Houghton Mifflin Social Studies
A More Perfect Union

Understanding Primary Sources:
A Civil Rights Profile

Objective: Students trace their personal freedoms to significant Constitutional elements, civil rights laws, and other action in order to create individual civil rights profiles.

What You Need:

Suggested Time:
2-3 class periods

Building Background:
The civil rights movement of the twentieth century really began in the eighteenth century. The Constitution of the United States was an attempt to codify concepts of democracy and individual rights that occupied the thoughts of both philosophers and ordinary people of that time. Later amendments and acts of legislation were extensions of that thinking, finally extending to all Americans the rights guaranteed by the original document.

What To Do:

1. Remind students that the struggle for equality in American society is an ongoing effort. Encourage a discussion on what form that struggle has taken over the years, beginning with the drafting and ratification of the Constitution. Have students identify significant events that, over the years, have extended the principles of the Constitution to more and more citizens. Examples might include ratification of the Bill of Rights and Amendments XIII, XIV, XV, XIX, XXIV, and the XXVI; passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968. Students might also include Supreme Court decisions such as Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954). List students' suggestions on the chalkboard in chronological order.

2. Tell students that it is important for them to understand how these documents and laws apply to them as individuals and allow them to realize their full potential as citizens. As an example, read aloud Section 1 of Amendment XXVI:

The right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age.

Ask students what this Amendment means to them. (It guarantees that when they are 18 years old, they will be able to vote.) Encourage volunteers to tell how, knowing they have this right, they will act on it.

3. Distribute copies of the Civil Rights Profile worksheet. Tell students that they should use this profile to show which amendments or acts of legislation they feel are most important to them now and in the future. Suggest that they study the original documents, then choose the ones that they consider most significant. Have them write their own names inside the center circle and the six most significant amendments or documents in the outer circles.

4. On the back of the worksheet, or on another piece of paper, have students write one or two paragraphs summarizing the profile. Students should also describe how, knowing they have certain rights, they will act on them.

If you have Internet access, students can explore these sites for information:

National Civil Rights Museum
Take a virtual tour of the museum and learn about the Civil Rights movement in the United States.

National Archives and Records Administration: The Constitution of the United States
Read the text of the Constitution and find the answers to commonly-asked constitutional questions.

Thomas: Legislative Information on the Internet
Check out this site from the Library of Congress for information on current legislation as well as access to thousands of historical documents and laws.

Have students tally which amendments and/or acts students chose as being most important to them. Suggest that students take home their profiles and put them in self-addressed envelopes to be opened by them in ten years, at which time they can evaluate what they wrote and possibly update it.


Social Studies Center | Houghton Mifflin Social Studies | Unit Activities and Resources
Education Place | Site Index

Copyright © 1999 Houghton Mifflin Company. All Rights Reserved.