It’s the last day of instruction here at Gilder Lehrman’s elementary summer seminar and I think most of us are dragging a bit. Honi, Bunny and Texas are even slowing down!

But we had another great conversation this morning about the Civil Rights movement and another nice activity planned by Fritz Fischer.

We split into four groups to look at four sets of primary sources and were asked to think of five questions:

  • Does the document focus more on the ideals of liberty or equality?
  • What does this person think is the method to use to change ideas of race in America?
  • Did this person want a radical change? Was this person “anti-American?”
  • How does this source relate to the others?
  • If you were a HS history teacher, which one document would you use?

What did we look at?

An interesting conversation evolved around the question:

Which of these movements was the most radical?

A typical perspective would argue that the Black Panthers and Malcolm X were more radical in their goals and approaches. Fritz suggests that it was actually King’s approach that was the most radical.

Malcolm and the Black Panthers basically wanted the same thing that whites wanted – a separation between whites and blacks.

King’s active non-violent resistance idea was radically different.

Human nature seems to be that a proper response to violence is more violence. His idea of turning the other cheek was very radical, difficult and “not natural” according to Malcom X. White kids going to school with black kids was a radical idea and was very different than the Black Panthers who argued for separate black communities.

This led to far more difficult questions. Who’s ideas were best for America? What America are we trying to create? To preserve? What impact have these movements had on the America of 2008? What sorts of movements are needed today?

Pretty sure that I don’t have the answers to those questions. One of the themes this week has been the concept of complexity in American history. Race and race relations are much more complex than we think and there are no simple answers.

But I love the process Fritz created of using primary sources to encourage high levels of thinking. My brain is now wrapping around the whole idea of how I could adapt this process with other topics.