Civil Rights Book Basket


Students engage  in reading a variety of books and other resources which focus on the Civil Rights movement in the 60’s and also look at conditions for African American people prior to the movement. Resources include biographical, nonfiction,  historical fiction, picture books and chapter books to support a variety of student interests and reading levels. Writing, note taking, use of close reading strategies and response to reading tasks offer opportunity for students to think deeply about the historical events and notable people of the civil rights era.

This study may run 4 to 5 weeks. This unit works particularly well when  taught in conjunction with a Social Studies unit on the Civil Rights Movement.

Enduring Understandings/ Essential Questions:

  1. Abolishing slavery did not give the African American citizens freedom.
  2. Jim Crow laws in the South greatly affected the lives of African Americans living in the southern states.
  3. People of all ages were responsible for the success of the Civil Rights Movement which lasted for many years.
  4. The Civil Rights Movement made gains through important events that occurred throughout the 1950s and 1960s.
  5. The Civil Rights Movement continues to have implications in today’s society.
    • What is the Civil Rights Movement?
    • What events in the history of the United States impacted on the Civil Rights Movement?
    • Who were the important participants in the movement? What impact did they have on the movement?
    • How is this movement relevant in today’s society?
Four Freedoms
This study may take up to 4-5 weeks. Ideally, this literature unit should be taught in conjunction with a Social Studies unit on the Civil Rights Movement.
Social Studies; Language Arts: Reading; Language Arts: Writing
Civil rights; Integration; Segregation; Movement; Equality; Inequality; Desegregation; Klu Klux Klan; Activist; Freedom Riders; Rebels; Jim Crow; Sit-ins; Protests; Demonstrations; Boycott; Marchers; Racist; NAACP


  • Students read from a collection of fiction and nonfiction texts and view videos related to the Civil Rights Movement.
  • Students participate in book talks and group discussions, sharing supported thoughts and insights from their readings.
  • Students identify events and people from the Civil Rights Movement that impacted the advancement of civil rights for African American citizens.


The abolishment of slavery brought on new challenges for the African American people. They could no longer be owned by others, however, former slaves and their families living in the south had very few rights. Jim Crow Laws enforced segregation of all public facilities. These laws mandated “separate but equal facilities and accommodations” for African Americans in the south. In effect until 1965, these laws prohibited African American people from eating at restaurants with white patrons, using public restrooms and water fountains not designated for “blacks,” or sitting in certain areas on public transportation. In addition, their children could only attend schools designated for people of their own race. However, southern state and town governments were pushing to maintain the status quo.

The NAACP, an organization founded in 1909, was fighting the hardest to eliminate Jim Crow Laws. In the 1950s, the civil rights movement joined the fight. The courts were slowing ruling against racially-biased laws, requiring desegregation in the south. Through through peaceful marches, sit-ins and lawsuits, civil rights organizers and their fellow citizens provided the final push to overturn Jim Crow Laws. By the end of the 1960s, all citizens of the United States, whether they lived in the north or south, not matter their skin color had inclusive, equal rights.

In 1963, Norman Rockwell stopped creating artwork for The Saturday Evening Post after forty-seven years. He was interested in the creating artworks that would have an impact, and through his work, began to explore ways to support the civil rights movement, which had gained momentum. Commissioned by Look in the 1960s, Rockwell created three iconic paintings reflecting the impact of racial bias in our country. The artist’s 1964 painting titled The Problem We All Live With gently presents an assertion on moral decency. This first assignment for Look magazine was an illustration of a six-year-old African-American schoolgirl being escorted by four U.S. marshals to her first day at an all-white school in New Orleans. Ordered to proceed with school desegregation after the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling, Louisiana lagged behind until pressure from Federal Judge Skelly Wright forced the school board to begin desegregation on November 14, 1960. In 1965, Rockwell illustrated the murder of civil rights workers in Philadelphia, Mississippi, and in 1967, he chose children, once again, to illustrate desegregation, this time in our suburbs.

In an interview later in his life, Rockwell recalled that he once had to paint out an African-American person in a group picture since The Saturday Evening Post policy dictated showing African Americans in service industry jobs only. Freed from such restraints, Rockwell seemed to look for opportunities to correct the editorial prejudices reflected in his previous work. The Problem We All Live With, Murder in Mississippi, and New Kids in the Neighborhood ushered in that new era for Rockwell.


