The Civil Rights Act of 1964: 6 Ways to Commemorate

Disclaimer: The U.S. Department of Education does not mandate or prescribe particular curricula or lesson plans. This information is provided for the visitor’s convenience and is included here as an example of the many resources that parents and educators may find helpful and use at their option. See the full FREE disclaimer.

This feature is written by guest author Lee Ann Potter, director of educational outreach, at the Library of Congress.

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The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is considered the most significant piece of civil rights legislation since Reconstruction, the era immediately following the Civil War. It prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin in voting, public accommodations, public facilities, public education, federally funded programs, and employment—and it turns 50 years old on July 2, 2014! Use this anniversary to commemorate and explore its history.

1. Meet individuals who participated in the civil rights movement: You can watch and listen to oral histories included in the Civil Rights History Project. The site provides online access to: streaming videos of the interviews; transcripts; photographs of the participants; topical essays by curators, scholars, and veterans of the struggle; a searchable survey database of national civil rights oral history collections; and links to finding aids about related collections in the American Folklife Center (AFC). Next, you might conduct an interview of your own with a neighbor of family member! Suggested guidelines for recording oral history interviews are available from the AFC.

2. Visit a related exhibition in-person or online: At the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, an exhibition entitled “A Day Like No Other: Commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington” has been extended through September 2014. An online version of the exhibit is also available. This exhibition transports visitors to the momentous day of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 28, 1963—a day that transformed our nation—when 250,000 people from all walks of life participated in the largest non-violent demonstration for civil rights that Americans had ever witnessed. Look at the signs held by the marchers in the photos to see what some of the demands were. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was a response to some of those demands.

3. Go to a local historic site where civil rights history happened and walk in the footsteps of those who were involved: The National Park Service’s “We Shall Overcome: Historic Places of the Civil Rights Movement” site is a great place to start exploring as you plan your itinerary. Or, find related sites in your own community. Your local and state parks, libraries, and historic societies can help in identifying and exploring the possibilities.

4. Discover primary sources that reveal the conditions that led to the Act: Late this summer, the Library of Congress will be commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act with a special exhibition filled with primary sources entitled The Civil Rights Act of 1964: A Long Struggle for Freedom. As a companion to the exhibition, the Library’s education team worked in partnership with HISTORY to develop a special issue of the Idea Book for Educators. It features dozens of ideas for learning about the Act and the conditions that led to it with both engaging research activities and primary sources—all in the public domain. The entire Idea Book is available free online.

5. Find out what role the following individuals played in this important piece of legislation and write a story, a poem, or a song about how working together and with others they made the Civil Rights Act of 1964 happen:
President John F. Kennedy,
President Lyndon B. Johnson,
Everett Dirksen,
Emanuel Celler,
Hubert Humphrey,
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,
Mike Mansfield,
William Moore McCulloch,
Roy Wilkins,
Clarence Mitchell, and
A. Phillip Randolph

6. Listen to music from the civil rights era: Smithsonian Folkways has assembled a CD entitled “Voices of the Civil Rights Movement: Black American Freedom Songs 1960-1966.” Its playlist is available online.

Broaden your kids’ understanding and appreciation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 with activities that focus on how the Act transformed America, and how people from all across the country played a role in making it happen. As you try a few of our suggestions, see what other ideas your kids think up next to continue their discovery of our nation’s past.

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