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Civil Rights

Born out of the noblest principals of the Enlightenment, the United States was plagued with an inherent contradiction. "On the one hand she proudly professed the self-evident truth of the equality of man and on the other hand, she tragically practiced the very opposite of those principles through the subjugation of women and her system of chattel slavery." This birth-defect, this cancer of her creed proved to be malignant and has resulted in an ongoing battle for her soul. This battle was repeatedly waged throughout the 19th century, including the union-rending Civil War. Altogether, however, the steady drumbeat for equality and basic civil human rights began to rise to a crescendo in the early 20th century and the entrenched power, forced to take stock, began to make accommodations in the post-WWII period. As is often the case in very difficult matters, the last yards of the race were the most dangerous and the period 1954–1972 saw the most violence, especially against racial and ethnic minorities such as African- and Mexican-Americans. Taking their main cue from the non-violent success of Gandhi in India, the mass of the civil rights movement followed the lead of Martin Luther King, Jr. in their fight for human dignity. The struggle was fierce and confrontational in breaking down the barriers erected by the establishment. It was bloody and difficult. But, in the end, right and virtue have been vindicated and the refrain "We shall overcome" has been heard in all corners of the land.

Timeline 1954 - 1968 (Background Information 1775 - 2008)
Grades 6–12
Characters 36
Number of Timeline Events 195
Duration 2 weeks to 1 semester

$10.00$5.00 / Student

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Sample Timeline Events
(March 31, 1968 to July 20, 1969)

LBJ Announces He Will Not Run for Reelection!

(March 31, 1968)

The President has been a stalwart figure in support of civil rights. But the war in Vietnam is seemingly intractable, especially after the enemy's Tet Offensive last month. The Democratic field is now wide open and it appears Robert Kennedy has a good chance to gain the office his brother held.

MLK Shot and Killed in Memphis!

(April 4, 1968)

The evening after he gave his "I Have Been to the Mountaintop" speech at the Mason Temple in Memphis, Martin Luther King is shot dead on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel by a sniper, white supremacist James Earl Ray. King and his SCLC are in town to support black sanitation workers. In ending his final speech last night, MLK said "Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn't matter with me now, because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!" Respond in character to this event (in an essay of about 150 words, describing how you reacted to this news and what your thoughts and feelings are moving forward from it. After posting this response to your timeline, write an in-character comment on at least two other characters' pages about the event. Finally, comment on at least two additional characters' written responses to this event.

President Signs Civil Rights Act of 1968!

(April 11, 1968)

While riots are occurring in many American cities, as black Americans are anguished at the killing of MLK, LBJ signs a new law that prohibits discrimination in the sale, rental and financing of housing.

Bobby Kennedy Shot in LA!

(June 5, 1968)

The favorite to win the Democratic nomination, RFK is assassinated in a LA's Ambassador Hotel by Sirhan Sirhan. Bobby dies the next day and America has lost another champion for human rights here at home and abroad.

'Prague Spring' Ended by Soviet Tanks!

(August 21, 1968)

Beginning January 5th the leadership in Czechoslovakia has been attempting to liberalize the economy and political atmosphere in this Warsaw Pact country. These democratic changes do not go over well in Moscow and the Russians (with other Pact forces) invade in August and shut down the government of Alexander Dubcek to bring the country back firmly into the communist orbit.

Black Power Salute Shocks World!

(October 16, 1968)

Tommie Smith wins the 200 meter Gold medal in today's Summer Olympics, and fellow American John Carlos finishes in third for the Bronze medal. At the awards ceremony both raise their fisted hands in what has become known as the 'Black Power salute.' The stand they have taken is a powerful one in this very turbulent year. Americans are divided in their support. The president of the American Olympic Committee, however, is not and he sends the two men home.

Nixon Wins Presidency!

