This lesson is part of our curriculum units Civics Lessons for Student Engagement and Freedom Now: The Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi.


Students will:

  • Hear stories from former civil rights activists.
  • Analyze what motivated students to join the movement and what their experiences were like as activists in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).
  • Consider the relevance of this history today.


This lesson is designed to be used after students have read Part II in the student text of Freedom Now: The Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi.

Note: Teachers will need to be able to project video in their classrooms. Alternatively, students will need access to the internet to complete this activity.


Letters from Freedom Summer

Student Activist Stories

In the Classroom

1. Understanding Key Issues

Ask students to recall the important role that students played in the civil rights movement. In what ways did students contribute to the fight for racial justice? How was the student activism of the 1960s different from the black activism that came earlier? What was SNCC?

2. Stories from the Movement

Distribute a copy of “Student Activist Stories” to each student. Have students watch the videos below.

Charles E. Cobb, Jr.

How and why did you first become involved in the civil rights movement? [Charles E. Cobb, Jr. – 2:13]

What kind of hostility did you encounter in Mississippi? [Charles E. Cobb, Jr. – 4:27]

Judy Richardson

How and why did you first become involved in the civil rights movement? [Judy Richardson – 2:20]

What was your daily work like in small communities in the South? [Judy Richardson – 3:03]

Representative John Lewis

How and why did you first get involved in the civil rights movement? [Representative John Lewis – 3:42]

What was the Mississippi Freedom Summer Project? [Representative John Lewis – 3:13]

As they watch, students should take notes in the graphic organizer and do their best to answer the questions on the handout.

3. Sharing Responses

Have students share their reactions to the videos. Did they notice patterns between the experiences of the SNCC activists? How did each student end up working with the organization? What role did the different activists play in SNCC? What sorts of experiences do they describe? Were they exposed to violence? What did they learn from their time as SNCC organizers? What emotions did they feel?

Ask students to make connections between the videos and what they have read in the curriculum unit. Do students recognize any of the SNCC veterans or names that they mention from the text? Did students learn any interesting information from the videos that they had not known before? How does hearing stories from people who participated in the movement change students’ perspective on this history?

4. Making Connections

The activists in the videos were not much older than high school students when they joined SNCC. Ask students if they related to the SNCC veterans’ stories about joining the movement. Can students imagine themselves participating in the civil rights movement if they had been alive? Why or why not? Do any students in the class consider themselves activists now? What current civil rights issues or other political issues inspire students in the class? Is there a cause that students can imagine themselves dedicating their lives to? What lessons can students learn from these student civil rights activists?

5. Extra Challenge: Letter Writing

Play the following video:

What was the Mississippi Summer Project of 1964? [Ekwueme Michael Thelwell – 3:27]

Ekwueme Michael Thelwell describes the transformative experience that many northern college students had going to Mississippi for the Freedom Summer Project. Distribute “Letters from Freedom Summer.” Tell students that the handout includes letters written by Freedom Summer volunteers.

Ask students to read the letters, and then write a fictional letter to their friends or family explaining their involvement with a social movement or a political cause. The letter could be about their work in Mississippi for Freedom Summer in 1964, or about working on a contemporary issue. Students may wish to write the letter as if they are on their way to join the movement for the first time. What are their motivations for becoming involved? What challenges do they expect to face? Other students may want to write the letter as if they have been an activist for some time. What is the day-to-day like? How has their perspective changed from this experience? All students should address why the cause is important to them. Tell students to be prepared to share a portion of their letter with the class.

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