When Youth Protest: Student Activism and the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement, 1955-1970 Lesson Plan


Given the opportunity, most students are eager to explore and to understand the Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi. Their interest will certainly be aroused by an informative study of youth involvement in the movement, an area often overlooked in a cursory review of the primary leaders and events. Students will be engaged in thinking about the following questions as they research the subject:

  • Why were young people interested in being a part of the Civil Rights Movement?
  • In what ways did young people participate in the movement?
  • How important was non-violence to the cause?
  • Was there a price to pay for being involved in the movement?
  • What current issues of inequality can you identify?
  • Is there a “cause” worth a sacrifice from me?


Mississippi Studies Framework: Competencies 1, 3, 4, and 5; Objectives 05, 10, and 20


Grades 4 (with modifications) through 12


  1. Mississippi History Now article, “When Youth Protest: Student Activism, Civil Disobedience and the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement, 1955-1970" with links to pictures and interviews
  2. Butcher Paper/Newsprint
  3. Outline Map of Mississippi (optional)
  4. Mississippi Road Maps


Students will:

  • explain the meaning of the following terms associated with the modern Civil Rights Movement: segregation; integration; civil rights; civil disobedience.
  • construct an acronym graphic showing the civil rights organizations active in Mississippi from 1955-1970 and the meaning of the acronyms.
  • explain methods used by the student-youth protesters.
  • by mapping sites of civil rights projects, indicate the scope of youth activism in the movement.
  • relate the significance of the 1960 Easter boycott, the activities of the Tougaloo Nine, and the Freedom Riders.
  • evaluate the role played by student-youth in the success of the Civil Rights Movement.
  • contemplate current inequities and reflect on appropriate responses.


Without providing any details, the teacher will instruct students to study very carefully the well-known picture of the June 1963 Woolworth lunch counter sit-in. (If possible, darken the classroom and project an enlarged image for the students.) Students will free-write their observations including the “who, what, when, and why” questions. They should indicate the age of the persons in the picture. Ask them also to predict, in their writing, what will happen next. After students have shared their observations and predictions with the class, ask them to conclude their writing by describing a personal experience with inequity (lack of justice or unfairness).


  1. Using either concrete representations like pictures, or context clues, the teacher will encourage students, working in small groups or individually, to construct meanings for the vocabulary terms in the first objective. After students have had ample opportunities to discuss what they believe the terms represent, teacher will distribute the following quotes which illustrate the vocabulary terms. Students will determine which quote represents each term.
    • “With half of the twentieth century gone, the Mississippi Negro did not vote, did not serve on juries, held no slightest office in local government. He attended inferior schools...and received unequal treatment in the courts.” (Mississippi: The Closed Society, pages 84-85) Answer: Examples of Civil Rights
    • “If every colored man in Mississippi were a graduate of Yale College, the two races would remain just as widely separated as they are now in all political and social matters.” (Mississippi: The Closed Society, p. 16) Answer: Segregation
    • “The Regional Council of Negro Leadership called for ‘immediate opening’ of the state’s graduate and professional schools to all races.” (Mississippi Conflict & Change, p. 253) Answer: Integration
    • “Most public places were ‘white only.’ Black people could not eat in a restaurant or sleep in a motel that served whites. Laws kept blacks out of some city parks and almost all swimming pools.” (Mississippi Conflict & Change, p. 249) Answer: Segregation
    • “Demonstrations and boycotts were used as effective tools in Shelby, Port Gibson, and other towns. In one case, blacks charged police with brutality, boycotted local merchants, and brought about the removal of the offending officers.” (Mississippi Conflict & Change, p. 322) Answer: Civil Disobedience
    • “In Laurel, four civil rights workers were attacked by 25 pipe-carrying whites while sitting in at a previously segregated drive-in. Police refused to help the injured workers and instead arrested a COFO volunteer who stood watching.” (Mississippi Conflict & Change, p. 270) Answer: Civil Disobedience
  2. Ask students to brainstorm the names of any Civil Rights Movement organization they may know. Teacher will lead large-group discussion and will assist students in devising a “jelly-fish” graphic for their notes, indicating the names of organizations active in Mississippi. Students will then refer to the Mississippi History Now article and will write down the meaning of each acronym.
  3. Now that students understand the concept of civil disobedience (passive resistance), and are familiar with the civil rights organizations, ask them to construct a Data Retrieval Chart in their notes. Headings should include: Methods of Protest; What I Think I Know; What I Have Learned.

