These lessons are designed to help students
- Distinguish between a strategy and a tactic
- Identify various tactics of nonviolent direct action used during the civil rights movement
- Understand how these tactics might apply to instances of injustice today
This third lesson, in a series of three that focus on nonviolence, explores the direct action tactics of nonviolence used at different points during the civil rights movement.
Note: This lesson assumes that students have experienced lessons one and two in this series. You many need to provide some background material about King's philosophy of nonviolence and some context about the civil rights movement to prepare students for this lesson.
In this lesson, students will be learning more about nonviolent direct action tactics. To prepare them for this, students should understand the difference between a tactic and a strategy. A strategy is a plan of action designed to achieve a goal. A tactic is the actual method or means used to achieve that goal. Multiple tactics might be part of one strategy. Many people confuse the meanings of these words so it would not be surprising if your students thought they were synonyms. Here is one way you might help students understand the difference between a tactic and a strategy:
- You might begin by writing the words "tactic" and "strategy" on the board. Ask students to use these words in a sentence. What is the difference between these two words? Can they think of an example of each one?
- If students did not provide an adequate explanation of the difference between these two words, you can use the definitions provided above.
- Finally, ask students to come up with examples of a strategy and a tactic that might be used as part of that strategy. You might even ask students to refer to their film notes from yesterday. What would have been the strategy of the protesters? What were some of the tactics they used? One segue from the warm-up to the main activity is to ask students to refer to "The Six Steps for Nonviolent Social Change." Following the six steps would be the overall strategy. You might ask students to name the tactics that are part of this strategy. Students might respond with answers such as "educating your adversaries" or "sit-ins" or "boycotts."s philosophy of nonviolence and some context about the civil rights movement to prepare students for this lesson.
The purpose of the main activity of this class is to expand students' understanding of nonviolent direct action tactics. From viewing a clip from Eyes on the Prize: Ain't Scared of Your Jails (1960–1961) (28:00-55:42), students should begin this lesson with some ideas about nonviolent direct action tactics. In this class, students will focus on learning more about the many options for "nonviolent direct action." What does "nonviolent direct action" mean? The King Center defines this as "nonviolent resistance to injustice." If you did not define this phrase during the previous lesson, take some time to do so now. The King Center mentions that more than 250 forms of nonviolent direct action have been identified. You might ask students to brainstorm how many they can name. If they watched "Ain't Scared of Your Jails" in the previous class, students can refer back to their notes. What types of nonviolent direct action tactics did protesters in Nashville use? Responses to this question might include boycotts, marches, demonstrations/picketing, and sit-ins. The next activity is designed to help deepen students' understanding of nonviolent direct action tactics:
- Divide the class into small groups. Assign each group one reading from the list below. These readings contain examples of how specific nonviolent direct action tactics were used during the civil rights movement. If you have more time and access to the appropriate technology, such as a computer lab, you might also have students watch the related segment from the Eyes on the Prize video or do their own research on this moment of civil rights history.
- Each group is responsible for preparing a dramatic presentation of their moment of nonviolent direct action. One option is to require these presentations to be mimes, using physical gestures, facial expressions and props instead of words to express a message. Each dramatic presentation should be accompanied by a visual that includes the following information: name of the tactic, definition of the tactic, and details about the event from the civil rights movement such as the name of the individuals or groups involved, their goal, the date and location of the event, and the outcome. After the presentation, the group could answer questions such as: Why might an activist choose this tactic? Under what circumstances would this be an appropriate choice? What resources must be available for this tactic to be effective?
- If you anticipate that students will need the information about various tactics to complete an assignment or a test, you might want to suggest or require that students take notes during the presentations. You could even create a graphic organizer with key ideas they should record from each presentation. You can also use our sample graphic organizer “Nonviolent Direct Action” Presentation Notes.
Reading and viewing list from the Eyes on the Prize: America's Civil Rights Movement study guide and television series:
These nonviolent direct action tactics are as important today as they were during the civil rights movement. After all of the presentations, you might ask students to think about the role of nonviolent direct action in the world today. Here are suggested prompts that students might respond to in writing or in a class discussion. The think, pair, share teaching strategy would be appropriate here as well
- What is the role of nonviolent direct action tactics today? To what extent have you seen or heard about any of them being used? With what success? What other examples of nonviolent direct action tactics are being used today that were not part of the presentations?
- What does it take for nonviolent direct action tactics to work? What are obstacles to their success?
- Identify an example of injustice in the world today. Assuming you were committed to a strategy of nonviolence, what nonviolent direct action tactic might you use? Why?
- Historian Taylor Branch argues, "Every ballot is a piece of nonviolence, signifying hard-won consent to raise politics above firepower and bloody conquest."1 To what extent do you agree with Taylor Branch? In a democracy where all citizens have the right to vote, why might other nonviolent direct action tactics sometimes be necessary?
Responses to the questions in the follow through section of this lesson can be used to assess students' understanding of the philosophy and practice of nonviolence.