(November 5, 1968)

Just eight years after losing to JFK and six years after losing the governorship of California, former Vice President Richard Nixon barely defeats Hubert Humphrey, the Democratic nominee, in the popular vote but handily wins the electoral votes. The Democrats are badly split as George Wallace, the segregationist former Governor of Alabama runs on a third party ticket, to roll back integration, and took many southern whites with him (earning 12% of the total vote). Nixon employs a 'southern strategy' to inflame racial polarization and get whites to leave their long-held Democratic Party roots. Wallace's run split that conservative vote in 1968 but it will pay Republican dividends far into the future.

Affirmative Action on the March!

(June 27, 1969)

Nixon's Department of Labor announces the 'Philadelphia Plan,' requiring federal building contractors in Philadelphia to meet specific "goals" for hiring minority workers. Six weeks later, on August 8, the President issues Executive Order 11478, requiring all federal agencies to adopt "affirmative programs for equal employment opportunity."

Stonewall Riot Awakens Gay Rights Movement!

(June 28, 1969)

Having suffered years of abusive treatment by NYC police officers, the gay population of Greenwich Village (a residential area in southern Manhattan) erupts in violent protest as the police make yet another raid on a local gay club -- the Stonewall Inn. Hundreds of people gather to strike back and force the police into a tactical retreat. The next night thousands of gay men and women take to the streets and the rainbow-colored LGBT movement is born. Famed poet Allen Ginsberg was there last night with his friend 22 year-old Lucian Truscott IV (who had graduated from West Point weeks before, and was grandson of a 4-star general and son of a colonel). Ginsberg said, "You know, the guys there were so beautiful—they've lost that wounded look that fags all had 10 years ago!" Respond in character to this event (in an essay of about 150 words, describing how you reacted to this news and what your thoughts and feelings are moving forward from it. After posting this response to your timeline, write an in-character comment on at least two other characters' pages about the event. Finally, comment on at least two additional characters' written responses to this event.

'The Eagle Has Landed!' Americans Land on the Moon!

(July 20, 1969)

Capping a decade long pursuit to win the Space Race, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has put men on the Moon's surface. The Soviets landed an unmanned craft in 1959 and the Americans duplicated this in 1962. The US goal to have a manned landing came true today as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped out of the Apollo 11 craft. Over the next three years, the Americans will make five more lunar landings.


Unit Personas

1. Abraham Heschel 19. J. Edgar Hoover
2. Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. 20. Jesse Jackson
3. Andrew Young 21. Leonard Peltier
4. Bayard Rustin 22. Lyndon Johnson
5. Betty Friedan 23. Malcolm X
6. Bobby Seale 24. Martin Luther King
7. Bull Connor 25. Medgar Evers
8. Cesar Chavez 26. Myrlie Evers
9. Coretta Scott King 27. Ralph Abernathy
10. Dennis Banks 28. Richard Aoki
11. Dolores Huerta 29. Rosa Parks
12. Elaine Brown 30. Ruby Bridges
13. Fannie Lou Hamer 31. Russell Means
14. George Wallace 32. Stokely Carmichael
15. Gloria Steinem 33. Strom Thurmond
16. Harvey Milk 34. Thurgood Marshall
17. Huey Newton 35. Viola Liuzzo
18. James Meredith 36. Yuri Kochiyama


Each Discourse unit provides an interactive, social media platform and accompanying curriculum to create a collaborative and entertaining educational experience.

Each unit includes the following:

  • Unit overview
  • 30-40 characters for students to role-play
  • Timeline Events that not only focus on the relevant events of the unit in study, but also encompass the cultural and broader events of the time period, thus providing context for the unit
  • Breaking News events with original source documents
  • Profile information about each character (teacher only)
  • Page for students to determine their relationships to each other character in the unit (auto-graded)
  • Period-relevant items for students to Like or Dislike based on their character (auto-graded)
  • Opportunity for students to create events and send private messages while role-playing their character
  • Advertisements appropriate for the time period; some include original video or music
  • Grading matrix for the role-playing (auto-completed as applicable)
  • A game-like trophy system that awards student progress
  • Teacher product instructions
  • Student use instructions
  • Teachers have access to the Discourse unit and students’ work for one year after the initial set-up date.
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