Multimedia Resources

The Problem We All Live With

New Kids in the Neighborhood

Murder in Mississippi

A Conversation with Ruby Bridges Hall

The Ruby Bridges Story 1998 full movie

The Watsons Go to Birmingham

Rosa Parks- Ride to Justice

Ruby's Shoes/Walk in the Shoes

Classroom Supplies:

  • Two or three baskets to hold the book collection
  • A wide selection of historical fiction texts, picture books, and nonfiction texts, including but not limited to:
    • The Watsons Go to Birmingham- 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis
    • White Water by Michael S. Bandy and Eric Stein (Picture Book)
    • A Picture Book of Rosa Parks by David Adler (Picture Book Biography)
    • My Story by Rosa Parks with Jim Haskins
    • I Have a Dream ( Book and CD) by Martin Luther King
    • Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer: Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement by Carole Boston Weatherford
    • DK Readers L4: Free at Last: The Story of Martin Luther King, Jr.  by Angela Bull
    • Witness to Freedom: Young People Who fought for Civil Rights by Belinda Rochelle
    • A Mighty Long Way: My Journey to Justice at Little Rock Central High School by Carlotta Walls Lanier et al.
    • Cracking the Wall : The Struggles of the Little Rock Nine  by Eileen Lucas
    • Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor
    • Let the Circle Be Unbroken by Mildred D. Taylor
    • Mississippi Bridge by Mildred D. Taylor
    • The Friendship by Mildred D. Taylor
    • The Gold Cadillac by Mildred D. Taylor
    • Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
    • One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia
    • The Paperboy by Vince Vawter
    • Freedom Riders by Jean Young Kilby
    • Rosa Parks and the Mongomery Bus Boycott (Graphic History of Civil Rights Movement) by Gary Jeffrey
    • Thurmond Marshall: The Supreme Court Rules on “Separate But Equal” ( Graphic History of the Civil Rights Movement) by Gary Jeffrey
    • A Picture Book of Thurgood Marshall by David Adler
    • The Little Rock Nine and the Fight for Equal Education ( Graphic History of the Civil Rights Movement) by Gary Jeffrey
    • White Socks Only by Evelyn Coleman (Picture Book)
    • The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson (Picture Book)
    • Freedom Summer by Deborah Wiles (Picture Book)
    • Freedom on the Menu by Carole Boston Weatherford (Picture Book)
    • Child of the Civil Rights Movement by Paula Young Shelton and Raul Colon (Picture Book)
    • If You Were a Kid During the Civil Rights Movement by Gwendolyn Hooks
    • Through My Eyes by Ruby Bridges
    • The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Cole (Piciture Book)
    • Little Rock Nine by Marshall Poe
    • The Little Rock Nine: A Primary Source Exploration of the Battle for School Integration by Brian Krum
    • The Little Rock Nine: Struggle for Integration by Stephanie Fitzgerald
    • Ron’s Big Mission by Rose Blue and Corrine J. Naden
    • Goin Someplace Special by Patricia C. McKissack
    • The Dark-Thirty: Southern Tales of the Supernatural by Patricia C. McKissack
  • Optional related resources:
    • Rosa Parks: Life After the Bus (
    • Henry Ford Museum Digital Resources: What If Rosa Parks Didn't Move to the Back of the Bus? (Story and artifacts)
  • ABCs of the Civil Rights Movement activity sheet
  • Civil Rights Reading Guide, as a Class Chart and/or individual copies
  • Reading notebooks
  • Post-it notes
  • Related videos:
    • The Ruby Bridges Story (1:30:03)
    • The Watsons Go to Birmingham (1:25:59) based on book by Christopher Paul Curtis
    • Rosa Parks: Ride to Justice (6:32)


