It is a strange phenomenon when your early days become the stuff of antique stores and history books. I’m occasionally startled in antique stores to see toys from my childhood. And when I talk to young friends about their studies of the Viet Nam War or the Civil Rights movement, it is clear that those times that provide some of my most vivid memories have become potentially-dusty history.
And so, this month—as those in the U.S. focus on African American History—seems a good time to look at the Library of Congress’ Civil Rights History Project. It is a treasure for anyone teaching about the period, or those who want to help students become excited about historical research.
The project is a collection of oral history interviews with Civil Rights activists, presented through photos, videos, and transcripts. Interviews talk about well-known events like the March on Washington, as well as important lesser-known activities across the country. There is also a series of articles and essays that provides background information and helps readers explore the site thematically. For example, one essay examines the role of Music in the Civil Rights Movement. It provides links to interviews that include music and other Library of Congress music resources.
I love this resource for its content, but also for the example of history-in-process. These are fine examples for students who want to understand what oral history looks like, or for older students who want to practice looking for themes across several transcripts. Think of the inspiration this site could provide for students who might interview local citizens who had been involved in the Civil Rights Movement, or any other important local historical event. It can help students understand that history is not the process of reading a textbook and answering questions at the end of the chapter. It is about asking and answering questions about real people and interesting lives. What better way to spark historical curiosity?
Don’t forget that the Library of Congress has a set of helpful teacher resources, including materials on helping students work with primary resources. It’s time to start exploring!
Martin Luther King day is also a great day to take some time to look at the Civil Rights History Project. It’s really important to learn about both the well-known and lesser-known heroes of this period of history. I will definitely check out the article on music in the civil rights movement. Thank you for sharing these inspiring resources!