American Experience Collection

Expand/Collapse American Experience Collection


American Experience brings to life the incredible characters and epic stories that have shaped America's past and present. Discover this country's rich history in this collection of resources from American Experience. 

  • Freedom Summer: Civil Rights Workers Disappear

    The disappearance of civil rights workers Andrew Goodman, James Chaney, and Michael Schwerner occurred on June 21, at the very beginning of what became known as “Freedom Summer,” as seen in this video from American Experience: “1964.” Although their bodies were not found until August, the resulting media attention increased national awareness of the violence and injustices facing blacks every day in Mississippi and the white volunteers who had come to join in the fight. This resource is part of the American Experience Collection.

    Grades: 7-12
  • Roads to Memphis: Dr. King Launches the Poor People's Campaign

    In 1968, Martin Luther King launched the Poor People's Campaign to bring people together across racial lines to fight systemic poverty. Video from, American Experience: "Roads to Memphis."

    Grades: 6-13+
  • Malcolm X Challenges Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Goals

    Watch Malcolm X challenge Martin Luther King, Jr.'s vision for racial equality in this 1963 interview with Kenneth Clarke from WGBH's "The Negro and the American Promise." Excerpted from AMERICAN EXPERIENCE: "Malcolm X." This resource is part of the American Experience collection.

    Grades: 9-13+
  • Klansville U.S.A.: The Formation of the Ku Klux Klan

    Learn about the formation of the Ku Klux Klan in the aftermath of the Civil War in this video adapted from AMERICAN EXPERIENCE: Klansville U.S.A. The Ku Klux Klan, which took its name from the Greek word for circle, “kuklos,” formed in 1865 in Tennessee as a social club of decommissioned confederate officers. Posing in costumes as confederate officers come back from the dead, Klan members terrorized freed slaves. Over the next six years, their acts became increasingly violent, including throwing people off bridges and hanging others from trees. In 1871, the federal government clamped down on the Klan, which dissolved and lay dormant for decades. (Footage from the 1915 film, The Birth of a Nation, is featured at the beginning of this video. Actors of European descent appear in “blackface,” a practice in which actors paint their faces a darker shade in order to portray African Americans.) This resource is part of the American Experience collectionNote: This video includes an illustration of a lynching (a man hanging from a tree).

    Click on the links below to download a customizable student handout and a transcript for this resource.

    Student Handout | Transcript



    Grades: 8-12
  • Klansville U.S.A.: First Blockbuster Film Revives Ku Klux Klan

    Learn how one film’s romanticized portrayal of the Ku Klux Klan helped lead to the Klan’s revival across the nation from 1915 through the 1930s, in this video adapted from AMERICAN EXPERIENCE: Klansville U.S.A. In D.W. Griffith's 1915 film, The Birth of a Nation, Klan violence is portrayed as necessary to restore order to the South during the era of Reconstruction. The film also celebrates the group’s efforts to keep blacks from exercising their newly-granted right to vote. The Klan's ideology resonated across the country, including in cities, such as northern ones that had experienced huge waves of immigration. Before critical media coverage and power struggles ripped it apart in the 1930s, the Klan had as many as four million members and significant political influence. (Footage from The Birth of a Nation is featured in this video. Actors appear in “blackface,” a practice in which light-skinned actors paint their faces a darker shade in order to portray African Americans.) This resource is part of the American Experience collection.

    Click on the links below to download a customizable student handout and transcript for this resource.

    Student Handout | Transcript

    Grades: 6-12
  • Klansville U.S.A.: The Ku Klux Klan in 1960s North Carolina

    Discover how the Ku Klux Klan flourished in North Carolina in the 1960s until federal and state investigations cracked down on the organization, in this video adapted from AMERICAN EXPERIENCE: Klansville U.S.A. Large numbers of whites joined the Klan in the 1960s because they felt threatened by the Civil Rights movement. The March 1965 murder of Viola Liuzzo, a white housewife, mother, and civil rights activist, by Alabama Klansmen pushed Congress to actively oppose the Klan. Ultimately, the North Carolina Klan was unable to reach its goals of maintaining legal segregation and building political influence. This resource is part of the American Experience collection.

