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bulletLesson plan: Picking a leader

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Author Myrlie Evers-Williams is a trailblazer as an activist for civil rights

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Lesson plan: How a leader is chosen

February 1, 2001
Web posted at: 10:08 PM EST (0308 GMT)

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Editor's note: If you are planning to use the news story that this lesson plan is based on for a homework assignment, please write the URL on the board and have your students copy it. updates the site in the early evening, so students may have difficulty finding it without the URL. You can find the lesson plan by going to the Subject Areas page and clicking PREVIOUS in the square for Today's Lesson Plan.


Students will be able to:

  • Discuss the early leaders of the civil rights movement and their achievements.
  • Analyze why the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. became the best-known leader of the movement.
  • Create a time line of important leaders and/or events of the civil rights movement.


National Council for the Social Studies

I. Social studies programs should include experiences that provide for the study of culture and cultural diversity.

II. Social studies programs should include experiences that provide for the study of the ways that human beings view themselves in and over time.

IV. Social studies programs should include experiences that provide for the study of individual development and identity.

X. Social studies programs should include experiences that provide for the study of the ideals, principles and practices of citizenship in a democratic republic.

Materials article, "Chosen to serve"
Internet access
History books and references
Poster boards and markers

Suggested time

Two to three class periods


1. Ask students to name all the civil rights leaders of which they they can think. Write these names on the board. Circle those that are associated with the black civil rights movement of the United States. Ask students to state any details that they know about these leaders and also write those down.

2. Direct students to read the article "Chosen to serve," then ask the following:

  • Who was E.D. Nixon? What did he do as an activist in the civil rights movement? Who was James Farmer, and what did he do? How does C.T. Vivian describe Farmer's abilities? Who is Vivian? What other important leaders are mentioned, and what were their contributions?
  • How and why did King rise beyond these other leaders and activists to become the spokesman for the civil rights movement? What do you know about the late civil rights leader? Do you agree that he made the best spokesman? Why or why not?
  • How many of those activists named in the news article did you have listed on the board? If you had not heard of these figures before reading this article, why do you think that you have not studied them? Do you think that they are significant individuals who should be included in U.S. history studies, regardless of Black History Month? Why or why not? If you are familiar with these individuals, where did you learn about them? Do you think they have received adequate attention in American history courses?

3. Challenge students to learn more about these and other important leaders of the U.S. civil rights movement. They can use Internet sites, history texts, a time line or other reference materials in the library. Ask each student to write a profile on what they discover about the person they choose. Have them include photos if possible.


Students can use various reference materials to learn about the important events that occurred during the civil rights movement. Have each student choose one event to summarize in a brief essay. They may want to use the time line to become aware of specific events.


After students have written their essays, have them determine a time line based on when the person they researched was active in the civil rights movement. Also include summaries of events by students who did the accommodation activity. Post the essays and any pictures on a bulletin board in chronological order. Give students opportunities to read the essays. Then give students a quiz several days later in which they match the names to specific actions or events.


1. If possible, arrange an opportunity in which your students can take what they have learned to another classroom to teach more students about the lesser known individuals that made the civil rights movement possible.

2. Allow students to learn the history of civil rights in another country in which there have been oppressive laws and behaviors due to prejudice or other social tensions.

3. Students can use the lesson entitled Martin Luther King's 'I have a dream' speech to learn more about how King's powerful words brought people to a better understanding of the Civil Rights Movement and its goals.

History of segregation
February 2, 2001

Time line of the American civil rights movement
Albany Civil Rights Movements Museum at Old Zion Church
Birmingham Civil Rights Institute
Who Was Jim Crow?
World Book Encyclopedia: The African-American journey
African-American Odyssey: The civil rights era (Part 1)
African-American Odyssey: The civil rights era (Part 2)

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