Understanding the Force of Nonviolence- Nashville in 1960

Length: Two 55-minute class periods

To commemorate Nashville's role in the historic Civil Rights Movement, the Metro Arts Commission approved the selection of artist Walter Hood to create new public art.  His design for Witness Walls utilizes iconic photos of the Civil Rights movement in Nashville to honor the events and the people who created the blueprint for nonviolent protest.  The installation will be located on the west side of the historic Metro Nashville Courthouse, steps away from the historic April 19, 1960 student-led protest.

In this Social Studies lesson, students will:

  • Jigsaw Activity: The students will work together to explore four events in the life of James Lawson that shaped his confidence in nonviolent action as a powerful force for change. In groups of four, students will first read and annotate a short encyclopedic biography together; then each student will receive a text that brefly highlights an evenet that has a transforming impact upon Lawson's life. This "jigsaw" activity will requie the for to relay information they gathered to the other members of their group as they will each be required to fill out a biographical grapihic organizer on Lawson.
  • Students will complete a timeline giving the context for the Civil Rights Movement in Nashville and focusing on the dramatic events that took place on April 19, 1960, a day that marked the beginning of the end for segregation in Nashville.
  • Students will gain exposure to the teching style and methogology of James Lawson by watching video clips taken from actual footage of training sessions conducted in late 1959-1960, and then breaking back into small groups to work through "Lawson's Lessons" activity.

Standards & Objectives

Learning objectives: 

Content Standards:

  • US.90: Examine the roles of civil right advocates including: James (Jim) Lawson
  • US.92: Describe significant events in the struggle to secure civil rights for African Americans, including the following: influence ethe Highlander Folk School and civil rights advocacy groups, including the SCLC, SNCC, and CORE; Nashville Sit-insm boycottsm Diane Nash

Clear Learning Targets:

  • I can explain how significant events in the life of James Lawson served to prepare him for the critical role he played in the Civil Rights Movement.
  • I can explain the role of James Lawson, called "the mind of the movement" and "the leading theorist and strategist of the nonviolence in the world" by Martin Luther King Jr., who helped to end the shameful era of racial segregation in America.
  • I can identify the main ideas behinf the strategy of the nonviolent action that were taught y Gandhi, MLK, and James Lawson, ad why it was a successful way to aproach conflict.
  • I can explain the cause and effect connections between the events that transpired on April 19, 1960, leading to a public statement by Major West acknowledging the injustice of segregation. 
  • I can explain the unique roles that Tennessee played in the Civil Rights Movement- training and giving voice to many leaders who would go on to national prominence in the Movement.
  • I can express my opinion on how individuals alive during the 1960 Nashville would have responded the events of April 19th, based on the reading of historical texts.
Essential and guiding questions: 

Assessing Questions:

  • History has taught us that one heroic person truly can make a difference in the world. Why do societies tend to honor heros?
  • What makes someone a hero? And how do societies seek to honor them?
  • How does this project (Witness Walls) fall into this category- seeking to honor hero from the past who have made a difference in the world?
  • What specific actions did those involved in the Civil Rights Movement take that demostrated the power of Nonviolent Action? And how are these acts heroic?
  • Multiple assessing questions provided throughout.

Advancing Questions:

  • Do you believe that the "force" of nonviolent action is as powerful today, as it was in the 1960s?
  • Are the lessons taught by Lawson still applicable today- to society at large? How about on the personal level?
  • Do you think James Lawson's life would have turned out differently- especially in terms of his involvement in the Civil Rights Movement- of any one of the biographical incidents we discussed had not occurred? Elaborate.
  • Compare this movement to other nonviolent movements that brought about significant change in the world (Gandhi in India, Lech Walesa in Poland, etc.)

Lesson Variations

Blooms taxonomy level: 
Differentiation suggestions: 

Scaffolding Opportunites (to address learning challenges):

  • PowerPoint presentations to help the scaffold background information
  • Helpful video clips provided for visualization and contextualization
  • Teacher may group students by ability level
  • Partner and group work will allow students to support the learning of others
  • Personal reflection writing assignment allows students to write to their level of understanding

Opportunites to Differentiate Learning (explain how you address particular student needs by differentiating process, content, or product):

  • Lawson Biography Jigsaw Activity- texts of varied length and complxity
  • Lawson's Lessons Activity- guiding questions provided in the margins to help students to analyze the text
Interdisciplinary opportunities: 


    Helpful Hints

    Materials and Resources:

    This lesson utilzes content from the Children, by David Halberstam (1198, New York: Random House). Teachers will need a copy of the novel in order to ces all referenced content
    This lesson also references materials from the documemtary A Force More Powerful (http://www.aforcemorepowerful.org/)