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Part Three: Analyzing Documents


In this lesson students analyze three primary source documents from the African American Freedom Struggle of the 1950’s and 1960’s. The first document is from the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and encourages students to examine the goals of the march through a human rights framework. The second and third documents provide examples of the relationship between the human rights struggles in the United States and in South Africa.

Lesson Objectives:

  • Students will identify the author, subject, date and intended audience of each of the documents.
  • Students will analyze the documents by discussing the purpose, point of view and historical context.
  • Students will compare the content of the document to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in order to identify the common themes.
  • Students will critique the mainstream understanding of the “Civil Rights Movement.”


  1. If your students have not worked with primary sources before, spend a few minutes defining primary and secondary sources. Explain the importance of analyzing documents in order to construct historical understanding.
  2. Place students in groups of three and give each group the Document Analysis Worksheet, a copy of the UDHR, and one of the documents (Document One: Program for March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Document Two: Appeal for Action Against Apartheid, Document Three: Letter from the American Committee on Africa.)
  3. Using a jig-saw method, have students form new groups so that each group has a "student expert" on one of the three documents. Each student will share the content and their analysis of their document.
  4. In a whole class discussion, ask students to make connections between their documents and the UDHR. Which documents reflect the rights in the UDHR? Do the documents provide historical evidence to support a view of the “Civil Rights Movement” contrary to the mainstream perception?