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Civil Rights at Rutgers uses primary documents, largely from the late 1960's, to provide students with insights into how students at Rutgers University were involved in the Civil Rights Movement at that time. The unit consists of five lessons: "Catalysts?", "Why Are You Protesting?", "Rebellion!", "Win or Lose?", and "How Far Have We Come?". The lessons may be used independently (with the exception of "Rebellion!" and "Win or Lose?", but for a comprehensive understanding of this issue it is suggested that all five of the lessons be used in sequential order.

The primary documents include photographs from the period, newspaper editorials, op-ed pieces, university documents and other elements designed to provide the student and teacher with a variety of perspectives on civil rights activities during this period. Most of the activities are designed with the idea that students read, discuss, and reflect on the primary documents and then apply the idea of civil rights to their lives today.

Learning Goals

  1. That in studying the Civil Rights Movement at Rutgers University, students will be able, through using primary documents, to have a more comprehensive and contextual understanding of the events, motivations, and reactions of the people involved.
  2. Students will have a better understanding of how historic events (i.e. the assassination of Reverend Dr. King, Jr.) were perhaps the catalyst for student activities and actions, and that the activities of students in New Jersey was reflective of events occurring nationwide on college campuses.
  3. Students will use the primary documents and lessons to better understand specific activities during the Civil Rights Movement and will be able to apply their understanding to similar ideas and events in today's society.
  4. Students will analyze and reflect on whether the actions of the students and administration were appropriate and/or productive in advancing the Civil Rights Movement.
  5. Students will analyze the success or failure of the actions taken by those involved in the demonstrations and protests, both at the time and in the long term.
  6. Students will apply the ideas, concepts, and rationale of the Black Organization of Students (BOS) to issues of socio-economic and political inequality in today's society.


The overall methodology consists of the analysis of primary documents. These documents include:

  • Newspaper articles
  • Student editorials
  • Student Op-ed pieces
  • Photographs
  • Poetry
  • Written demands / responses
  • Rally announcement
  • Statistical information
  • Video

Specifics for each lesson

  1. "Catalysts?"

    The documents include a student editorial and op-ed piece written by a group of black students following the assassination of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Students are asked to assume the persona of a white student in the context of the assassination and write either a letter-to-the-editor or an op-ed piece on the topic of racism. Their writing should reference the two documents in the lesson and other relevant classroom information. Teachers are encouraged to spend some time going over how to write a persuasive essay. Some suggestions for students might include: establishing facts to support an argument, clarifying relevant values or perspectives, having sources that are reliable, understanding what prejudice lies in their argument, understanding the emotional reactions of the issue, and keeping your voice active throughout your writing.

  2. "Why Are You Protesting?"

    The documents include an official statement from the Black Organization of Students, a poem from the Rutgers University Transitional Year Program magazine, and a photograph of Randy Green and other activists. Students are asked in this lesson to produce a creative product which deals with a contemporary civil rights issue. That is, individuals or groups today who are facing political, economic, or social inequality at either the local, national, or global level. You as a teacher may find that students wish to discuss a school issue in lieu of one of local, national, or global importance. Please feel free to substitute at your discretion. This creative product could take on many forms: song, poem, poster, art, or some other medium. Encourage the students to express themselves in a way that works for them and gets their point across in the most powerful and appropriate way.

  3. "Rebellion!"

    The documents include newspaper stories about events on the Rutgers campus in 1969, a photograph of the takeover of Conklin Hall, a rally announcement, and a detailed list of the demands of the BOS and the university's response. Again, students are asked to identify a contemporary civil rights issue (perhaps using the same issue as in lesson #2 would be helpful). In this lesson, students are going to generate a list of demands germane to the contemporary issue. The demands should be specific and detailed as to what they wish to achieve, and students should have a detailed plan to bring a peaceful rebellion to fruition. The lesson will conclude with a scored discussion, using the following rubric. The rubric is a generic one which the teacher can apply either numeric or letter grades to. The blank box on the right of the rubric is blank for scoring. Other suggestions for the scored discussion include the following: seating students in a circle or a large square around the perimeter of the room, passing out the rubric the day before so that the students are aware of how they will be graded, passing out a list of focus questions the day before so that students may prepare in advance, making the rules of the discussion apparent to all (i.e. how many times a student must speak, how students will be called on, etc.)

    Participates in and provides meaningful contributions to class discussions by:

    Responding to teacher prompts in a positive way;

    Asking thoughtful & relevant questions;

    Defending personal opinions and challenging others respectively;

    Incorporating prior knowledge based on completed assignments;

    Presenting factual information

      Answers the appropriate number of times always with a citation  
    Displays active listening skills by:

    Respecting views of others;

    Paying attention when others are speaking;

    Taking appropriate notes;

    Following instructions.

    Critical Analysis Demonstrates Critical Thinking Skills  
    Negative Behavior Skills Making an irrelevant comment(s)  
      Monopolizing conversation  
      Speaking out of turn  
      Not paying attention  

    Sample Focus Questions

    • What was the background to your situation which set it in motion?
    • Were there other alternatives to the choice you made today?
    • What were they?
    • Did you consider them seriously? How so?
    • Why did you not choose them as alternatives?
    • Why was your choice the best one?
    • How does your choice best reflect your list of demands?
  4. "Win or Lose?"

    The documents include responses to the protests and activities of the BOS and other students. They include a resolution of the Board of Governors, a letter to the members of the state legislature, a photograph of students protesting the occupation of Conklin Hall, editorials, and other reflections. Students should understand that the response was a mixed one. Some of the reponse was positive, some of it was very negative. In dealing with a contemporary civil rights issue, students will likely find mixed reactions as well. Using the same issues that students used in lesson #3 ("Rebellion!"), ask the class to do the following: (1) come up with a questionnaire with a common set of objective questions and rating scale, as well as common open-ended questions; (2) students are to interview a variety of groups using the questionnaire. This may include: students, faculty, administrators, parents, and community members; (3) students will then share their findings in a class roundtable discussion. In the discussion, responses should be examined by each group (i.e. students, parents, etc.) and their responses should be tallied and listed on the board. This could lead to further discussion as to which groups found the interactions positive or negative.

    Sample Questionnaire

    1. Age     ___ 14-18_     __19-30     ___31-50     ___51-70     ___71+

    2. To what degree do you believe that (ethnic group) face discrimination in our society?

    Do not face discrimination Face discrimination
    0 1 2 3 4 5

    3. Do you believe that government action is necessary in order to address (issue)?

    Action not needed Action needed
    0 1 2 3 4 5

    4. Would (suggested action) be an appropriate way of seeking equality for (group)?

    Not appropriate Appropriate
    0 1 2 3 4 5

    5. Can you provide specific instances where you witnessed discrimination or heard inappropriate comments about (group)?

  5. "How Far Have We Come?"

    The documents are largely statistical data regarding diversity on university campuses, as well as the summary of the Supreme Court case Ricci v. DeStefano (2009). Students are asked to select six universities from different geographic locations in the United States and compare the current racial demographic enrollments of those schools, and also compare it with the Rutgers campuses. They should write a one page essay analyzing their findings. Finally, using the Ricci summary, as a concluding activity have students write a two page essay on the current state of diversity in the United States and on whether Affirmative Action should be dismantled. Teachers will need to explain the background of Affirmative Action in discussing the Supreme Court summary with students, why it originally became law, and whether it has resulted in a "level playing field" in contemporary American society.

    Time Requirement for Implementation

    Each of the five individual lessons is planned for one 84 minute block. Those teachers who teach periods rather than block schedule should plan for two class sessions per lesson.