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Citizens Making Choices: The Role of the U.S. Constitution in Peaceful Protest
Subjects: Social Studies,
Grade Level: Middle School
Throughout U.S. history, citizens have protested against the government. The Constitution clearly allows citizens to peaceably protest. Students will evaluate the effect of violent protests and develop ideas on how to follow the First Amendment in “peaceably redressing grievances.”
Historical Period: Beyond 1968: Post-Civil Rights?
Lesson Length: 1.5 hours
National Standards: U.S.History (From McREL 4th Edition Standards & Benchmarks)
Standard 8: Understands the institutions and practices of government created during the Revolution and how these elements were revised between 1787 and 1815 to create the foundation of the American political system based on the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights
Standard 29: Understands the struggle for racial and gender equality and for the extension of civil liberties
•be able to evaluate the effectiveness of strategies used in the 1968 Memphis Sanitation Strike and the 1992 L.A. Riots
•have developed a better understanding of how responsible citizens can follow the law as well as voice their concerns with government to help create change
•Ernest C. Withers, Sanitation workers assemble in front of Clayborn Temple for a solidarity march, Memphis, TN March 28, 1968, 1968
•Thornton Dial Sr., Top of the Line (Steel), 1992
•Observation vs. Interpretation Chart/Graphic Organizer. Available from the Smithsonian American Art Museum website at: http://americanart.si.edu/education/pdf/learning-to-look.pdf
•Observation vs. Interpretation Chart/Graphic Organizer
•Computers with Internet connection
1. Teacher Background: This lesson examines two historical events in relationship to a citizen’s right to protest. The first protest examined took place in 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee. A group of sanitation workers went on strike for safer working conditions and decent wages. The strike turned violent, leading to destruction and the death of a young man. The second historical event studied is the 1992 L.A. Riots. On April 29, 1992, a jury acquitted four Los Angeles Police Department officers (three white and one Hispanic) of assault charges in the videotaped beating of black motorist Rodney King. This verdict led to six days of city-wide riots that caused several deaths and extensive damages. Discuss the right to protest according to the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Develop a common understanding of what it means to “peaceably assemble and petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
2. Provide students with color reproductions of the selected artworks or project the images in the classroom. Inform students these artworks depict two unrelated protests in U.S. history.
3. Have students complete an Observation vs. Interpretation Chart. In the chart, students separate what they can see in the artwork from what they can infer based on that observable evidence. Use their completed charts to spark a classroom discussion of each artwork and its representation of the historic event or era.
4. Discuss the responses to the artworks with the class and have students predict if these protests followed the First Amendment.
5. Guide students to appropriate resources to conduct additional research on the Memphis Sanitation Strike of 1968 and the 1992 L.A. Riots.
6. After they have researched the events, have students prepare a brief conclusion stating whether the protests were protected by the First Amendment and providing evidence to support their answer.
1. After researching these events, students will be evaluated based on their knowledge of the issues, actors, and context of both the Memphis Sanitation Strike and the L.A. Riot.
2. Students will develop an organized strategy to address citizen concerns in a way that complies with the First Amendment.
3. Students will present and/or discuss ideas with the class.
1. Have students research the history of the local community. Find an example of a time when your community was involved in a protest. Analyze this protest to see if it followed the First Amendment. If it did not, what could have been done differently to protect everyone’s constitutional rights?
2. Have students research the Greensboro sit-ins, comparing the strategies of this peaceful protest to either the Memphis Sanitation Strike or the L.A. Riots. Have students provide evidence as to why the Greensboro sit-ins were so successful.
Contributed by: Suzi Schmidt
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