  • Prior to introducing this unit have students view and discuss  Norman Rockwell’s illustration, The Problem We All Live With.  
  • Initiating activity:  Distribute the activity sheet,  ABCs of the Civil Rights Movement. Individually or in small groups, allow students about 10 to 15 minutes to record as many words and names that they associate with the Civil Rights Movement. Pull students together to share and discuss their responses before they lose interest. They will have opportunity to continue to work on this activity throughout the unit of study. Gather students to share words and names they have brainstormed. (A class chart may be created to record contributions now and as they are engaged in the study.) Have students give connection of word/name as they are offered. Accept all responses. Misinformation will be corrected as study progresses.
  • Shared experience: View one of the videos listed above. While either one will give a feel for life during this time, The Watsons Go to Birmingham is based on the book The Watsons Go to Birmingham published in 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis. After viewing the video, read the book aloud and engage students in comparing differences between different versions of a text (RL.9). These shared experiences support what will be an ongoing conversation over the course of the unit.
  • Book Baskets: Depending on the number of students in the class, create 2 or 3 baskets of books related to the Civil Rights Movement. If possible include at least two copies of  each book. Multiple copies provide opportunities for students to meet and have deeper discussions of a specific text as they are reading. 
  • Ongoing Work:While students are reading, encourage them use post-it notes to stop and jot important information about characters, settings, events, questions, surprises, emotional moments,  words and/or phrases that are confusing or give important insights. It works well for students to keep these notes posted on the specific text they refer to so that during partner or book talks they both share ideas, ask questions, and refer to text evidence. When students have finished work with the book, they may place notes in their  reading notebooks or equivalent workspace as reference points for continued study and reflection. Do integrate reading, reflection and discussion of texts with classroom routines around writing.
  • Partner talk/ Book talks: Schedule book talks to give students reading the same text opportunity to discuss and reflect on what they are learning about the Civil Rights Movement and the historic implications. These talks may be scheduled by students or designated days can be established for students to meet and discuss readings. Students should give text evidence supporting ideas/ thoughts discussed.  Consider having students write reflections in their notebooks following their talks as well.
  • Class discussions: Schedule discussions offering students opportunity to pull together thoughts and understandings gleaned from the various texts being read. New words and names may be added to ABC chart may be added at this time. Students should be able to give evidence supporting the inclusion of new words and names. In addition, misinformation added in the beginning should be corrected. If an earlier response has been given that is not being confirmed from texts in the study, a research team could be assigned to investigate the validity of the information.
  • Exit task: Completion of the Civil Rights Movement reading guide serves as the final task.
  • Optional: There are additional videos available on YouTube focusing on the civil rights movement. Some are listed above. Access to these videos at the discretion of the teacher can be made to students individually or as a group.


  • Are students prepared for and participate in book discussions?
  • Are students justifying responses with relevant text support?
  • Are students able to identify individuals who impacted Civil rights movement and explain their contributions?


This curriculum meets the standards listed below. Look for more details on these standards please visit: ELA and Math StandardsSocial Studies Standards, Visual Arts Standards.

