Street Theater and the Collapse of Jim Crow Lesson Plan


In this lesson plan, students are challenged to move beyond a step-by-step recitation of events in Mississippi’s civil rights years. Rather, they are encouraged to compare the effectiveness of various techniques used in the civil rights drama, and to discover the plan and purpose underlying the acts that brought the movement to a successful climax.


Mississippi Studies Framework: Competencies 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5


Grades 4 (with modifications) through 12



Students will:

  • Examine the drama of the Black freedom movement in Mississippi;
  • Consider reasons why Dr. Neil McMillen, the author of the Mississippi History Now article, likened the events of the mid-1960s to street theater;
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of various “dramatic” elements used by the civil rights leaders.


Ask students to discuss the “instant replay” capabilities available with current technology. Lead them to produce a chart showing “pros” and “cons” of today’s technology, and then have them write a short paragraph in their notebooks on whether or not they agree with the use of the technology. Some students may wish to share their paragraphs with the class. Encourage students to view this lesson through the lens of a playwright or film director as they take a look at the acts of the Black freedom movement in Mississippi. Tell them to look for ways in which “instant replay” was a significant part of the action.


  1. Ask students to list the principal parts of a drama, play, or story that they have learned in their English/language arts classes. If possible, invite their English teacher to review this information with them prior to this lesson. For this lesson, use the following parts: exposition, or setting needed to understand the story; building action, the components of the story; the climax; and the denouement.
  2. Students will make a chart on their paper, using the parts of the story listed above. Ask them to read the Mississippi History Now article carefully, writing short descriptors in each column of their chart as they recognize them.
  3. Working in small groups, students will use their charts to create a storyboard illustrating the Black freedom movement drama. On their boards, they will both write and illustrate events that tell the story of each “act,” or part: exposition, action, climax, denouement. (Teacher may need to assist students in realizing the two parts of the movement’s activities: nonviolent direct action versus confrontational events designed for media attention in order to provoke national outrage and government action.)
  4. Allow the student groups to tell their story to the class and display their boards. Have them discuss McMillen’s use of a theater analogy in his article.


  1. Students will make a list of the different types of actions used by civil rights activists. Have them categorize them as either passive, nonviolent, or confrontational. Ask them to determine the effectiveness of each one in reaching the goals of the movement.
  2. Students will design a short sequence chain showing the results of the confrontational technique. They can cite a specific example. The chain should be similar to this:
    • Confrontational technique > media attention > national outrage > federal government intervention
  3. If possible, show excerpts of civil rights confrontations as recorded in the Eyes on the Prize video. Students will write their feelings as they watch. Ask them to evaluate how significant this “instant replay” was in bringing the Black freedom movement to a successful conclusion.


  1. Participation in large and small group activities
  2. Completion and presentation of storyboard
  3. Completion of charts and sequence chain
  4. Essay in response to video


  1. Students may wish to respond to the quote by Adam Fairclough at the beginning of the Mississippi History Now article by drawing a political cartoon or some other type of graphic.
  2. Invite local media representatives to discuss the role played by the television and print media in the Civil Rights Movement.
  3. Research how media portrayal of the Vietnam War (or other events) has shaped public opinion.
  4. McMillen mentions a “second federal Reconstruction” in the article. Ask students to explore what this means.


  • Eyes on the Prize, I: America’s Civil Rights Years
  • We Can Change the World: Highlights Mississippi Freedom Summer
  • Mississippi, America: Details Mississippi Freedom Summer