Living the Legacy


Civil Rights and Social Justice Today

Unit 3 , Lesson 5

Jewish Women's Archive - Living the Legacy

Civil Rights and Social Justice Today

Lesson plan:
  1. Introduction: What have we learned? What does it mean for us today?

    1. If you have used a number of the Living the Legacy civil rights lesson plans with your students, review with them some of what they've learned already. You may want to ask them some of the following questions, or distribute a graphic organizer with boxes for each question:
      • What roles did American Jews play in the Civil Rights Movement?
      • What were some of the reasons that Jews did and did not get involved in the Civil Rights Movement?
      • What caused the breakdown of the black/Jewish alliance?
      • What do you think the legacy is of Jewish involvement in the Civil Rights Movement?
    2. Transition the conversation from what your students have learned about the past to examining civil rights issues today by asking the following question:
      What are some of today's civil rights/social justice issues?
      (Write these on the board or on a large piece of paper, or ask students to come up and add their answers. This list will be referred to later in the lesson)
  2. Case Study: Same-sex Marriage & the African American Community

    1. If your students have included same-sex marriage on their list of contemporary civil rights/social justice issues, circle it on the board.
      Add same-sex marriage to the list on the board. Ask your students:

      Do you think this is a civil rights issue?
    2. Explain that there have been questions about whether or not this is a civil rights issue and that question, as well as the issue itself, has presented certain challenges to the African American community. We're going to explore this issue by listening to an interview and reading a newspaper article that present different views on the topic.
    3. Hand out the Same-sex Marriage & the African American CommunitySame-sex Marriage & the African American CommunitySame-sex Marriage & the African American CommunitySame-sex Marriage & the African American CommunitySame-sex Marriage & the African American CommunitySame-sex Marriage & the African American CommunitySame-sex Marriage & the African American Community Document Study, which includes the transcript of an NPR interview with Congressman John Lewis and a Washington Post article "Racial Pawns in the Battle for Same-Sex Marriage," and make sure audio is set to play the NPR interview audio.
    4. Have a student read aloud the introduction about Congressman Lewis.
    5. Ask your students to think about the following questions while listening to the interview:
      • What was John Lewis' experience with discrimination?
      • What are Congressman Lewis' views on Gay and Lesbian marriage? Why does he feel this way?
      • Does he think that this is an issue with which African Americans should be concerned?
    6. Play the Podcast clips (1:19-3:43 and 22:02-25:06 – see Note to Teacher). Have your students follow along with the transcript. Stop the audio at any point if you feel it would be helpful to define a term or clarify a point.
    7. After your class has listened to the John Lewis interview, break them up into small groups of no more than 3 or 4 students.
    8. Have your students discuss the questions about what they just heard. Remaining in their groups, students should then read and discuss the article "Racial Pawns in the Battle for Same-Sex Marriage," also included in the Same-sex Marriage & the African American Community Document Study.
    9. When all the groups have finished discussing both documents and the reflection questions, have them come back together as a class. Ask the following questions (give anyone the chance to answer who wants to answer, but do not require every student or every group to share their discussions):
      • How are the Lewis interview and the Harris article similar and/or different? How does each use the Civil Rights Movement in his arguments?
      • To what extent do you think same-sex marriage is a civil rights issue? What kind of criteria would you use to determine if this issue or others are really civil rights issues?
      • Based on what you've learned by studying Jews in the Civil Rights Movement, and on the material presented in these documents, do you think a group's experience with persecution/oppression in the past should make us expect more from them in support of another group's fight for justice in the present/future? If possible, support your argument using material from today's lesson and/or previous lessons.
  3. Wrap Up

