American Experience

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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. 

  • What Was "Freedom Summer"?

    This video from American Experience: “Freedom Summer” introduces the events of 1964, when over 700 students, black and white, came to Mississippi to help black citizens register to vote as well as combat other forms of discrimination, such as inadequate schools and lack of legal aid. Organized by the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), civil rights activists hoped that the participation of well-educated, middle-class students, many from prestigious universities, would not only bring results but draw the attention of the nation to the miserable standard of living suffered by blacks in Mississippi.

    Grades: 7-12
  • Freedom Summer: Mississippi Blocks Voter Registration

    Helping black citizens register to vote in the South was one of the main goals of the civil rights movement, as seen in this video from American Experience: “Freedom Summer.” Previous attempts to register had been met by intimidation and violent recriminations by the white establishment. In 1964, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) recruited student volunteers to go to Mississippi to join in the effort to restore this basic constitutional right to the black community.

    Grades: 7-12
  • Freedom Summer: The Catalyst

    In 1963, black citizens of Mississippi had been disenfranchised for years. Earlier attempts to register to vote had been met with intimidation and reprisals. As more efforts were made to register voters, the state decided to withhold food and other aid from poor rural areas, which was especially devastating to the black community during a difficult winter. The arrival of popular comedian Dick Gregory with a plane full of supplies brought media attention and public scrutiny. The resulting publicity helped spark the idea for what would become known as “Freedom Summer,” as seen in this video from American Experience: “Freedom Summer.”

    Grades: 7-12
  • Freedom Summer: Black Leaders, White Allies

    Over 700 mostly white college students from the North answered the call for volunteers issued by the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). When they arrived for a week of orientation given by the mostly black SNCC organizers, racial and class tensions surfaced. In this video from American Experience: “Freedom Summer,” learn how the two groups confronted the issues that divided them and resolved to work together.

    Grades: 7-12
  • 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.

    Grades: 7-12
  • Freedom Summer: Freedom Schools

    In addition to helping black residents register to vote and establishing the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, education was another important goal of Freedom Summer. Years of substandard and segregated schools and libraries had contributed to high rates of illiteracy (which, in turn, had led to disenfranchisement) and a lack of knowledge about black history and culture. Volunteers teaching in the Freedom Schools found that adults as well as children were eager to learn. The experience gave many black people newfound hope that things were about to change.

    Grades: 7-12
  • 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.

    Grades: 6-12
  • 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 video includes language that is considered offensive. However, it provides authentic documentation of the bigotry of the era.

    Grades: 6-12
  • 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.

    Grades: 6-12
  • 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.

    Grades: 6-12
  • 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".

    Grades: 6-12
  • 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 video includes language that is considered offensive. However, it provides authentic documentation of the bigotry of the era.

    Grades: 6-12
  • The Tactic

    In this video segment adapted from American Experience: "Freedom Riders," watch interviews and newsreel footage and see archival photos to explore the tactic of nonviolent direct action that was adopted by some of those challenging illegal segregation and discrimination against African Americans in the United States in the early 1960s. An alternative to legislative and legal challenges, direct nonviolent actions—such as sit-ins, boycotts, and strikes—allowed for broader public participation and brought faster results.

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

    Grades: 6-12
  • 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.

    Grades: 6-12
  • The Young Witness

    In this video segment adapted from the American Experience: "Freedom Riders" Web site, watch interviews and newsreel footage and see archival photos to learn about the response of one young Southerner to her community's violent confrontation with the Freedom Riders in May 1961. Janie Forsyth, a 12-year-old girl living on the outskirts of Anniston, Alabama, was moved to assist injured Freedom Riders when their bus was firebombed outside her father's grocery store. Her action earned her the hostility of her community, which felt that violent resistance was required to preserve the existing segregated order.

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

    Grades: 6-12
  • Ike and Little Rock

    In September of 1957, nine black students in Little Rock, Arkansas, planned to attend Central High School, but Governor Orval Faubus ordered the Arkansas National Guard to maintain order and prevent the nine students from entering. This video segment highlights President Eisenhower's response to the tension in Little Rock.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Implementing Brown

    This video segment reveals conflicting views of President Eisenhower's response to the Brown v. Board of Education ruling against segregated schools. NAACP attorney Constance Baker Motley argues that the president should have done more to enforce the ruling. Former attorney general Herbert Brownell and his deputy, William Rogers, explain the president's cautious response.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Simple Justice 4: Arguing the Fourteenth Amendment

    In 1896, the Supreme Court ruled that segregated public facilities did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment's equal protection clause. Forty-eight years later, the Court reconsidered that argument in Brown v. Board of Education. This video segment from American Experience: "Simple Justice" captures the complexity of the issues before the Court.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Simple Justice 3: The Trial Begins

    After decades of fighting for equal education, the NAACP's legal struggle came before the United States Supreme Court. The Court's decision in Brown v. Board of Education would either affirm or outlaw the segregated schools that existed across the country. This video segment from American Experience: "Simple Justice" recalls the opening arguments.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Simple Justice 2: Social Science Evidence

    In this video segment, African American psychologist Dr. Kenneth B. Clark conducts his famous "doll test," designed to gather social science evidence of the effects of racial discrimination. That evidence would eventually be presented in Brown v. Board of Education. to argue that racial discrimination in public schools was a violation of the Constitution and psychologically harmful to African American children.

    Grades: 6-12

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