Lesson Plans for Secondary Educators
Stokely Carmichael, “Black Power” 29 October 1966
High School Lesson Plan created for Voices of Democracy by Michael J. Steudeman, University of Maryland
Value for Social Studies Teachers
1) The Civil Rights movement is often taught in a vacuum: a few key speeches and events are addressed and then quickly abandoned. Carmichael’s address helps to add several layers of complexity to students’ appreciation for the tumult and protest of the era.
2) The speech helps students recognize the intersections of movements for civil rights, free speech, and anti-war protestors, and how these groups overlapped during a time of social change.
3) The speech draws on the concept of natural rights, but uses it very differently than students may be used to—as an argument against integration. Likewise, Carmichael challenges the principle of nonviolence in provocative ways that can generate in-class debate.
4) One virtue of studying oratory is that it captures the vernacular and style of a particular historical moment. Carmichael’s use of phrases like “dig yourself” helps to capture the 60s for students.
Ideas for Pre-Reading
- Students will need to grapple with the complexity of Carmichael’s audience and purpose. Have students consider Aristotle’s observations about audience (especially [4-5]), particularly the concepts of “character” and “judgment.”
- Next, have students consider the culture of Berkeley student culture in the 1960s. The spirit of protest is exemplified by two Mario Savio speeches from 1964 (1 and 2). Linda Churney’s Yale unit provides additional context.
- In building solidarity with student protestors, Carmichael repeatedly referenced his opposition to the Vietnam War. The University of Washington provides an archive of anti-war images that can help students recognize the passionate feelings the war provoked for many different groups.
- The concept of “natural rights” shapes Carmichael’s argument: people are born free, he argues, but freedom can be taken away. The Declaration of Independence provides one option for reviewing this theme with students.
- As the leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Carmichael endorsed a more assertive vision of civil rights than other leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. or John Lewis. Students should understand the historical circumstances of SNCC’s formation and evolution under Carmichael.
Day I: Condemn Yourselves?
- [Read paragraphs 1-16]
- Students will assess the tension Carmichael faces in delivering a Black Power argument to a mostly white audience.
- Students will examine how Carmichael employs natural rights arguments to contest integration.
Day II: Unity and Division
- [Read paragraphs 17-31]
- Students will analyze how Carmichael divides roles for white student protestors and blacks within the civil rights m
- Students will also assess how Carmichael unites these two parts of the movement together against a common system, e.g. through reference to the Vietnam War.
Day III: Critiquing Institutions
- [Read paragraphs 32-46]
- Students will debate Carmichael’s argument that the existing system cannot eliminate racism.
Day IV: Defining Themselves
- [Read paragraphs 47-63]
- Students will determine how the principle of nonviolence fits within Carmichael’s condemnation of existing institutions.
- Students will consider the speech’s overall reasoning for the claim that blacks should “define themselves as they see fit.”
- Students will evaluate whether Carmichael’s position leaves room for white student involvement.
Ideas for Post-Reading and Assessment
- Evaluating Approaches to Civil Rights: Students will write an essay that draws contrasts between Carmichael’s arguments and those expressed by Martin Luther King, Jr. in his “I Have a Dream” speech. Writing for an academic audience, students should evaluate the reasoning of each with a consideration for how different forces (“Black Power” activists, integrationists, apathetic or moderate whites, gradualists, segregationists, etc.) would respond to both speakers’ contentions. Specifically, students should react to the question: Which speaker’s strategy—King’s or Carmichael’s—provides the strongest rhetorical approach for the Civil Rights Movement? (RH.11-12.6; W.11-12.1.B)
- Student Activist Review: Students will write a “review” of Carmichael’s speech from a student perspective for an activist campus newsletter. The essay should address what actions students should take, grappling with two questions:
- What role does Carmichael envision for (primarily white) students in the struggle for Black Power?
- To what extent do we, as student activists, agree with the role he envisions for us in the movement?
Responses should engage critically with the speech’s style, purpose, and audience adaptation. (RI.11-12.6; RI.11-12.2)