The Liberty Bell as a Symbol for Civil Rights, grades 9-12
- Grade Level:
- Ninth Grade-Twelfth Grade
- Civil Rights Movement, Community, History, Social Studies
- Two to three class sessions
- Group Size:
- Up to 36
- National/State Standards:
- Reading Information Text RI 5.1, RI 5.2, RI 5.3, RI 5.7, Writing W 5.2, W 5.4, Reading History RH (6-8).1, RH (6-8).2, RH (6-8).7
- Liberty Bell, Civil Rights, Freedom, Symbolism
OverviewStudents will use the story of the student activists in the 1960's to understand how the Liberty Bell has been used as a symbol.
- Students will be able to describe why student activists in the mid-1960s chose the Liberty Bell as the site of a controversial sit-in for which the purpose was to encourage federal intervention in events in Selma, Alabama.
- Students will use a photograph of a March, 1965 sit-in at the Liberty Bell as a springboard for creating fictional characters through whom they will express their understanding of how the Liberty Bell has been used as a symbol by various groups, particularly by young activists during the Civil Rights era.
- Photo of sit-in, March 12-13, 1965 (Photo #1)
- Brief summary of the Liberty Bell's history found at https://www.nps.gov/inde/historyculture/stories-libertybell.htm
- University of Pennsylvania NAACP demonstration application, March 12, 1965 (Worksheet #1)
- Why Sit-in for Liberty? activity sheet
"Why Sit-in for Liberty" activity worksheet Download
Photograph of March 12, 1965 sit-in Download
March 12, 1965 Demonstration Application Download
Richard Sabreen letter Download
Henning Cohen letter Download
March 22, 1965 Evening Bulletin news article Download
Vincent Foley letter Download
Karthryn M. Lawrence letter Download
March 16, 1965 Evening Bulletin news article Download
Before the lesson:
It will be helpful to give a brief summary of the events in Selma, Alabama in 1965 in order to set the stage for the lesson: In March of 1965, civil rights activists planned a march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama to protest the lack of voting rights for African-Americans. The march was broken up by police at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in what became known as "Bloody Sunday". Two days later the march was attempted again and a minister named James Reeb was killed by police and counter demonstrators. Following these developments, civil rights activists throughout the country sought to bring national and world-wide attention to the events in Selma and to encourage the federal government to intervene on behalf of the protestors. For information about Selma, see:
Whole Class Discussion:
1. Show the photo of the March 12-14, 1965 sit-in (Photo #1) .Ask students to determine the era based on visual cues (e.g. clothing, hair styles, and location of the Liberty Bell). Have students predict why young people are sitting in front of the Liberty Bell.
2. Explain that the students were participants in a sit-in organized by members of the University of Pennsylvania chapter of the NAACP. The student activists were seeking to bring attention to, and to encourage federal intervention in, the events in Selma, Alabama.
Students will read the brief history of the Liberty Bell found at https://www.nps.gov/inde/historyculture/stories-libertybell.htm and University of Pennsylvania NAACP flyer from March 12, 1965.
1. Break students into groups of 4-7 students and have then brainstorm reasons that the NAACP leaders at the University of Pennsylvania chose the Liberty Bell as the site of their demonstration.
2. Optional: Distribute Why Sit-in for Liberty? activity worksheets and have them fill in the sheet using information from the two handouts. (The worksheets may not be needed for older or more sophisticated students.)
Whole Class Discussion:
1. Have students share the ideas generated during their brainstorming session. Elicit or present the following responses:
a. Inscription on the Liberty Bell reads, "Proclaims Liberty thro' all the Land and to all the Inhabitants thereof"; in March, 1965 many African-Americans were denied liberty because they were unable to vote in many southern states.
b. Liberty Bell had been used by various groups seeking rights including abolitionists and women's suffrage activists. Similar to the Civil Rights Movement, abolitionists sought freedom for African-Americans, and suffragists sought to extend voting rights.
c. Liberty Bell was a well-known site; a sit-in there would garner media attention.
d. Liberty Bell is a national symbol; it is associated with the federal government which is the level of government which the activists were seeking to influence.
e. The organizers of the sit-in saw a role for each branch of the federal government in enforcing civil rights; this reinforces the vision of the framers of the Constitution in terms of separation of powers and division of federal and state authority. (In 1965, the Liberty Bell was housed in Independence Hall where the Constitution was written and ratified.)
2. In their groups of 4-7, each student will choose a different individual depicted in the photo for which they will develop a character and a voice.Students will work independently to write a monologue, journal entry, or letter in which they convey:
a. What is this person's background that led to his or her participation in this sit in—what has been the individual's personal experience of race/the Civil Rights movement and why did this person join the University of Pennsylvania chapter of the NAACP?
b. Why has the individual decided to participate in the sit-in at the Liberty Bell—what did he or she hope to accomplish and what factors did he or she consider when deciding whether or not to take part?
c. Why does he or she think that the Liberty Bell is an appropriate setting for the sit-in—what about the history, symbolism, and prior use of the Liberty Bell by activists make it a fitting location for meeting the student activists' current goals? (see rubric)
Use this rubric.
This lesson plan helps students understand the history of this international symbol of liberty.
In groups, students will present their writing by creating tableaux vivants for their peers. Each group will be expected to recreate the photo and to take turns enacting the characters they have developed. Depending on time constraints, students will either share an excerpt or the entire content of their written work.
Have students read all or some of the reactions to the Liberty Bell sit-in. Half the class should read letters that support the superintendent's decision to let the sit-in occur; the other half will read letters opposed to his decision.
Whole Class Discussion:
1. Generate a "T-chart" showing reasons that people either supported or opposed the park superintendent's decision to allow the students to stage their sit-in. Once reasons have been shared, draw a horizontal line on the chalkboard and explain that line represents a continuum. On one end is the opinion that the superintendent did the right thing in allowing the Liberty Bell to be used as the site of a protest; on the other end, is the opinion that the superintendent should not have allowed a sit-in. Students should put their initials where their opinion lies.
2. Have students discuss their points of view, at first just quoting from and referring to the documents they have just read. Once words and ideas from numerous documents have been put forth, students can share their personal opinions without referring to the documents. At the conclusion of the lesson, give students the opportunity to move their initials on the continuum and to explain why they have changed their view.
3. If time allows, ask if sit-ins should be allowed at the Liberty Bell today and, if so, under what conditions.