Civil Rights Movement Book Basket


Students engage in reading nonfiction and historical fiction texts which focus on the Civil Rights movement in the 60’s, and life for African American people prior to the movement. The booklist includes biographical, nonfiction, historical fiction,  picture books and chapter books appropriate for a variety of interests and reading levels. Written response, post-it noting, utilization of close reading strategies, and discussion offer opportunity for students to think deeply about the historical events and notable people of the civil rights era.

This study may run 3 to 4 weeks. This study works particularly well as an integrated Language Arts/Social Studies Unit.  If possible integrate art experiences as well.

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, races, and backgrounds were responsible for the success of the Civil Rights Movement.
  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 prompted the Civil Rights Movement?
  • Who were the important participants in the movement? What impact did they have on the way the issue of race has been perceived in society?
  • How is this movement relevant in today’s world?
Four Freedoms
4 weeks, 45 minute periods
Social Studies; Language Arts: Reading; Language Arts: Speaking and Listening; Language Arts: Writing
Civil rights; Integration; Segregation; Movement; Equality; Inequality; Desegregation; Activist; Freedom Riders; Rebels; Jim Crow laws; Sit-ins; Protests; Demonstrations; Boycott; Marchers; Racist; NAACP; Klu Klux Klan


  • Students will read from a collection of historical fiction and nonfiction texts.
  • Students will participate in book talks and group discussions, sharing supported thoughts and insights from their readings.
  • Students will be able to 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 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 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

A Conversation with Ruby Bridges Hall

Rosa Parks- Ride to Justice

The Story of Ruby Bridges (full movie)

Ruby's Shoes by Lori McKenna

Classroom Supplies:

  • A wide selection of historical fiction texts, picture books, and nonfiction texts, including but not limited to:
    • 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
    • DK Readers (Level 4): Free at Last: The Story of Martin Luther King, Jr.  by Angela Bul
    • Cracking the Wall : The Struggles of the Little Rock Nine  by Eileen Lucas
    • 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
    • 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
    • Little Rock Nine by Marshall Poe
    • Ron’s Big Mission by Rose Blue and Corrine J. Naden
    • Goin Someplace Special by Patricia C. McKissack

The following books offer students a look at the inequalities African Americans endured in America. The settings may be prior to the Civil Rights Movement.

    • 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
  • Optional related short reading texts:
      • Rosa Parks: Life After the Bus (
    • KWL chart: Civil Rights Movement
    • Jim Crow Laws: Sample laws and activities for kids (Free membership is required for basic materials. Other options available.)

      • Civil Rights Reading Guide, as a Class Chart and/or individual copies
      • Reading notebooks
      • Post-it notes

Related videos: Links in Multimedia Resources

  • Rosa Parks Ride to Justice:  December 1st is the anniversary of Rosa Parks' refusal in 1955 to give up her seat on a segregated city bus in Montgomery, AL. Along with Thurgood Marshall and other luminaries, Rosa Parks is considered a hero of the Civil Rights Movement. However, it was four unknown women -- two teenagers and two women with families -- also forced off city buses, who quietly made legal history. Their landmark Supreme Court case Browder v. Gayle made segregation on public transportation unconstitutional.  (6:32)
  • The Ruby Bridges Story (1:30:03): This movie tells the story of Ruby Bridges, an African-American girl who, in 1960 at age 6, helped to integrate the all-white schools of New Orleans. (full 1998 movie)
  • Ruby's Shoes by Lori McKenna (Paper Wings and Halo Album) : Song tells story of Ruby Bridges


  • Students should have had opportunity to view and discuss Norman Rockwell’s illustration, The Problem We All Live With.
  • As an initiating activity to this historical fiction unit, create a class KWL chart. Beginning with the K (Know) column, have students share what they know about the Civil Rights Movement. Record any responses. Some may be incorrect. These will be corrected as the unit progresses. This chart will be referred to and add to throughout the unit.
  • Share the book, White Socks Only by Evelyn Coleman. Stop at appropriate places to give students opportunity to reflect and discuss the text. Questions should be recorded in the second column, W (What we want to know). The chart should be posted throughout the unit for students to refer to as they are reading their partner texts.
  • After reading White Socks Only by Evelyn Coleman, share some of the Jim Crow laws that affected the lives of African Americans in various states. Materials available at kidsconnect link above. What are their thoughts about these laws?
  • Book Baskets: Depending on the number of students in the class, create two or three baskets of books related to the Civil Rights Movement. It is helpful to have two or more copies of as many books as possible. Giving students opportunity to work in partnerships allows them to have discussions about the specific text as they are reading. Class discussions will be focused on understandings from the collection.
  • Display an assortment of the books for partners to select from. Once they have made a choice, they should begin reading independently, post-it noting thoughts, noticings and questions for the meeting with their partners. Depending on the grade and the length of the book, student meetings may be held daily at the near the end of each reading period, or planned when pre-determined goals are reached.
  • Mini-lessons focusing on the skills and strategies that help readers to understand historical fiction and nonfiction texts should be offered.
  • In addition to reading one of the historical fiction chapter books aloud as a touchstone text, reading some nonfiction texts such as Through My Eyes by Ruby Bridges can be shared as well.
  • Create a timeline using sentence strips. As partners finish a selection, they can create a book cover on an index card. The cover should include the title and author and an illustration related to the text. On the back of the card, they should describe the focus of the book. For example, The Friendship by Mildred D. Taylor might have unfair treatment of African Americans on the back of the card. The completed card should be placed above or below the year in which story took place.
  • Class discussions: Scheduled discussions offering students the opportunity to gaather thoughts and understandings gleaned from the various texts being read. During class meetings, the K-W-L chart should be prominent. Additional questions and learnings should be recorded. In addition, misinformation added in the beginning should be corrected. If an earlier response has been given that is not confirmed by 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  can be made to students individually,  in a group, or class at the discretion of the teacher .


