. Get kids and adults of any culture begging for more social studies. (P.S. 51 Students Skype former CORE worker, Tom Mannoff in photo to left.)
Dr. King called the Poor People’s Campaign a new phase of the Civil Rights Movement. Do you have students who have made the connection between the 1968 and 2011 protests for “jobs and income for all,” or do you have students who are still quoting the same commercialized four words (I have a dream) from Dr. King’s most famous speech? This month, go beyond commercialized phrases by focusing your students on portions of King’s text that are ridiculously relevant to the economic upheaval in America today. Check out American RadioWorks for short and wonderful audio bites and text from King’s speeches. With RadioWorks, students can also discover what happened when protestors built a shantytown on the National Mall. Have students compare and contrast the Occupy Wall Street Movement and the Poor People’s Campaign. Have them speculate how this “new phase” of the Civil Rights Movement would have progressed if King had lived, or discuss how America might have been different if the campaign had succeeded.
Investigate one of the most ingenious escapes in American History with Henry’s Freedom Box by Ellen Levine. Students will be in awe of Henry Brown’s daring attempt to travel from Virginia to Pennsylvania in a box less than 3 x 3 x 3 — via express mail! Use Levine’s picture book to spark vigorous online research to discover more facts about Brown and his journey. Use this New York Times article to inspire a genuine interest in primary source documents such as the “eyewitness account from the man [James Miller McKim] who opened a box and found a human being inside.”
You can make studying Harriet Tubman more compelling than recess or reality television. Did you know that when Tubman was 13, she received a crushing blow to the head with an anvil and lay unconscious for days? She suffered from seizures all her life, but as an adult, she had more power than most 19th century women — black or white. Queen Victoria of England rewarded the tenacious spy with cash, a silk shawl, and a letter of accommodation. Download Nest’s Animated Hero Classics for viewing on your interactive whiteboard or order the DVD (in English or Spanish) for more juicy facts and to capture the true spirit of her life. Check out a preview now!
In my technology lab, hundreds of 4th and 5th graders have gasped in suspense and cheered in triumph as they watched the heroine’s story. Use Scholastic’s The Underground Railroad to start robust research on Tubman in your lab or classroom so that kids will be amped to continue research at home.
You don’t need to hunt online or in a textbook for juicy stories of the past. There is someone in your city, town, or state who is a living legend — an ordinary American (of any race) who used nonviolent strategies to fight for economic and social justice in the 1950s and '60s. Invite that person into your classroom and use electronics to record their story. Can’t find a local hero? Skype a well-researched elder!
My students studied Tom Manoff, an ex-New Yorker who happens to be the classical music critic for National Public Radio’s All Things Considered. Manoff, a CORE worker in 1964 and 1965, wowed my students with true tales of bravery, unity, and the fight to register Mississippi voters. Local activists Ms. Delores Washington, Dr. Nell Braxton Gibson, and Manoff provided my students with realistic and inspiring ways to use their power to overcome injustice. Find folks in your community who will empower your students. For interview tips, detailed plans, and a pre-interview form, see my post "Beat the Clock — Capturing Stories of the American Civil Rights Movement."
Introduce them to baseball legend Jackie Robinson. Robinson regularly faced hundreds of bullies who spit, hurled glass bottles and slurs, and made death threats as he attempted to break the color barrier in Major League Baseball. Check out Scholastic’s bevy of character-building resources based on Robinson’s struggles, including books and interviews from Robinson’s daughter. Have your kids create an anti-bullying blog based on Robinson’s courage or tweet their thoughts on how they can be just like Jackie. Find more great teaching resources (an Elmo documentary, the story of the potato chip, the year’s most anticipated action film, and more) in my post "Five Fab Favorites for Black History Month."
What are you doing for Black History Month? Share your favorite resources here.