Texts about the civil rights movement

Speeches and letters

Letter from Birmingham Jail

Martin Luther King Jr.’s letter was written following protests in Birmingham and in response to reproaches made against the protestors by a group of clergymen. One of the main topics of the text is non-violent activism and resistance. In the letter, King explores the importance and necessity of protests and demonstrations against segregation and discrimination.

I Have a Dream

"I Have A Dream" by Martin Luther King Jr. was delivered at a high point in the civil rights movement. The speech received a lot of visibility – it was broadcast by national and international media and discussed in various newspapers. Even today, it is one of the most well-known speeches in history. Overall, "I Have A Dream" was aimed at promoting and supporting racial equality.

I've Been to the Mountaintop

The speech focuses on the general topic of the Memphis sanitation strike, talking about unity, economic boycotts, and peaceful protests as means to achieve African-American civil rights. You should also note that the speaker mentions receiving death threats and, in a way, he unknowingly foreshadows his murder the day after the speech.

The Ballot or the Bullet

Malcolm X's speech explores the topics of the civil rights movement and Black Nationalism. Constant themes in the speech are the discrimination and oppression African Americans are subjected to, the corruption and bias of the government, and the need for unity in the fight for equal civil rights.

Barack Obama's 2008 Victory Speech

The beginning of the speech alludes to the American Dream, as well as to civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. and his famous speech “I Have a Dream”. This is important because it implies that Obama’s 2008 victory is an important milestone in the civil rights movement.

Barack Obama's Selma Speech

Obama’s speech is intended to honor the Selma to Montgomery march that happened 50 years before the speech. The speaker touches on subjects such as the American values of freedom and equality, the civil rights movement, and police brutality against African Americans.

Short stories

Everyday Use

The story alludes to popular ideologies in the US in 1960s and 1970s, such as the Black Pride or Black Power movements. Two characters in the story shape their identities around their African roots, as they refused to identify with African-American culture, which still carried the influence of white oppression.

Scary Movies | Analysis

The social setting touches upon a large number of historical events and issues related to the year of 1968. Specifically, the ending of the short story shows how the aftermath of Martin Luther King’s death affected the segregated population: the African-Americans no longer felt safe in the company of whites – even if the white person was only an innocent nine-year-old boy.

Tales of Simple: Coffee Break | Analysis

The author’s intention was to make mainstream American society aware of the way African Americans felt back in the 1960s. He also intends to make the elites realize that a formal granting of civil rights does not automatically solve the problem of racism and segregation in America.

Other texts

Below are further suggestions for texts and movies that may be relevant when working with the civil rights movement. We do not currently have study guides for these titles, but maybe you can be inspired to look for some of them yourself.

Dove, Rita - On the Bus with Rosa Parks (poetry)

DuVernay, Ava - Selma (2014 movie)

Field, Connie - Freedom on My Mind (1994 documentary)

Kennedy, John F. - 1963 Civil Rights Speech (speech)

King Jr, Martin Luther - Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech (speech)

Kunhardt, Peter - King in the Wilderness (2018 HBO documentary)

Lee, Harper - To Kill a Mockingbird (novel)

Malcolm X - The Autobiography of Malcolm X (autobiography)

Stockett, Kathryn - The Help (novel)

Taylor, Tate - The Help (2011 movie)