Multimedia Course: The Constitution and the Civil Rights Movement

How First Amendment History Shapes Our Present and Future

This multimedia course, using both readings and documentary film interviews of still-living veterans of the Civil Rights Movement, was designed and is presented for higher education faculty, students, working professionals, and all citizens involved or interested in community engagement on democracy’s ongoing effort to sustain and advance social equality.  Based on the legal and social struggle for racial justice and civil rights from 1954-1965, the course emphasizes the essence of the Thirteenth, Fourteen and Fifteenth Amendments – and the special role of the First Amendment’s freedoms at work.  The Movement serves as an example of the dependency of all social justice movements on the freedom of speech, assembly, press, religion and the right to petition our government for the redress of injustice.

This course utilizes multimedia resources from the Newseum and written and documentary film materials produced by Stetson University, on the legal, social and personal stories and events that were substantive underpinnings of the Civil Rights movement: the significant cases, the historic places and the amazing people behind and in-front of the movement.  The goal is to facilitate the learner’s understanding of the most relevant judicial opinions and the insight that only personal interviews can provide in understanding the dynamics of a social justice movement through speech, press and peaceful mass protest. 

Course Outline and Materials

Introduction
The Interdependence Between the First Amendment and the Connected Substantive Constitutional Principles of Civil, Political, and Social Equality

Part 1
The Constitutional Mandate for Racial Equality in Public Education and the Immediate Legal History of Brown v. Board of Education, 1954-1970

Part 2
The First Amendment and the Right to Engage in the Mass Protest of State-Enforced Social Inequality Based on Race: The Montgomery Bus Boycott, the 1960 Sit-ins and the 1961 Freedom Rides

Part 3
Defending the People’s Right to Know: The Legal History of the Responsibility of Emerging Television Stations in the South to Inform the Public about the Direct Action Campaign for Civil Rights

Part 4
The Role of Local Black Lawyers in the Legal History of the Civil Rights Movement

Part 5
The Complex History of Voting Rights: The Original History of State Attempts to Suppress Voting By Black Citizens and The Legal History and Legacy of the Relationship Between the First Amendment and the Right to Vote


Introduction

The Interdependence Between the First Amendment and the Connected Substantive Constitutional Principles of Civil, Political, and Social Equality

Parts 1 through 5 of the readings, and the related documentary interviews with Movement veterans, are presented here.  The purpose of presenting the learning materials in 5 Parts is to visualize that the immediate and long term effect of the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board I and II was broad in scope, and that both the issues in the federal cases and the experiences of the veterans involved in the direct action campaign for civil rights (the nonviolent mass protests, speeches and negotiations identified with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.) were experientially different and directed to particular issues or strategies that all social justice movements have in common.  Note that each Part begins with a principal reading in PDF format. This reading is supplemented with a link to the full text of the major federal cases that are at the heart of the principal reading and provide attribution and annotation.  It is necessary to complete the appropriate principal reading before proceeding to any of the documentary interviews in each Part; however reading the full text of any of the cases is optional.  The filmed interviews are all intended to personalize the principal readings and make them real and transformative.

In both the principal readings and in the interviews, look and listen for the underlying substantive aspect of the Movement that make up the interview subject’s role in the Movement, and issues at stake – and then take special notice of how the issues and direct action relied constantly on the bedrock of the Five Freedoms of the First Amendment. Indeed you will see The First Amendment at the core of the Movement, and its essentiality to any contemporary social justice movement.

Multimedia materials

  • Video: Interview with John Siegenthaler 


Part 1

The Constitutional Mandate for Racial Equality in Public Education and the Immediate Legal History of Brown v. Board of Education, 1954-1970

Links to cases discussed

Multimedia materials

  • Video: Interview with Arlam Carr
  • Video: Interview with Janice Kelsey
  • Image gallery:

Part 2

The First Amendment and the Right to Engage in the Mass Protest of State-Enforced Social Inequality Based on Race: The Montgomery Bus Boycott, the 1960 Sit-ins and the 1961 Freedom Rides

Links to cases discussed

Multimedia materials

  • Video: Interview with Rip Patton
  • Video: Interview with David and Winonah Myers
  • Video: Interview with C.T. Vivian
  • Image gallery:

Part 3

Defending the People’s Right to Know: The Legal History of the Responsibility of Emerging Television Stations in the South to Inform the Public about the Direct Action Campaign for Civil Rights

Links to cases discussed

Multimedia materials

  • Video: Interview with Martin Firestone

  • Image gallery:

Part 4

The Role of Local Black Lawyers in the Legal History of the Civil Rights Movement

Links to cases discussed

Multimedia materials

  • Video: Interview with Solomon Seay, Jr.
  • Image gallery:

Part 5

The Complex History of Voting Rights: The Original History of State Attempts to Suppress Voting By Black Citizens and The Legal History and Legacy of the Relationship Between the First Amendment and the Right to Vote

Links to cases discussed

Multimedia materials

  • Video: Interview with Armand Defner
  • Image gallery:


ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

The readings/texts were authored by Professor Robert D. Bickel of Stetson University, with the special insights of Gene Policinski and course design and production by Lata Nott of the Freedom Forum Institute.  Professor Bickel designed, directed and conducted all of the interviews in the course, with the support and encouragement of Stetson University.  We especially thank those whom we interviewed and whose biographies are included, for their roles and courage in the Movement story and their presenting of their experiences and perspective in a way that empowers the Movement’s influence on every aspect of current and future efforts to sustain and advance equal justice – by seeing the present and future of justice in its roots.  It is they who give us our own courage, resolve and strategy so that we may be advocates and activists in the ongoing struggle for justice.

Adjunct Law Professor Tammy Briant collaborated with Professor Bickel in teaching the Civil Rights History Travel Course.  She deserves special thanks for her knowledge of transformative learning theory and her preparation of students for our method of combining readings, film, and travel to historic places to meet Movement veterans.

Professor Greg Sapp collaborated with Professor Bickel throughout countless discussions of the subject of the course and in his ongoing mentoring of undergraduate students from varied academic disciplines throughout the travel course.

Stan Arthur of Stetson University is not only a brilliant film maker, who was behind the camera for all of the interviews, and performed, under Professor Bickel’s direction, all of the technical editing during countless hours of their work together in studio, but also a film maker devoted to the people we met and filmed, and their courage – and who wanted to tell their story.

The final course is the result of the collaboration of Gene Policinski of The Freedom Forum Institute, Robert Bickel of Stetson University, and Lata Nott of the Freedom Forum Institute.