Cite textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
By the end of the year, read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poems, in the grades 6-8 text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range.
Describe how a particular story's or drama's plot unfolds in a series of episodes as well as how the characters respond or change as the plot moves toward a resolution.
Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of a specific word choice on meaning and tone
Analyze how a particular sentence, chapter, scene, or stanza fits into the overall structure of a text and contributes to the development of the theme, setting, or plot.
Explain how an author develops the point of view of the narrator or speaker in a text.
Compare and contrast the experience of reading a story, drama, or poem to listening to or viewing an audio, video, or live version of the text, including contrasting what they "see" and "hear" when reading the text to what they perceive when they listen or watch.
Compare and contrast texts in different forms or genres (e.g., stories and poems; historical novels and fantasy stories) in terms of their approaches to similar themes and topics.
By the end of the year, read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poems, in the grades 6-8 text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range.
Analyze how particular elements of a story or drama interact (e.g., how setting shapes the characters or plot).
Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of rhymes and other repetitions of sounds (e.g., alliteration) on a specific verse or stanza of a poem or section of a story or drama.
Analyze how a drama's or poem's form or structure (e.g., soliloquy, sonnet) contributes to its meaning
Analyze how an author develops and contrasts the points of view of different characters or narrators in a text.
Compare and contrast a written story, drama, or poem to its audio, filmed, staged, or multimedia version, analyzing the effects of techniques unique to each medium (e.g., lighting, sound, color, or camera focus and angles in a film).
Compare and contrast a fictional portrayal of a time, place, or character and a historical account of the same period as a means of understanding how authors of fiction use or alter history.
By the end of the year, read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poems, at the high end of grades 6-8 text complexity band independently and proficiently.
Analyze how particular lines of dialogue or incidents in a story or drama propel the action, reveal aspects of a character, or provoke a decision.
Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including analogies or allusions to other texts.
Compare and contrast the structure of two or more texts and analyze how the differing structure of each text contributes to its meaning and style.
Analyze how differences in the points of view of the characters and the audience or reader (e.g., created through the use of dramatic irony) create such effects as suspense or humor.
Analyze the extent to which a filmed or live production of a story or drama stays faithful to or departs from the text or script, evaluating the choices made by the director or actors.
Analyze how a modern work of fiction draws on themes, patterns of events, or character types from myths, traditional stories, or religious works such as the Bible, including describing how the material is rendered new.
Integrate visual information (e.g., in charts, graphs, photographs, videos, or maps) with other information in print and digital texts.
Distinguish among fact, opinion, and reasoned judgment in a text.
Analyze the relationship between a primary and secondary source on the same topic.
Determine a central idea of a text and how it is conveyed through particular details; provide a summary of the text distinct from personal opinions or judgments.
Cite several pieces of textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
Determine two or more central ideas in a text and analyze their development over the course of the text; provide an objective summary of the text.
Cite the textual evidence that most strongly supports an analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
Determine a central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including its relationship to supporting ideas; provide an objective summary of the text.
Write routinely over extended time frames (time for reflection and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of discipline-specific tasks, purposes, and audiences.
Write informative/explanatory texts, including the narration of historical events, scientific procedures/ experiments, or technical processes.
Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
Conduct short research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question), drawing on several sources and generating additional related, focused questions that allow for multiple avenues of exploration.
Draw evidence from informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.
Explain how a question represents key ideas in the field.
Explain points of agreement experts have about interpretations and applications of disciplinary concepts and ideas associated with a compelling question.
Explain points of agreement experts have about interpretations and applications and disciplinary concepts and ideas associated with a supporting question.
Explain how the relationship between supporting questions and compelling questions is mutually reinforcing.
Determine the kinds of sources that will be helpful in answering compelling and supporting questions, taking into consideration the different opinions people have about how to answer the question.
Explain the relevance of personal interests and perspectives, civic virtues, and democratic principles when people address issues and problems in government and civil society.
Differentiate among procedures for making decisions in the classroom, school, civil society, and local, state, and national government in terms of how civic purposes are intended.
Assess specific rules and laws (both actual and proposed) as means of addressing public problems.
Analyze the purposes, implementation, and consequences of public policies in multiple settings.
Compare historical and contemporary means of changing societies, and promoting the common good.
Apply civic virtues and democratic principles in school and community settings.
Analyze ideas and principles contained in the founding documents of the United States, and explain how they influence the social and political sysrem.
Explain how the physical and human characteristics of places and regions are connected to human identities and cultures.
Analyze connections among events and developments in broader historical contexts.
Evaluate the relative influence of various causes of events and developments in the past.
Analyze multiple factors that influenced the perspectives of people during different historical eras.
Explain how and why perspectives of people have changed over time.
Analyze how people's perspectives influenced what information is available in the historical sources they created.
Gather relevant information from multiple sources while using the origin, authority, structure, context, and corroborative value of the sources to guide the selection.
Evaluate the credibility of a source by determining its relevance and intended use.
Identify evidence that draws information from multiple sources to support claims, noting evidentiary limitations.
Develop claims and counterclaims while pointing out the strengths and limitations of both.
Construct an argument using claims and evidence from multiple sources, while acknowledging the strengths and limitations of the argument.
Construct explanations using reasoning, correct sequence, examples, and details with relevant information and data, while acknowledging the strengths, and weaknesses of explanations.
Present a summary of arguments and explanations on topics of interest to others to reach audiences and venues outside the classroom using print and oral technologies (e.g., posters, essays, letters, debates, speeches, reports, and maps) and digital technologies (e.g., Internet, social media, and digital documentary).
Critique arguments for credibility.