    1. Have your class review the list of civil rights issues that they developed earlier in the lesson.
    2. Make sure each student has a sheet of blank paper and a writing implement. Have each student prioritize the list on the board and write down, in order, what they think are the 5 most important issues to them.
    3. When every student has finished making their own list, have them get into new groups to compare and discuss their lists.
    4. With students sitting with their new groups, ask the following questions of the whole class:
      • What criteria did you use to prioritize your list? (or How did you decide which items to put on your list and in what order to put them?)
      • How did your list differ from the other people in your group? If you discussed reasons for why members of your group had different priorities from one another, what were these reasons?
      • Where on your list were issues within the Jewish community? Do you think Jews should help the Jewish community first? Why or Why not? (See the article "Non-Zero Sum: Helping Others and Ourselves," listed under Teacher Resources [link], for further discussion of these questions.)
      • Do you think Jews have a greater responsibility to stand up for civil rights and social justice? Why or why not?
      • Who has the right/responsibility to define which issues Jews should be involved in? Jewish Movements? Synagogues? Social change organizations? Individuals?
  4. OPTIONAL additional class session: Planning a Community Service or Social Justice Activity

    Note to teachers: This activity touches on the difference between community service and social justice work, which can be explained as the difference between meeting a communal need (e.g. feeding hungry people at a soup kitchen) and pursuing structural changes that would eliminate the conditions that caused the need (e.g. targeting the social causes of poverty and hunger).

    1. To begin the class or session, return to the question of whether a group's experience with persecution/oppression in the past should make us expect more from them in support of another group's fight for justice in the present/future. (Ask students to contribute what they remember being discussed in the previous class, or ask volunteers to each share a different perspective on the issue.) If it hasn't been covered, then ask students to consider this question specifically in relation to the Jewish community, and then specifically in relation to your class/group.
    2. Have everyone break into pairs and discuss the following questions. Then ask each pair to write their responses on the board or on a large piece of paper:
      • What are the conditions that move an individual or group from wanting to help or see change, to feeling compelled to participate themselves?
      • How, if at all, does your understanding of Jewish involvement in the Civil Rights Movement impact your class or group's sense of obligation to do service and/or social justice work?
    3. Distribute to each pair copies of the "Not Only for Ourselves": What are the Goals of Service Projects? Document Study, which is based on a speech given by Ruth Messinger of American Jewish World Service. Have students take turns reading the article out loud.
    4. Remaining in their pairs, students should answer the following questions (and take notes on their responses):
      • What happens in the story that begins the article? Why is the group meeting? What do they do? What happens in the end?
      • No one is suggesting that service programs aren't needed or shouldn't be done, but what do some people find wrong with such programs? Where is the focus? Where do they think the focus should be?
      • What qualities does Ruth Messinger believe make the best acts of service? What else would you add to this list?
    5. Come back together and have the pairs take turns writing up on the board both the qualities Ruth Messinger believes make the best acts of service and the qualities they would add to the list.
    6. Clarify the difference between a community service project and a social justice project and let students weigh in on what kind of project they think is most urgent and/or most practical for them to accomplish. (See related note at start of this section.)
    7. If you already are doing a service or social justice project, or are doing this lesson as part of a service learning program, guide your students in assessing the work that they are doing. Use the article and the lists of issues and qualities written on the board to think about where their project fits into the discussion, and encourage them to revisit the project’s goals and methods. If the group is eager to explore other types of service or social justice work, you may want to vote on possible new directions to explore. (Skip h-j.)

    8. Explain that using the list of civil rights and social justice issues that we made at the beginning of class, as well as the list of qualities we just wrote on the board, we are going to plan a mitzvah day/service/social change project. (Decide ahead of time whether this will be a hypothetical project or one that your class will really carry out themselves or for another class or grade.)
    9. Have your class vote to choose an issue on your list, and allow time for debate if there is not clear consensus. (You may want to narrow down the list based on issues that are relevant in your community, based on the prioritized lists the students made earlier in class, or based on what is feasible to complete; consider involving students in this process.)
    10. Once you have chosen a project, have the students use the article, as well as the list of qualities for a good service project written on the board, to develop a program that is "linked to learning about and working to change the conditions that brought about the need in the first place."

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Living the Legacy - Lesson: Civil Rights and Social Justice Today." (Viewed on April 19, 2014) <>.