Living the Legacy


Moments of Personal Resistance

Unit 2 , Lesson 1

Jewish Women's Archive - Living the Legacy

Moments of Personal Resistance

Lesson plan:
  1. Introduction: A Moment in Time

    1. At the very beginning of class, show the Signs of Segregation slide show Signs of Segregation slide show (image 2) Signs of Segregation slide show (image 3) Signs of Segregation slide show (image 4) Signs of Segregation slide show (image 5) Signs of Segregation slide show (image 6) without providing an introduction (and asking students to hold their questions).
    2. After you finish showing the slides, ask your students:
      • How did it feel/what did you think when you looked at these photographs?
      • Why do you think you reacted this way?
      (Give as many students as possible a chance to respond.)
    3. Ask your students, "Where and when in American history might we have found these signs of segregation?" (Possible responses might include: Southern states in the early to mid-20th century; in restaurants, buses, trains, bus and train stations.) If your students need prompting, remind them that in the early to mid 20th century in the South lunch counters, buses, drinking fountains, and other public places were set up like this with separate areas for African Americans and whites. The photographs in the slide show are all from the 1930s and 1940s, but formal public segregation persisted into the 1960s -- well after the Supreme Court had ruled that separate schools were not equal. (If students want to know more about how segregation laws changed, refer to the lesson on the 1961 Freedom Rides.)
    4. Have your students imagine they are living in the South in the mid-20th century, and ask them:
      What do you think you would have done if you walked into a segregated bus station, into a segregated restaurant…?
      (Be sure to allow for a wide range of responses. Invite students of as many different backgrounds, races, and ethnicities as possible to respond, without putting anyone on the spot.)
    5. Explain:
      While we tend to think of the Civil Rights Movement in terms of large, organized events like boycotts, marches, and sit-ins, before and during the Civil Rights Movement there were many moments of personal resistance when one person, on her own, tried to effect change in a small way. We're going to meet some of those people today and explore what they did, why they did it, and what difference it made.
  2. Document Study: Moments of Personal Resistance - Actions

    1. Introduce your students to Grace Paley (1922-2007). Explain that she was a Jewish author who wrote short stories and poetry about everyday life, especially women's lives. She grew up in the early-mid 20th century in New York City surrounded by her family and a large Jewish community. She was also an activist throughout her life, involved especially in anti-war and anti-nuclear activism as well as many local issues in her community.
    2. Distribute the document study "Traveling" by Grace Paleydocument study "Traveling" by Grace Paley to your students. Have them read Part I of the text to themselves. Then discuss the study questions as a class. If your students have difficulty with any of the questions, you may want to direct them to the appropriate part of the text or reread a section together. Repeat this process with Part II and Part III.
    3. After discussing the Grace Paley essay, tell (or act out) the Eli Evans and Bernice Stern stories that can be found in "Vertical Seating at a Lunch Counter" and "I Have Taken Stands". (You can also invite a student to do so.) Briefly go over with your students when each of the two stories was written/told, who the author/speaker is, and in what context it was written/told. (Like the Paley essay, both stories are reflections back, rather than documents from the time. Eli Evans is an accomplished author who was asked by a publisher to write about his life experience in the South for a book that would be widely available to the public. Bernice Stern is a woman who was asked to tell her life story during a lengthy oral history interview, conducted by the Jewish Women's Archive as part of a project collecting life histories from women in Seattle.)
    4. Discuss as a class the following questions:
      • What do these 3 stories have in common? How are they different?
      • How is each situation an example of personal resistance?
      • What motivated each person to resist?
      • How did these moments of personal resistance change the situation or the people involved? Many people find personal resistance difficult. What do you think makes it difficult sometimes?
      Explain: Moments of personal resistance are timeless. We can always act on our beliefs.
  3. Personal Resistance Today - Actions

    1. Ask your students:
      Think about a time when something bad was happening to you or to someone you know and you felt powerless to help; or think about a time when you saw or found out about something upsetting that went against your core values. (Possible responses might include: you're in the cafeteria and someone tells an ethnic/racial/homophobic joke; you're on the bus and someone uses an ethnic/racial/homophobic slur when talking to or about another student; something related to a local issue in your community).
    2. Now think about a time when you stood up for someone's feelings or rights in a small way – or thought about what you could do. What are some examples of things you have done? Let’s make a list on the board/chart paper. (Possible responses might include: say something when you hear an ethnic/racial/homophobic joke or slur, write something in the school paper about a rule that you think isn't just, etc.)
    3. After making the list of situations choose one or two and for each one ask your students the following questions:
      • How would you feel if you were the person being "oppressed" by this situation?
      • What would you want someone else to do to help?
      • What could you do as an act of personal resistance if you were a "witness" to this situation?
    4. Break your class into small groups. Have each group choose a situation from the class list, or come up with a different situation, and develop a skit showing the situation and the act of personal resistance.
    5. Have each group present their skit. Discuss as a class the types of personal resistance presented in the skits, what makes these acts difficult in real life, what other actions could be taken.
    6. If you have time, have students reflect, either in pairs or in their journals, about conscience, risk-taking, and resistance. Ask students to respond to one of the following questions:
      • What does my conscience tell me to do?
      • What causes motivate me?
      • What risks am I willing to take on behalf of others?
      • When is a time that I resisted?
  4. OPTIONAL: Personal Resistance - Influencing Others

    If you have time or want to extend the lesson, you can add the following optional activity.

    1. Explain that sometimes a person who feels strongly about an issue may try to influence the way other people think about the issue.
    2. Ask your students:
      What are some ways that a person can influence what others think?
      (Possible answers might include: giving speeches, through art, music/songs, writing, commercials, etc.) You may want to write responses on the white board, chalk board, or a piece of chart paper.
    3. Point out that one type of writing and art that influences people is satire. Make sure your students are familiar with the term "satire" before you proceed. You may also want to provide some examples of satire and/or ask your students for examples. (Possible examples could include: political cartoons, television shows like The Colbert Report or The Daily Show with John Stewart, books such as Animal Farm or Gulliver's Travels.)
    4. Explain that Harry Golden was a Hungarian-born Jewish journalist who spoke out against the things he saw wrong with society, including segregation. From 1942 – 1968, Harry Golden published the Carolina Israelite, a Jewish newspaper distributed in the Charlotte, North Carolina area. One of the satirical articles he wrote for the Carolina Israelite was called the "Golden Vertical Negro Plan."
    5. Distribute copies of the document study "A satirical essay by Harry Golden"document study "A satirical essay by Harry Golden" to your students. Explain that unlike the other stories we've heard, in which the authors were reflecting back on an earlier time, this document was written in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement, and was intended to be read by people at that time. Have several students take turns reading the document out loud. Pause to provide historical context as necessary. Then discuss the essay, using the discussion questions on the worksheet.
    6. After discussing Harry Golden's essay, you might want to have your students do one of the following activities in class or as a homework assignment:
      • Write a "This I believe" statement about a contemporary issue that the student feels strongly about. (See Justice Wise Polier's "This I believe" in Unit 1, Lesson 3 or visit for other examples.)
      • Have each student identify a contemporary social issue about which he/she feels strongly, and then write a satiric essay, write a monologue for a satiric news show, or draw a political cartoon about it.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Living the Legacy - Lesson: Moments of Personal Resistance." (Viewed on April 16, 2014) <>.