Civil Rights and Racial Equality: Teacher Resources

RFK addresses marchers at DOJ (rights unknown) 630


Although the United States civil rights movement in Robert Kennedy’s time focused  primarily on assuring equal rights for African Americans, today these same issues apply to an even broader spectrum of minorities. The following activities encourage students think further about the current status of civil rights in today’s world.  You might want to first ask students to read or watch Robert Kennedy delivering a powerful, spontaneous speech upon learning of the death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Essential questions:

In Kennedy’s time, the main focus of the civil rights movement was on achieving equality for African Americans.  How has racial equality progressed since the 1960’s, especially for black Americans? What advances have been made?  What improvements might still be needed?

How has the overall scope of minorities in the United States changed since then?

What issues of inequality confront minorities in your country? How about in your own school or community?

How do opinions differ about how best to resolve these issues?

What’s your personal belief, and what role might you play in helping to overcome racial equality?

RFK’s Words

Share the following quote with students. Have them read it aloud, and discuss what Kennedy meant by these words.  Referring to the black man, Robert Kennedy said:

“We have demanded that he obey the same laws as white men, pay the same taxes, fight and die in the same wars. Yet in nearly every part of the country, he remains the victim of humiliation and deprivation no white citizen would tolerate.”

In small groups, ask students to discuss:

What has changed for the better since Kennedy spoke these words almost 50 years ago?

Are there any current circumstances – either in your school community, country or throughout world – in which minorities remain the ‘victims of humiliation and deprivation’?  Describe and list these. Debrief with the full class, noting any areas of commonality. Debate any differences in opinion.

ELA teachers might then want to use this analyzing language lesson to further study the rhetorical impact of Kennedy’s Mindless Menace of Violence speech.

RFK’s Message Still Matters

Depending on your and students’ interests, you might wish to proceed with a focus on racial equality worldwide,  or within your own county.  The following resources are offered to spark further discussion and study.

Living in a time of ‘moral crisis’,  Kennedy passionately called upon youth to become actively engaged in taking on issues and thus creating a more promising future.   As part of that process, he encouraged  active, constructive and respectful debate and dissent.  This, he deeply believed, was  “at the very heart of the American process”.

As you work with any or all of the following resources, encourage students to discuss and debate any differences of opinion as a means of fostering deeper analysis and understanding.

U.S. Immigration

1. This lesson provides students with an opportunity to analyze current U.S. Immigration policies and their impact on families that have mixed citizenship status.

Racial Equality

2. To what extent has Robert Kennedy’s quest for racial equality been accomplished? Has  Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream been realized? Consider these questions with students by reading and analyzing this New York Times article and the poll results from Pew Research.

Resources with Global Focus to be added


Speak Truth to Power: Become inspired by defenders taking action today

Speak Truth To Power, a project of Robert Kennedy Human Rights, is a multifaceted  global initiative that uses the experiences of courageous defenders from around the world to educate students and others about human rights, and urges them to take action. Issues range from slavery and environmental activism to religious self-determination and political participation.

Explore the stories of…. Defenders… John Lewis: non-violent activism…TBD

Take Action:

Robert Kennedy deeply believed that each individual has the responsibility and capacity to make a positive difference. He said:

“Few will have the greatness to bend history itself; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation.”

Ask students to share examples of what they might already have done – or noticed others doing – to make a difference, even if in small ways. Students can refer to the Become A Defender  unit of Speak Truth to Power for inspiration and guidance on how they can take positive action toward fighting injustice.

Robert Kennedy’s Work Lives On

Robert Kennedy’s unwavering commitment to protecting human rights and opposing attacks on civil liberties is central to his ongoing legacy.

To further realize Robert Kennedy’s dream of a  more just and peaceful world, in 1968,  Ethel Kennedy and other family members and friends founded Robert Kennedy Human Rights,  one of the foremost human rights’ organizations in the world.

Watch the following clip and Robert Kennedy’s daughters describe how their mother and Robert Kennedy’s wife, Ethel has carries on his work:

Click here to learn more about the work of Robert Kennedy Human Rights.

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