Social Studies

Social Studies (X) - Middle (X) - American Experience (X) - U.S. History (X) - Civics and Government (X)

Reconstruction and Black Education

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Before the Civil War, most southern states made it illegal to educate slaves, but many enslaved people did learn to read and write. During the post-Civil War Reconstruction era, the number of schools and the literacy rate for African Americans increased dramatically. This mini-documentary, produced for the American Experience: "Reconstruction" Web site, follows the development of schools for African Americans as well as the resistance it sparked.

Alexander Hamilton: Early Influences

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This video segment adapted from American Experience describes the early life of one of America's Founding Fathers—Alexander Hamilton. Born outside of the thirteen American colonies on a small tropical island, Hamilton's struggles begin early when his father leaves and his mother dies of yellow fever. As a teenager, he learns about international finance by working for an export company, hones his writing skills, and witnesses the degradation of slavery.

A Case for the Separation of Powers

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In this video segment adapted from American Experience, historians examine how John Adams advocated for a separation of powers when he wrote the Massachusetts Constitution in 1779. Adams called for a strong executive branch, two legislative branches, and an independent judiciary branch. This state constitution became the model upon which the federal constitution was based.

The Pilgrims: Mayflower Compact

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Discover why most of the Mayflower's male passengers signed an historic agreement, in this video adapted from AMERICAN EXPERIENCE: The Pilgrims. In September 1620, religious dissenters, called "Separatists" by their detractors, were joined aboard the Mayflower by other English colonists recruited by the project's financial backers. Many of these newcomers did not share the Separatists' religious zeal. The ship set sail for America at a time of year when Atlantic storms were perilous. The Mayflower made landfall 66 days later. With tensions threatening to divide the passengers, a social compact was drafted and signed before going ashore. All signers would submit to the government created, officers elected, and laws drafted. 

See Support Materials for an activity and links to primary sources, including the Mayflower Compact. This resource is part of the AMERICAN EXPERIENCE: The Pilgrims Collection.

Simple Justice 6: Justice Warren Reads the Decision

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When Brown v. Board of Education was first heard in 1952, the Supreme Court was so divided that the justices rescheduled the case. Two years later, on May 17, 1954, the Court ruled unanimously that segregated schools were unconstitutional. This video segment from American Experience: "Simple Justice" examines the individual justices, key events and issues for the Court, and how the jurists arrived at their final decision.

Freedom Riders: The Governor

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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.

Simple Justice 3: The Trial Begins

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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.

Simple Justice 2: Social Science Evidence

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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.

Implementing Brown

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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.

Freedom Riders: The Exchange Student

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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.

Earth Days: Environmentalists Enter Politics

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After the success of the first Earth Day, environmentalists targeted the 1970 re-election campaigns of congressmen with the worst environmental records. They scored several victories, including the defeat of Representative George Fallon. This led to many political advances in the environmental sphere, as seen in this video from American Experience: “Earth Days.”

Freedom Summer: The Catalyst

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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.” This resource is part of the American Experience Collection.

Freedom Summer: Civil Rights Workers Disappear

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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.

The Abolitionists: Defying the Fugitive Slave Law

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The Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 (aka Fugitive Slave Act) required Free states to follow the law of Slave states. Outrage and rebellion against this federal law was fueled by the success of Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin. Video from, American Experience: "Abolitionists."

The Abolitionists: Will Kansas Be a Free Soil State?

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By 1856, the debate over whether Kansas would be a free or slave state reached a fevered pitch. Blood flowed from Lawrence, KS to Washington, DC. Video from, American Experience: "Abolitionists."

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