  • 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?
  • Are students able to identify and explain events that were important to the success of the civil rights movement?


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.

Ask and answer questions to demonstrate understanding of a text, referring explicitly to the text as the basis for the answers.
By the end of the year, read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poetry, at the high end of the grades 2-3 text complexity band independently and proficiently.
Recount stories, including fables, folktales, and myths from diverse cultures; determine the central message, lesson, or moral and explain how it is conveyed through key details in the text.
Describe characters in a story (e.g., their traits, motivations, or feelings) and explain how their actions contribute to the sequence of events
Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, distinguishing literal from nonliteral language.
Refer to parts of stories, dramas, and poems when writing or speaking about a text, using terms such as chapter, scene, and stanza; describe how each successive part builds on earlier sections.
Distinguish their own point of view from that of the narrator or those of the characters.
Compare and contrast the themes, settings, and plots of stories written by the same author about the same or similar characters (e.g., in books from a series)
Refer to details and examples in a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.
By the end of the year, read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poetry, in the grades 4-5 text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range.
Determine a theme of a story, drama, or poem from details in the text; summarize the text.
Describe in depth a character, setting, or event in a story or drama, drawing on specific details in the text (e.g., a character's thoughts, words, or actions).
Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including those that allude to significant characters found in mythology (e.g., Herculean).
Explain major differences between poems, drama, and prose, and refer to the structural elements of poems (e.g., verse, rhythm, meter) and drama (e.g., casts of characters, settings, descriptions, dialogue, stage directions) when writing or speaking about a text.
Compare and contrast the point of view from which different stories are narrated, including the difference between first- and third-person narrations.
Quote accurately from a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.
By the end of the year, read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poetry, at the high end of the grades 4-5 text complexity band independently and proficiently.
Determine a theme of a story, drama, or poem from details in the text, including how characters in a story or drama respond to challenges or how the speaker in a poem reflects upon a topic; summarize the text.
Compare and contrast two or more characters, settings, or events in a story or drama, drawing on specific details in the text (e.g., how characters interact).
Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative language such as metaphors and similes.
Explain how a series of chapters, scenes, or stanzas fits together to provide the overall structure of a particular story, drama, or poem.
Describe how a narrator's or speaker's point of view influences how events are described.
Compare and contrast stories in the same genre (e.g., mysteries and adventure stories) on their approaches to similar themes and topics.
Explain why compelling questions are important to others (e.g., peers, adults).
Identify disciplinary concepts and ideas associated with a compelling question that are open to different interpretations.
Identify the discplinary concepts and ideas associated with a supporting question that are open to interpretation.
Explain how supporting questions help answer compelling questions in an inquiry.
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.
Identify the beliefs, experiences, perspectives, and values that underlie their own and others' points of view about civic issues.
Compare procedures for making decisions in a variety of settings, including classroom, school, and/or society.
Explain how rules and laws change society and how people change rules and laws.
Explain how policies are developed to address public problems.
Illustrate historical and contemporary means of changing society.
Apply civic virtues and democratic principles in school setttings.
Create and use a chronological sequence of related events to compare developments that happened at the same time.
Explain why individuals and groups during the same historical period differed in their perspectives.
Explain connections among historical contexts and people's perspectives at the time.
Describe how people's perspectives shaped historical sources they created.
Gather relevant information from multiple sources while using the origin, structure, and context, to guide the selection.
Use distinctions among fact and opinion to determine the credibility of multiple sources.
Identify evidence that draws information from multiple sources in response to compelling questions.
Use evidence to develop claims in response to compelling questions.
Construct an argument using claims and evidence from multiple sources.
Construct explanations using reasoning, correct sequence, examples, and details with relevant information and data.
Present a summary of arguments and explanations to others outside the classroom using print and oral technologies (e.g., posters, essays, letters, debates, speeches, and reports) and digital technologies ( e.g., Internet, social media, and digital documentary).
Critique arguments.