Leaders F (13%)
Groups F (0%)
Events D (25%)
History F (14%)
Opposition F (0%)
Tactics F (0%)
Content F (9%)
Grade levels F (0%)
Current events F (0%)
Civics A (100%)
Other movements A (100%)
Context B (50%)
Items the State Requires
Leaders: Martin Luther King Jr. Events: 24th Amendment, Brown v. Board of Education, Little Rock. History: Integration of armed forces.
GRADE F means California includes none or less than 20% of the recommended content and should significantly revise its standards.
California’s Criteria for Evaluating Instructional Materials requires student to study the civil rights movement and Martin Luther King Jr. at every grade level:
Materials for studying the life and contributions of Cesar E. Chavez and the history of the farm labor movement and of Martin Luther King, Jr., and the civil rights movement shall be included at each grade level, with suggestions for supporting the respective holidays in honor of those men and the accompanying activities.
California’s History-Social Science Content Standards, along with the accompanying Frameworks, contain extensive requirements for study of the civil rights movement, although coverage is limited in elementary school. Content preceded by “e.g.” is illustrative rather than required.
Elementary and Middle School
Kindergarten: Identify the purposes of, and the people and events honored in, commemorative holidays, including the human struggles that were the basis for the events (e.g., Thanksgiving, Independence Day, Washington’s and Lincoln’s Birthdays, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day, Columbus Day, Veterans Day).
Grade 3: Describe the lives of American heroes who took risks to secure our freedoms (e.g., Anne Hutchinson, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King Jr.).
Grade 11: The learning objectives in Standard 10, directing that “Students analyze the development of federal civil rights and voting rights,” deal mainly with the civil rights movement:
• Explain how demands of African Americans helped produce a stimulus for civil rights, including President Roosevelt’s ban on racial discrimination in defense industries in 1941, and how African Americans’ service in World War II produced a stimulus for President Truman’s decision to end segregation in the armed forces in 1948.
• Examine and analyze the key events, policies and court cases in the evolution of civil rights, including Dred Scott v. Sandford, Plessy v. Ferguson, Brown v. Board of Education, Regents of the University of California v. Bakke and California Proposition 209.
• Describe the collaboration on legal strategy between African-American and white civil rights lawyers to end racial segregation in higher education.
• Examine the roles of civil rights advocates (e.g., A. Philip Randolph, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Thurgood Marshall, James Farmer, Rosa Parks), including the significance of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” and the “I Have a Dream” speech.
• Discuss the diffusion of the civil rights movement of African-Americans from the churches of the rural South and the urban North, including the resistance to racial desegregation in Little Rock and Birmingham, and how the advances influenced the agendas, strategies and effectiveness of the quests of American Indians, Asian Americans and Hispanic Americans for civil rights and equal opportunities.
• Analyze the passage and effects of civil rights and voting rights legislation (e.g., 1964 Civil Rights Act, Voting Rights Act of 1965) and the 24th Amendment, with an emphasis on equality of access to education and to the political process.
Principles of American Democracy and Economics: In this grade 12 course, students study landmark Supreme Court cases including Brown v. Board of Education.
Additional Resource: The Framework
In addition to its content standards, California publishes an extensive document called the History-Social Science Framework for California Public Schools (2005, reposted 2009). The narrative framework is designed to “provide guidance for instruction” while reflecting “guidance, comments and thoughts from scholars of history- social science, curriculum experts, and classroom teachers throughout California.” This unique document is cited here at length because its extensive discussion of the civil rights movement provides so much additional direction for teachers.
Grade 8 and High School
The Framework takes care to emphasize the civil rights movement’s connections to the past, from slavery to Reconstruction through World War II:
• Students should analyze how events during and after Reconstruction raised and then dashed the hopes of black Americans for full equality. They should understand how the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments to the Constitution were undermined by the courts and political interests. They should learn how slavery was replaced by black peonage, segregation, Jim Crow laws and other legal restrictions on the rights of blacks, capped by the Supreme Court’s Plessy v. Ferguson decision in 1896. Racism prevailed, enforced by lynch mobs, the Ku Klux Klan, and popular sentiment. Students also should understand the connection between these amendments and the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Although undermined by the courts a century ago, these amendments became the basis for all civil rights progress in the 20th century.
• Attention should be paid to the effect of [World War II] on the home front. … Wartime factory work created new job opportunities for unskilled women and blacks. The racial segregation of the armed forces, combined with the egalitarian ideology of the war effort, produced a strong stimulus for civil rights activism when the war ended.
• Students [should] grasp the enormous barriers black Americans had to overcome in their struggle for their rights as citizens. Attention should be given to the provisions enacted into the Constitution in 1787 that preserved slavery; the post—Civil War laws and practices that reduced the newly freed slaves to a state of peonage; and the Jim Crow laws that were upheld by the Supreme Court in a series of decisions in the late 19th century. Students should be aware of Booker T. Washington, the founder of Tuskegee Institute. Excerpts from his 1895 Atlanta Exposition address will show his efforts to adjust to the handicaps of racial segregation. Discrimination continued to confront black citizens who migrated to northern cities and who served in World Wars I and II.
