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Nevertheless They Persisted: Black Women & The Fire Within Them (Lesson Plan)

February 9, 2017

Karsonya Wise Whitehead

Fannie Lou Hamer (photo credit:

Examining the Legacies of Ella Jo Baker, Septima Poinsette ClarkFannie Lou Hamer, Dorothy Irene Height, & Coretta Scott King

Grade: Middle/High School

Overview: Upon completion of this lesson, students will be able to: 1) Analyze the contributions and struggles of Black women leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, including Ella Baker, Septima Clark, Fannie Lou Hamer, Dorothy I. Height, and Coretta Scott King, by reading and discussing their experiences; 2) Explain the influences of motives, beliefs, and actions of different individuals and groups on the outcome of historical events; 3) Analyze multiple perspectives; 4) Differentiate between historical facts and historical interpretations; and 5) Interpret primary source documents to determine their validity.

McRel Standards

Era 10 – Contemporary United States (1968 to the present)

Understands developments in foreign policy and domestic politics between the Nixon and Clinton presidencies
Understands economic, social, and cultural developments in the contemporary United States

Language Arts: Reading

Uses the general skills and strategies of the reading process

Uses skills and strategies to read a variety of literary texts

Uses skills and strategies to read a variety of informational texts

Essential Questions 

  1. What was the role of women during the Civil Rights Movement?
  2. How did they define their role(s) and participation in the Civil Rights Movement?
  3. Who were some of the female leaders of the Civil Rights Movement?
  4. What were their contributions and struggles during the Civil Rights Movement?



1) Begin by instructing students that you are going to give them three minutes to write down three things that they about Rosa Parks (the only limitation is that they cannot list the most well known fact about her) and the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

2) After the instructed time has elapsed, tell the students to pair up and share what they wrote and then discuss the following questions:

  • Do they have any matching information?
  • And how difficult was it to list three things?

(Note: Often, students have learned information about certain historical events and they do not know that these “facts” are actually false. This activity will allow the students to discover, through their own exploration, how easy it is for history to be misrepresented, depending upon who is telling the story.)

3) Have them share out their stories and then take time to clear up any misconceptions that students may have about Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott. See the Montgomery Bus Boycott for more information.

Guided Practice

4) Inform the students that they will be examining the contributions of five women in the Civil Rights Movement to investigate whether or not these women have been largely overshadowed by male leaders in the Movement. They will also examine the possible implications this presents to the historiography (the writing of history based on scholarly disciplines such as the analysis and evaluation of source materials) of the Civil Rights Movement.

5) Distribute the Women of the Civil Rights Movement Worksheet to the students. This resource sheet presents photographs of Ella Jo Baker (Image #1), Septima Clark (Image #2), Fannie Lou Hamer (Image #3), Dorothy I. Height (Image #4), and Coretta Scott King (Item #5).

6) On the chalkboard or on chart paper, write the numbers that correspond to the photographs of the women and ask students to name the women.

7) After the students have answered or attempted to answer, reveal the names of these women and talk about their contributions to the Civil Rights Movement. (See the Nevertheless They Persisted essay for detailed biographies and background information.)

8) After you have given the background of these women and their contributions, ask them to add any information that they know about these women to add to the list.

9) Tell students that they are going to listen to (or read) two interviews from the National Visionary Leadership Project: Dorothy Height (Clip 2-1, 2-3) and Coretta Scott King (Clip 2-2). Dr. Height talks about her experiences helping to organize the March on Washington and Mrs. King talks about Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Print out copies of the transcript(s) so students can read them silently along with you. Tell them to take notes about anything that is said that peaks their interest.

10) Once the clips have ended, guide the students in a discussion with the following questions:

  • Why do you think it was so difficult to convince the organizers to have a woman to speak at the March?
  • Do you think it was important to have a woman included in the list of speakers? Why or why not?
  • If the Civil Rights March on Washington was held this year, who do you think should be invited to speak and why?
  • What do you think Coretta Scott King meant when she said that, “you have an inner peace and a satisfaction if you feel that you are doing the right thing and doing what God intends for you to do”?
  • How difficult would it be for you to commit to doing something that may cause you to lose your life? Can you think of a reason or cause for which you would be willing to die?
  • What is Dr. King’s legacy? What is Mrs. King’s legacy?
  • What do you want your legacy to be and what will you do to make it happen?

Independent Practice

11) Separate students into groups of four and then give them the Women and Community Leadership by Ella Baker Worksheet.

12) Inform students that they will have twenty minutes to read the passage. After students have completed the passage, hand out the How to Interpret a Document Worksheet.

13) Students should select a recorder to record the group findings on chart paper (everyone else should record their notes in their notebooks); a reporter to present the group findings to the class; a task manager to manage their group’s progress and a time-keeper.

14) Once group assignments have been made, inform students that they will have 10-15 minutes to complete the Worksheet.

15) Once the time has elapsed, group leaders should then share out their group’s findings. Whole group discussion should follow:

  • Explain why Ella Baker once said, “There was no place for me to come into a leadership role.”
  • Do you feel that the other women we have discussed felt the same way? Why or why not?
  • Baker states that she made a “conscious decision on the basis of larger goals” to accept the positions given to her. Do you agree or disagree with this decision? Why or why not?
  • Do you feel that women today face some of the same challenges when it comes to occupying leadership positions? Give some examples.
  • Does the church, in terms of political activism, still control the Black community? Explain your answer.


When the class discussion has come to an end, display the photograph of the “Big Six.” Inform the students that the photo is of the “Big Six” Civil Rights leaders with President John F. Kennedy after the March on Washington in 1963. Remind them that Dorothy I. Height was at the meeting but was not allowed to be in the photograph. Have students reflect on a) What or who is missing in the photo? b) What representation or misrepresentation of the movement does this picture convey? c) Do you agree or disagree with the message being portrayed in this photo? d) What effect did the passage by Ella Baker have on their perception?


Students should create a “Civil Rights Movement Newspaper” in which they write and edit articles that reflect the contributions of women in the Movement. Tell students to log onto the National Visionary Leadership Project’s Student Site and review the Civil Rights Movement Timeline as well as additional resources in More Stuff.

Extension Activities

  • Have students go online and conduct research on some other women in the Civil Rights Movement. (See From Brown (v Board) to Black (Power): Examining the Roots of the Civil Rights Movement Essay for other women involved in the Civil Rights Movement.)
  • Have students create skits that represent the contributions of women in the Civil Rights Movement.
  • Have students create posters that reflect the women in the Civil Rights Movement.
  • Have students re-create the famous “Big Six” picture of President Kennedy and the male Civil Rights Leaders placing women leaders in the picture.

For further information, see: Martin Luther King, Jr. And the Global Freedom Struggle or Rosa Parks, “‘Tired of Giving In: The Launching of the Montgomery Bus Boycott,” in Collier-Thomas, Bettye and V.P. Franklin, eds. Sisters in the Struggle: African American Women in the Civil Rights-Black Power Movement. New York: New York University Press, 2001.

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