Making the movement of the past a movement of the future

 Teachers in the Movement explores comprehensively the roles of teachers in the civil rights movement, from the 1950s through the early 1970s, both inside and outside the classroom. The following questions guide our work:

~ Who were the teachers during the civil rights movement?
~ What roles did teachers play in the civil rights movement in their classrooms and in their communities?
~ What, and how, did teachers teach?
~ Who and what influenced teachers’ pedagogy and participation in the movement?
~ What contemporary insights about teaching can be gleaned from studying teachers, their pedagogy, and their activism in the civil rights movement.

I have a great belief in the fact that whenever there is chaos, it creates wonderful thinking. I consider chaos a gift.

–Septima Clark (teacher and civil rights activist in the Citizenship Schools)

Teachers played a significant role in the American civil rights movement.

Teachers fulfilled various functions in the movement as interlocutors of democracy, curriculum reformers, community organizers, and mentors to young civil rights activists. In addition to the work they conducted in the community, teachers participated in the movement through their pedagogy in the classroom. Some were actively engaged in direct action, some emphasized the acquisition of academic skills to be used in the civil rights struggle, and others offered culturally relevant lessons to provide students with a sense of pride.


Despite these contributions, civil rights activists, attorneys, and organizations like the NAACP sometimes characterized teachers, particularly black teachers, as unsupportive of the movement, especially in relation to school desegregation efforts. Teachers, they believed, were more interested in maintaining their teaching positions in segregated schools than in achieving the civil rights of black citizens. For many in the community, this made teachers complicit with segregation.


The role of teachers in the civil rights movement has yet to be comprehensively studied by historians. As a result, the public knows little about teacher activism in the movement and even less about their pedagogy in the classroom during this time. Nonetheless, an emerging body of research has found that teachers as a group were actively involved in the movement through both their community work and their classroom teaching.