The framework also calls for a detailed discussion of Brown, exploring not just the decision but also the application of its underlying principles to current events:
• Students should learn about the rise of the civil rights movement and the legal battle to abolish segregation. The battle in the courts began with challenges to racial segregation in higher education and achieved a signal victory in 1954 with the Brown v. Board of Education decision. This important decision should be read and discussed. Students should analyze why one of the first demands of the civil rights movement was for equal educational opportunity.
• Why is education so important in the life chances of an individual? What happens to people who are not educated in America today? What kinds of jobs can they get? How does mass illiteracy affect an entire society? … What would life in the United States be like if there were no public schools?
The framework proceeds to outline a detailed chronology of major events and figures in the movement, taking care to emphasize both grassroots and legislative components:
• The Brown decision and its slow acceptance by local and state governments stimulated a generation of political and social activism led by black Americans pursuing their civil rights. Momentous events in this story illumine the process of change: the commitment of white people in the South to “massive resistance” against desegregation; the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which was started by Rosa Parks and then led by the young Martin Luther King Jr.; the clash in Little Rock, Ark., between federal and state power; the student sitin demonstrations that began in Greensboro, N.C.; the Freedom Rides; the March on Washington in 1963; the Mississippi Summer Project of 1964; and the march in Selma, Ala., in 1965. Students should recognize how these dramatic events influenced public opinion and enlarged the jurisdiction of the federal courts. They should understand Dr. King’s philosophical and religious dedication to nonviolence by reading documents such as his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” and they should recognize the leadership of the black churches in the movement. By viewing films of this period, students should recognize both the extraordinary moral courage of ordinary black men, women and children and the interracial character of the civil rights movement.
• The expansion of the role of the federal government as a guarantor of civil rights should be examined, especially during the administrations of Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. After President Kennedy’s assassination, Congress enacted landmark federal programs in civil rights, education and social welfare. Students should examine the historical significance of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965.
• The peak of legislative activity in 1964-65 was accompanied by a dramatic increase in civil unrest and protest among urban blacks, and 1966 saw the emergence of the Black Power movement. The assassination of Dr. King in 1968 deprived the civil rights movement of its best-known leader, but not its enduring effects on American life. In considering issues such as school busing and group quotas, students can discuss the continuing controversy between group rights to a fair share as opposed to individual rights to equal treatment. Well-chosen readings should heighten students’ sensitivity to the issues raised in this unit, such as The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Lerone Bennett’s Before the Mayflower: A History of Black America, Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, Richard Wright’s Native Son and Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun.
The framework’s discussion of the civil rights movement concludes by emphasizing the movement’s connection to other campaigns:
The success of the black civil rights movement encouraged other groups—including women, Hispanics, American Indians, Asians, Pacific Islanders, and individuals with disabilities—in their campaigns for legislative and judicial recognition of their civil equality. Students should study how Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers’ movement used nonviolent tactics, educated the general public about the working conditions in agriculture, and worked to improve the lives of farmworkers. Major events in the development of all these movements and their consequences should be noted.
New Framework Delayed
California’s Curriculum Development and Supplemental Materials Commission approved a new draft History-Social Science Framework for California Public Schools for field review on July 17, 2009, before the implementation of Assembly Bill X4 2, which sharply cut back spending during California’s current budget crisis. The California Department of Education website explains that further work on the framework, including the field review and survey, has been suspended.
California’s 2010 History-Social Science Framework update, if adopted, will add additional detail to the state’s coverage of the civil rights movement, including coverage of A. Philip Randolph, W.E.B. Du Bois and Ella Baker. It also encourages teachers to increase their exploration of debates over divergent tactics in the civil rights movement.
Of all the states, California has the most distance between its level of required detail (the Standards) and its level of suggested detail (the Framework). The Standards require students to learn almost no details about groups and tactics (aside from the requirement to learn about cooperation between black and white lawyers in litigation strategy).
The Framework works hard to provide a more nuanced view of the civil rights movement. It emphasizes the movement’s rich connections to past events in U.S. history and suggests a varied list of details for covering resistance to the movement (a far cry from the Standards’ terse requirement that students learn about “opposition to desegregation in Little Rock and Birmingham.”) The Framework also dwells productively on the material consequences of inadequate education for individuals and society—the kind of significant statement lacking in general state coverage of the civil rights movement. California’s grade would be substantially higher if Framework content were required rather than suggested.
It is worth noting that the Framework’s treatment of the movement still needs some work. It is unfortunately focused on a King-Parks narrative, omitting major advocacy groups and diverse leaders even as it takes care to mention the heroism of everyday people. Other than a cursory mention of Black Power, the Framework does not deal with conflicts within the movement about strategy and tactics.