In March 1965, civil rights activists—including students and teachers—participated in a five-day, 54-mile march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. Their cause: voting rights for African Americans in the South. Their legacy: the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, one of the most significant victories of the civil rights era. This act banned racial discrimination in voting practices such as poll taxes and literacy tests and enfranchised millions of African Americans.
The Selma-to-Montgomery march is more than an isolated chapter in our history, and today it deserves more than just our commemoration. Barriers still exist to equal voting rights in the United States, but so does the commitment to justice and social change. By using these resources, you can teach the Selma-to-Montgomery legacy in the depth it deserves and empower your students to apply its lessons—including the power of the vote—in their own communities.
- Selma: The Bridge to the Ballot tells the story of a courageous group of students and teachers who, along with other activists, fought a nonviolent battle to win voting rights for African Americans in the South. This 40-mintue documentary was produced for classrooms and is available free to educators.
- The Viewer’s Guide for Selma: The Bridge to the Ballot supports classroom viewing with background information, discussion questions and lessons. In Do Something!, a culminating activity, students are encouraged to get involved locally to promote voting and voter registration.
- What Issues Inspire You? TT Director Maureen Costello’s blog encourages educators to take inspiration from teachers in Selma and find the courage to take a stand when they see injustice and inequity in schools.
- Selma: The Bridge to the Ballot. This blog introduces the documentary in some depth and explains how it fulfills the five critical practices for civil rights education as outlined in The March Continues.
- Remembering Bloody Sunday. Author Sean Price reflects on both the events and the effects of Bloody Sunday, when Alabama State Troopers and deputized “possemen” brutalized hundreds of civil rights activists as they attempted to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge, marching for voting rights.
Lessons and Supplemental Content
- Signing of the Voting Rights Act. This short NBC News clip shows President Lyndon B. Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
- A Second Revolution. This resource documents how Reconstruction and the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments—at the time of their passages—made promises to African Americans that weren’t kept for generations. Situated against this historical backdrop, the resource underscores the extent to which African Americans persevered in their efforts to secure and expand voting rights.
- The Right to Vote. In this video, Congressman John Lewis and others reflect on their participation in the campaign for African-American voting rights in the 1960s. Their voices are situated alongside historical footage and reporting by NBC Learn. (The transcript can be accessed here.)
- African Americans Face and Fight Obstacles to Voting. This lesson plunges students into the history of African-American voting rights, from the Reconstruction amendments that mandated citizenship and enfranchisement to the regular opposition and intimidation that made the Voting Rights Act of 1965 necessary.
- 1965 Voter Registration Problems in Mississippi. This transcript of an NBC Learn video provides accounts of voter registration efforts from a Holmes County, Mississippi, resident and a college student who went there from Pennsylvania to help with the campaign.
- The Voting Rights Act, 1965 and Beyond. In this lesson, students will read a summary of the Voting Rights Act to find out what it said, then study data that show the law’s impact. They will also consider the grounds on which people have based their objections to the Voting Rights Act and explore efforts in their own states to limit voter participation and how to counter those efforts, or the success of efforts in their area to increase voter registration and participation.
- Voting Rights Today. An excerpt from the viewer’s guide for Selma: The Bridge to the Ballot, this essay by TT Director Maureen Costello examines the importance and implementation of the Voting Rights Act in 1965 and the continuing issues around voting since pieces of the Act were successfully challenged in 2013.
- Learning From the Summer of ’64. This Web package includes lessons and background information that can provide students with greater context when learning about the passage of the Voting Rights Act the following year.
Texts in Perspectives for a Diverse America
- Registering to Vote. In this recorded conversation between Theresa Burroughs and her daughter, Toni Love, Burroughs details the discriminatory tests she endured to register to vote in the Jim Crow South. It was recorded for StoryCorps, a nonprofit oral history organization seeking to collect and preserve the diverse stories of people throughout the United States. (To locate this text, go to the Central Text Anthology and filter titles for grade bands 3-5 or 6-8 and for the race and ethnicity lens within the multimedia text type category.)
- Confrontation at the Bridge. Confrontation at the Bridge, a 1974 silkscreen print by Jacob Lawrence, depicts the civil rights march in Selma, Alabama, on March 7, 1965, in which a group of nonviolent voting-rights protestors faced police violence when they reached the end of the Edmund Pettus Bridge. The event is now known as Bloody Sunday. (To locate this text, go to the Central Text Anthology and filter titles for grade bands 6-8 or 9-12 and for the race and ethnicity lens within the visual text type category.)
- Teaching the Movement 2014: The State of Civil Rights Education in the United States. This report provides an in-depth look at state standards for instructional coverage of the civil rights movement and includes suggestions for how to improve them.
- The March Continues: Five Essential Practices for Teaching the Civil Rights Movement. Continuing the Teaching the Movement initiative, this guide provides practical advice for classroom teachers on teaching the civil rights movement at the level of depth it deserves.
- Civil Rights Done Right: A Tool for Teaching the Movement. A detailed set of curriculum-improvement strategies for classroom instructors who want to apply the essential practices of teaching about the civil rights movement.
- John Lewis Talks With TT. Watch Congressman John Lewis discuss his experiences as a civil rights activist, the ongoing struggles for justice in the United States and the reasons he wrote his memoir as a series of graphic novels.