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Teaching Guide

Teaching Civil Rights Movement: "Black Power" Era

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Movements, like teachers, can take on all sorts of different tones and voices. They can be gentle one minute and forceful the next. The Black Power Era of the Civil Rights Movement is the latter.

In this guide you will find

  • activities asking students to compare and contrast figures of the movement with prominent figures today.
  • assignments on Martin Luther King, Jr., the Black Panthers, and Malcolm X.
  • timelines clarifying the progression of events.

This guide is pure Shmoop power.

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Inside each guide you'll find quizzes, activity ideas, discussion questions, and more—all written by experts and designed to save you time. Here are the deets on what you get with your teaching guide:

  • 3-5 Common Core-aligned activities (including quotation, image, and document analysis) to complete in class with your students, with detailed instructions for you and your students. 
  • Discussion and essay questions for all levels of students.
  • Reading quizzes to be sure students are looking at the material through various lenses.
  • Resources to help make the topic feel more relevant to your 21st-century students.
  • A note from Shmoop’s teachers to you, telling you what to expect from teaching the topic and how you can overcome the hurdles.

Instructions for You

Objective: The March on Washington in 1963 drew people from many walks of life and its participants included people from different racial backgrounds. Martin Luther King appreciated the diversity of the crowd, but Malcolm X... not so much. 

In fact, Malcolm X was sharply critical of the 1963 March on Washington, noting that as the march approached, "Any student of how 'integration' can weaken the black man's movement was about to observe a master lesson." 

In this discussion or writing assignment (your choice), your students will analyze the meaning and legitimacy of a quotation summarizing Malcolm X's assessment of the movement as it had evolved under the leadership of Martin Luther King, Jr.

NOTE: There's also an opportunity to expand the assignment by having students read an excerpt from The Autobiography of Malcolm X in which Malcolm X writes about his views of the 1963 March. 

Length of Lesson: One class period, potentially with a bit of homework if you decide to make it a writing assignment.

Materials Needed:

  • Malcolm X quote (included below in Step One)
  • (Optional) Access to this excerpt from The Autobiography of Malcolm X

Step One: Begin by making sure that students understand the differences between the approaches favored in the early 1960s by Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. Explain that while King welcomed people of multiple races and ethnicities to the Civil Rights movement, Malcolm X believed that doing so weakened the ability of black people to make serious strides in their own cause. 

Go ahead and share the quote from the introduction with them to set the tone for the quote in Step Two, which they will be analyzing. Here it is again:

Reflecting on the approach of the 1963 March on Washington, Malcolm X said, "Any student of how 'integration' can weaken the black man's movement was about to observe a master lesson." 

Step Two: Now share the quotation below with your students.

"It's just like when you get some coffee that's too black, which mean it's too strong. What do you do? You integrate it with cream, you make it weak. But if you pour too much cream in it, you won't even know you ever had coffee. It used to be hot, it becomes cool. It used to be strong, it becomes weak. It used to wake you up, now it puts you to sleep."

NOTE: This comes from Malcolm X's "Message to the Grass Roots," a speech he gave at the Northern Negro Grass Roots Leadership Conference on November 10, 1963.

Step Three: Within an essay or in a discussion, ask your students to explain Malcolm X's meaning and consider the extent to which he was or was not correct. In doing so, they might consider the following questions.

  • What did alliance with white reformers do to the movement, according to Malcolm X?
    • Was he right?
      • What did the early phases of the movement accomplish?
        • How significant were these accomplishments?
      • What did it not accomplish?
        • How significant were these failures?
    • To what extent did a white presence in the movement limit its objectives?
      • Is there any evidence that King's white supporters would not tolerate a more ambitious agenda?
  • Did the movement have to pass through this first phase before moving to a second, more militant phase?
  • Or did this first phase just waste time and raise false expectations

Step Three A (Optional): If you want to give your students an extra challenge, you can have them follow up their first analysis (of the quotation) by reading and analyzing this excerpt from The Autobiography of Malcolm X in which Malcolm X writes about his views of the 1963 March. As they do, they can consider how reading this expanded selection confirms or alters their original analysis.

Instructions for Your Students

The March on Washington in 1963 drew people from many walks of life and its participants included people from different racial backgrounds. Martin Luther King appreciated the diversity of the crowd, but Malcolm X... not so much. 

While many celebrated 250,000 white and black Americans marching on the nation's capital in 1963, Malcolm X believed that it was detrimental to the real needs of African Americans.

Today you'll examine a quote by Malcolm X that expresses his point of view regarding the 1963 march and see what you get when you read between the lines. What is he saying? Is he correct?

Step One: Before we get started, it's important to make sure everyone understands the differences between the approaches favored in the early 1960s by Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. Like we said in the intro, while King welcomed people of multiple races and ethnicities to the Civil Rights movement, Malcolm X believed that doing so weakened the ability of black people to make serious strides in their own cause. 

In fact, in his autobiography, Malcolm X reflects on the approach of the 1963 March on Washington, writing, "Any student of how 'integration' can weaken the black man's movement was about to observe a master lesson." 

Step Two: Let's take a look at another quote from Malcolm X. It's from his "Message to the Grass Roots," a speech he gave at the Northern Negro Grass Roots Leadership Conference on November 10, 1963.

"It's just like when you get some coffee that's too black, which mean it's too strong. What do you do? You integrate it with cream, you make it weak. But if you pour too much cream in it, you won't even know you ever had coffee. It used to be hot, it becomes cool. It used to be strong, it becomes weak. It used to wake you up, now it puts you to sleep."

Step Three: Within an essay (or maybe in a class discussion—listen up to find out which), do your best to explain Malcolm X's meaning and consider the extent to which he was or was not correct. In doing so, you might consider the following questions.

  • What did alliance with white reformers do to the movement, according to Malcolm X?
    • Was he right?
      • What did the early phases of the movement accomplish?
        • How significant were these accomplishments?
      • What did it not accomplish?
        • How significant were these failures?
    • To what extent did a white presence in the movement limit its objectives?
      • Is there any evidence that King's white supporters would not tolerate a more ambitious agenda?
  • Did the movement have to pass through this first phase before moving to a second, more militant phase?
  • Or did this first phase just waste time and raise false expectations

Step Three A (Optional): If you want to go one step further, follow up your first analysis (of the quotation) by reading and analyzing this excerpt from The Autobiography of Malcolm X in which Malcolm X writes about his views of the 1963 March. As you do, consider how reading this expanded selection confirms or alters your original analysis.

WANT MORE HELP TEACHING CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT: "BLACK POWER" ERA?

Check out all the different parts of our corresponding learning guide.

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