Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum

The Civil Rights Presidents
Derek Frieling
American History
Time Frame:
Portions of two separate class periods
Civil Rights

Grade Levels:

Classroom/Homework Activity to be performed:
  • A class debate will be staged to determine which President was most influential in the Civil Rights Movement.  Primary documents will be examined and which students will utilize to defend the actions of their chosen/assigned President.

  • The purpose of this lesson is to take a comparative examination of the Civil Rights Movement.  The actions of three Presidents at the forefront of the Civil Rights Movement will be examined to determine the effectiveness of each.

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


  • 1B  Explain the relevance and connection of constitutional principles in key Supreme Court decisions
  • 2A  Explain the importance of the principles of majority rule and minority rights and constitution and civil rights
  • 3aK  Explain the importance of the principles of majority rule and minority rights and constitution and civil rights
  • 6K  Compare and contrast the major ideas and beliefs of different cultures
  • 6L  Analyze how the roles of class, ethnic, racial, gender and age groups have changed in society, including causes and effects
  • 6O  Determine the causes, consequences and possible resolutions of cultural conflicts
  • 7A  Distinguish between and analyze primary and secondary sources
  • 7G  Support a point of view

Secondary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed:
  • Freedom to Serve by Jon Taylor

Primary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed:

Full description of activity or assignment.
  • Students will be asked to compare and debate the civil rights actions of Presidents Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, and Lyndon Johnson.  Students will be divided into 3 groups.  Each group will be provided the primary documents listed above for the President’s group they represent.  Students will be provided time to review the documents and discuss talking points to support their President within their group.  The following class period, the students will debate which President was most instrumental in the development of the Civil Rights Movement.  I foresee the debate to be relatively unstructured instead of a formal debate.  Students will use the talking points developed from the previous class period to support their President.  Key issues will include Executive Order 9981, Recognition of Israel, Civil Rights Act of 1957, Executive Order 10730, Topeka v. Board, Civil Rights Act of 1964, Voting Rights Act of 1965, and Civil Rights Act of 1968.  Following the debate, students will write a concluding essay to summarize the arguments presented and confirm the support of the President they supported or switch loyalties to a different President.

Full explanation of the assessment method and/or scoring guide:

The debate will be assessed on participation.  The essay will be graded based on the following scoring guide.

Essay Scoring Guide




The following scoring guide is used to evaluate essays.  All essays must have the following components:


                                                                  Points Received


Thesis:  5 Points Possible

Essay proves a point rather than simply restating information.    _____

Evidential points lead to a logical and sensible conclusion. 

Information is presented objectively, free of personal bias.


Information & Accuracy:  10 Points Possible

Thesis is supported by factual information as opposed to          _____

opinion or supposition.  Responses were given for every aspect

of every question asked in the directions.  There is no

redundancy other than for the purpose of an introduction or

summary.  A variety of sources are assessed and analyzed. 

Distinctions are clear between assertions of the sources and

those of the student.


Analysis:  5 Points Possible

Evidence of comprehension of the implication of the subject       _____

matter upon history.  Provides a link to other political or

other social issues throughout history.  Evidence of critical

thinking and a greater depth of knowledge.


Clarity:  5 Points Possible

Answers are provided in complete and grammatically correct        _____

sentences.  There are no spelling errors.  The reader is not

distracted by mistakes.  The conclusion appropriately

summarizes ideas presented.



                                                                  Total:      _____