    Click on the links below to download customizable Teaching Tips and tanscript for this resource.

    Teaching Tips | Transcript

    Grades: 8-12
  • Roads to Memphis: They Didn't Treat Us As A Man

    The call of striking sanitation workers for humane working conditions and fair pay drew Martin Luther King to Memphis, Tennessee. Video from, American Experience: "Roads to Memphis."

    Grades: 6-13+
  • 1964: "Passage of the Civil Rights Act"

    Explore how President Johnson used his powers of persuasion and political skills to convince legislators to vote for the controversial Civil Rights Act of 1964, in this video from American Experience: “1964.” Despite resistance from a solid block of senators from the Deep South, who had successfully used the filibuster to prevent civil rights laws from being passed for nearly 100 years, Johnson was able to find enough votes to pass a law that would end segregation in public places. This resource is part of the American Experience Collection.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Klansville U.S.A.: Symbols Have More than One Meaning

    Learn about the ancient origin and contemporary usage of many symbols associated with the Ku Klux Klan in this video from AMERICAN EXPERIENCE: Klansville U.S.A. Many of the Klan’s symbols are far older than the KKK’s founding, and have origin stories unrelated to the Klan or even to race. For example, the white robes and pointed hats worn by the KKK to intimidate others resemble the capirotes that Spanish penitents have worn during Holy Week since the 1400s. For the penitents, the masks hide sinners’ identities, and the pointed hoods reach them closer to heaven. The burning cross, which entered into Klan tradition in 1915, was used 400 years earlier by Scottish clansmen as a call to arms. This resource is part of the American Experience collection.

    Click on the links below to download customizable Teaching Tips and a transcript for this resource.

    Teaching TipsTranscript

    Grades: 6-12
  • 1964: "Anger in Harlem"

    As blacks fought for civil rights in the South, blacks in the North questioned the commitment of whites to racial equality, as shown in this video from American Experience: “1964.” The shooting of a black teenager by a white officer in Harlem led to an angry response from blacks, who were frustrated by the slow progress of civil rights and continued unfair treatment by police. This resource is part of the American Experience Collection.

    Grades: 6-12
  • 1964: "The Importance of the Civil Rights Act"

    Learn about the impact of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, often considered one of the most influential laws in U.S. history, in this video from American Experience: “1964.” It not only ended segregation in public places, it altered the “southern way of life” and created a new America. Although Lyndon Johnson celebrated its passage, he knew that it would bring sweeping and sometimes challenging changes to society. This resource is part of the American Experience Collection.

    Grades: 6-12
  • 1964: "The Strategy Behind Freedom Summer"

    Learn how a new strategy by the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) brought student volunteers to aid civil rights workers in Mississippi—as well as national attention to the cause—in this video from American Experience: “1964.” Although civil rights workers had been fighting for years to help register black citizens to vote in Mississippi, the arrival of mostly white college students from the North led to greater media coverage and more awareness throughout the country of oppressive conditions in Mississippi and the struggle for equality. This resource is part of the American Experience Collection.

    Grades: 6-12
  • 1964: "Timeline"

    Using headlines to capture the dramatic moments and shifts in American politics and culture in 1964, this timeline from American Experience: “1964” offers a glimpse of this important year. From civil rights and Freedom Summer to the war in Vietnam to the emergence of popular icons, such as Muhammad Ali and the Beatles, these key events illustrate the radical changes that the nation was about to experience. This resource is part of the American Experience Collection.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Freedom Riders: Freedom Riders Challenge Segregation

    In this video segment adapted from American Experience: "Freedom Riders," watch newsreel footage, archival photos, and interviews to explore how Freedom Riders made efforts to end the segregation of African Americans in the Southern United States. Even after the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled that the segregation of black and white riders on interstate buses was unconstitutional, Southern states continued to enforce local segregation laws. In response, members of both races decided to force the issue and challenge illegal segregation by riding together in buses headed to the South. This resource is part of the American Experience: "Freedom Riders" collection. 