    Ask students to read the Mississippi History Now article from the sub-head “CORE and Freedom Rides” to the end of the article. Have them list in their charts the various protest methods used by the Civil Rights Movement. Then, they should complete the second chart heading before discussing their answers in small groups. Teacher should circulate and clarify any misconceptions and ask students to complete their charts to be turned in.

  4. Distribute to students an outline map of Mississippi or have them draw one. They should read now from the sub-head “Medgar Evers and His NAACP Youth Councils” to the end of the article, looking for specific sites in the state where students were engaged in activities of the Civil Rights Movement. Ask them to make a key notation for each location which briefly describes the activity. (Larger butcher paper/newsprint maps could be constructed by groups. Road maps of Mississippi will be helpful as students locate the sites mentioned in the article.)

  5. Teacher will lead class discussion regarding the Easter Boycott, Tougaloo Nine, and the Freedom Riders. Have students make a web in their notes on each one. Ask students to review the material in the Mississippi History Now article, select one of the events, and write a dialogue in which they discuss with their parents their intentions of participating in the activity and their reasons for wanting to be a part of the movement. They should include a discussion of the possible consequences of their actions. (Teacher: a rubric would be helpful and would guide the assessment process.) Allow volunteers to “act-out” their dialogues for the class.

  6. Once again, have students read from the Mississippi History Now article, this time beginning at the sub-head “Mississippi Freedom Summer, 1964” and reading through to the end. Have students determine the author’s evaluation of youth activism. Allow students to discuss the author’s point of view and express their agreement or disagreement. They may have other pertinent thoughts to share.


  1. Ask students to link the past to the present by jotting down answers to the following questions. If you wish, allow students to work in small groups to reflect on the questions. Have a spokesperson for each group offer their best answers to these questions in a whole class discussion.
    • Are there any examples of inequities, great or small, in my school/state/national community now? If so, what are they?
    • What can an individual student do to remedy any inequities?
    • What can students acting together do to remedy any inequities?
    • Are there positive as well as negative consequences of such actions?
  2. Provide an oral history of at least one of the student-youth activists for students to hear as the lesson is concluding.
  3. As a major assessment, have students write a thoughtful essay regarding the lesson. Suggested areas to cover include the motivation of the student-youth protesters, and a reflection on the student’s own personal experience with inequity. Teacher may want to provide a rubric to guide the writing exercise.


  1. Class/Group Participation
  2. Data Retrieval Chart
  3. Creative Dialogue
  4. Essay


  1. Offer students the following options to extend their learning:
    • Write diary or journal entries describing their feelings on the day before and after their participation in a Civil Rights Movement activity.
    • Assemble a Civil Rights Movement Scrapbook after researching local and state newspapers for articles, advertisements, letters to the editor, etc.
  2. Invite someone who participated in the civil rights protests to speak to the class or conduct oral history interviews with participants.
  3. Research the “stories” of individual student-youth protesters to share with the class.
  4. Places of interest to visit:
    • Smith Robertson Museum and Cultural Center, Jackson, Mississippi
    • Museum of Mississippi History, Jackson, Mississippi
    • Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, Jackson, Mississippi


  • Loewen, James W. and Sallis, Charles, editors, Mississippi Conflict & Change, Pantheon Books, 1974.
  • Silver, James W., Mississippi: The Closed Society, Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1966.
  • Wharton, Vernon Lane, The Negro is Mississippi 1865-1890, Harper & Row, 1947.
  • “Reckon, The Magazine of Southern Culture,” Vol. 1, Numbers 1 & 2, 1995. (Includes several excellent articles with pictures on Freedom Summer in Mississippi.)