Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum

Violent vs. Non-violent Protest: Which provides the best chance to advocate positive change?
Zach Shockey
American History
Time Frame:
Three fifty minute class periods
Civil Rights

Grade Levels:

Classroom/Homework Activity to be performed:
  • This series of activities will incorporate individual work in interpreting primary sources, cooperative group learning in the form of class debates, and cross-curricular learning with language arts as students read and discuss famous civil-rights era literature.

  • I think it is important for students to understand just how long African Americans had been waiting for political and social equality, and the frustration it produced. It is my hope that, through reading primary sources from the period, students will be able to recognize the difficult decisions civil rights leaders faced in how best to achieve their goals.

District, state, or national performance and knowledge standards/goals/skills met:

  • The student will accurately analyze the evolution of American democracy, its ideas, institutions and political processes since WWII including: Struggle for Civil Rights; Expanding Role of Government and Institutions; and Expanding Participation in Politics (CCSS RH.11-12.2, RH.11-12.9,


  • The student will accurately analyze the role people, business, labor unions and government play in the struggle for equality before the law including  boycotts and strikes, as well as others, such as civil disobedience and protest (CCSS RH.11-12.1RH.11-12.10, RH.11-12.2, RH.11-12.3, RH.11-12.7,

RH.11-12.8, RH.11-12.9, RH.9-10.2, RH.9-10.3, RH.9-10.4).

  • The student will accurately identify and explain criteria that give regions their identities in different periods from WWII to modern times (CCSS RH.11-12.1, RH.11-12.2, RH.9-10.1, RH.9-10.2,


Secondary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed:
  • Ayers, E. & de la Teja, J. (2009). American Anthem. Austin, TX: Holt,                                               Rinehart, and Winston.

Primary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed:
  • X, Malcolm. "The Ballot or the Bullet." Speech, Cleveland, Ohio, April 3, 1964.



  • King Jr., Martin Luther. “Letter from Birmingham City Jail.” Birmingham, Alabama, April 16, 1963.


  • Douglas, Frederick. “Our Work is Not Done.” Speech, American Anti-Slavery Society, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, December 3, 1863.



  • Lyndon B. Johnson: "Statement by the President on the Riots in New York City," July 21, 1964. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=26385.


  • Presidential Recordings, Lyndon Johnson Conversation with Martin Luther King on Aug 20, 1965

Full description of activity or assignment.
  • This series of activities will begin with a short lecture on the history of the Civil Rights Movement up to the Greensboro sit-ins. It will include Brown v. Board of Education, the Civil Rights Act of 1957, and Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in the Major Leagues, among others.
  • Next, I will read to the class excerpts from Frederick Douglas’s speech from an 1863 abolitionist convention. It is notable because it is prophetic. Douglas tells the audience that change will not come easy for white Americans, and entire generations may pass before true political and social equality is achieved.
  • I will then put the National Archives Document Analysis Worksheet on the Smartboard, and work through the sheet with the class, explaining my expectations for their independent analysis of other documents later in the lesson.
  • Next, I will put Jackie Robinson’s letter to President Eisenhower up for the class to read. This letter is important because it demonstrates the frustration of the African American community in regards to civil rights. I will ask the class a series of questions: How is Robinson’s letter similar to Douglas’s speech? Do you find these similarities odd considering the two documents were presented ninety years apart? Did African Americans have any other options besides “patience and forbearance?”
  • The students will break up into four groups of four. Two of the groups will be given for their examination Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” and a Document Analysis Worksheet. The other two groups will be given excerpts from Malcolm X’s speech “The Ballot or the Bullet” and a Document Analysis Worksheet. Students should note that MLK advocated for non-violent protest, while Malcolm X never ruled it as unnecessary.
  • Next, each group will open up their textbooks to Chapter 27, which covers the Civil Rights Movement. They will be required to find instances of each Civil Rights leader’s policies being put into action. Possible examples of non-violent protests are the Freedom Rides, sit-ins, boycotts, and marches. Examples of violent protests include the Watts Riots, the Black Panther takeover of the California legislature, among others.
  • The two MLK groups will confer together, as will the two Malcolm X groups. They will compare notes in preparation for a controlled discussion with their opposite minded groups.
  • The controlled discussion will consist of two rounds. In the first, each student will provide information supporting their form of protest. They should point to the effectiveness of each form. In the second round, each group will be given the chance to ask questions of the other. Students should use evidence from the documents or textbooks as a basis for their questioning.
  • The groups will stay together as I present to them the reactions of Presidents Eisenhower and Johnson to civil rights protests all over the country. The question they need to keep in mind while I read is this: Given the reactions of our Presidents and the evidence presented by your classmates, do you still think your form of protest is the most effective?

Full explanation of the assessment method and/or scoring guide:
  • Part of the assessment method will include a satisfactory completion of the document analysis worksheet.
  • Students will be assessed on their participation in the class debate. Each student will be expected to contribute at least two times to the class debate.
  • The final component of the assessment package is the completion of an essay, which will be used as a stand-alone assignment or as part of an exam. In either case, the essay should be 250-300 words in length and demonstrate a satisfactory understanding of the documents examined. Link to the essay rubric: faculty.uncfsu.edu/jibrooks/frms/rubricessay.htm