    Grades: 6-12
  • Freedom Riders: Freedom Riders Create Change

    In this video segment adapted from American Experience: "Freedom Riders," view newsreel footage, archival photos, and interviews to explore how the Freedom Rides of 1961 brought about the end of racial segregation in interstate transportation. The Freedom Riders, aware that their nonviolent protest would elicit violence from some Southerners attempting to enforce local segregation laws, were determined to continue their protest even in the face of possible arrest. A series of events involving the U.S. attorney general, a U.S. senator, the governor of Mississippi, and a federal agency put an end to discriminatory practices in public transportation. This initial, unambiguous victory for the Civil Rights Movement paved the way for further progress. This resource is part of the American Experience: Freedom Riders Collection.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Freedom Riders: Fresh Troops

    In this video segment from the American Experience: "Freedom Riders" Web site, view newsreel footage, interviews, and archival photos to explore how students in Nashville, Tennessee, prepared for civil rights protests by training in the techniques of nonviolent direct action. This training prepared them for several initial efforts focused on the Nashville community and made them ideal reinforcements when attacks by white mobs decimated the ranks of the first Freedom Riders in 1961. This resource is part of the American Experience: Freedom Riders Collection.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Freedom Riders: The Exchange Student

    In this video segment from the American Experience: "Freedom Riders" Web site, watch newsreel footage and interviews and see archival photos to gain insight into the white college students who became active in the struggle for African Americans' civil rights. Jim Zwerg tells how he became one of the Freedom Riders, a decision that led to his estrangement from his parents and a beating at the hands of an Alabama mob. This resource is part of the American Experience: Freedom Riders collection.

    This video includes language that is considered offensive. However, it provides authentic documentation of the bigotry of the era.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Freedom Riders: The Governor

    In this video segment adapted from the American Experience "Freedom Riders" Web site, watch newsreel footage and interviews and see archival photos to explore one Southern politician's opposition to ending illegal discrimination and segregation against African Americans in the early 1960s. Alabama Governor John Patterson would not honor Attorney General Robert Kennedy's request to ensure the safety of the Freedom Riders, and even refused to take a phone call from President John Kennedy while white mobs were firebombing buses and beating civil rights activists in Patterson's home state. Years later, Patterson expressed his regret for not taking the president's call and for not doing "what should have been done". This resource is part of the American Experience: Freedom Riders Collection.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Freedom Riders: The Inspiration

    In this video segment from the American Experience: "Freedom Riders" Web site, watch interviews and newsreel footage and see archival photos to learn how Mahatma Gandhi, the leader in the struggle for an independent India, inspired and influenced those engaged in the struggle to end racial discrimination in the United States. Gandhi's use of nonviolence had allowed the people of India to win independence from Great Britain in 1947. While Gandhi declined an invitation from American civil rights leaders to become directly involved in the U.S. struggle for equal rights, his encouragement persuaded them that the tactic of nonviolence also held great potential in a struggle for the rights of a minority. This resource is part of the American Experience: Freedom Riders collection

    Grades: 6-12
  • Freedom Riders: The Student Leader

    In this video segment from the American Experience: "Freedom Riders" Web site, watch interviews and newsreel footage and see archival photos to learn about the early efforts of a prominent student leader of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Diane Nash, a young Chicago native, was attending Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, when she was introduced to nonviolent direct action. She quickly became an influential student activist through her leadership of sit-ins in Nashville, her participation in the Freedom Rides, and her role in founding the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Selma Campaign. This resource is part of the American Experience: Freedom Riders collection

    This video includes language that is considered offensive. However, it provides authentic documentation of the bigotry of the era.

    Grades: 6-12

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