Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Civil Rights & Social Activism

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Find out about Americans' civil rights and the importance of protecting them through social action.

Section A: What are Civil Rights?

In the United States, civil rights are our personal rights that are given and guaranteed by the Constitution and Amendments, as well as subsequent legislative statutes and acts. These include:

  • The 1st Amendment rights such as freedom of speech, press, peaceful assembly, and religious practice
  • The 14th and 19th Amendments and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 guaranteeing the right to vote to all citizens regardless of race, color, or gender
  • The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibiting discrimination based on race, sex, national origin, or religion in the areas of employment, access to public facilities (including schools), and fair housing
  • The Age Discrimination Employment Act of 1967 preventing unequal treatment at work due to age
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 securing equal employment rights for the disabled and ensuring handicap access in public facilities

These rights protect us from unfair treatment by the government, in public facilities, or at work. However, at times these rights need to be expanded or a court case needs to be pursued if a right is violated. Many of the Black leaders from the Oral History project work to secure civil rights for themselves and other Americans. They do this by pursuing jobs in the government, by being lawyers, by raising awareness, or by donating money to or working for non-government agencies such as the American Civil Liberties Union, the NAACP, the Legal Defense Fund, or the United Negro College Fund.

Section B: Who are some Modern Civil Rights Leaders?

Task #1:

Elaine Jones is the former director of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and worked to protect citizens' civil rights. In this clip Jones talks about helping an elderly white woman in an age discrimination case during her time at the Legal Defense Fund.

Watch the clip and explain the reasons why Elaine Jones makes this decision.

Social Consciousness: Race and Society

Elaine Jones

- Peace Corp Volunteer
- Lawyer
- Former Director for the Legal Defense and EducationFund

Task #2:

She also discusses two other cases of weight and height discrimination that she pursued. Do you agree that this organization founded to help Black people overcome discrimination should be helping other races?

Task #3:

Bill Gray was a Congressman, Director of the United Negro College Fund guaranteeing access to higher education to black students, and a minister. In this clip he looks at the issue of fair housing, a right secured by the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Bill Gray pursued a case of housing discrimination when he was denied an apartment because he was Black. Write about what happened and what Gray did about the incident. Why do you think he did that?

Influence of Racial Discrimination

William H. Gray III

- Minister
- Former U.S. Congressman
- Former Executive Director of United Negro College Fund

Task #4:

Julian Bond was elected to the Georgia Legislature, but when he arrived the state body refused to recognize him as a Congressman because of his stated opposition to the Vietnam War. Many believed that the real reason was his race. Bond knew his rights and pursued the case all the way to the Supreme Court.

Bond talks about the years in the House as being a very difficult time. Why do you think he decided to run for Congress? Why do you think he stayed in for 21 years despite it being very difficult?

Leadership Challenges

Julian Bond

  • Founding Member of SNCC
  • Former Member of Georgia's Congress
  • TV Commentator on America's Black Forum
  • Former Chairman of the NAACP

Georgia Legislature

Julian Bond

  • Founding Member of SNCC
  • Former Member of Georgia's Congress
  • TV Commentator on America's Black Forum
  • Former Chairman of the NAACP

Section C: What is Social Activism? Who are some Social Activist Leaders? 

Social Activism occurs when individuals act as the conscience and voice of many people within a society. They take a stand on particular issues often in the areas of human and animal rights and environmental protection. Activists draw attention to a particular issue within a society and attempt to make the problem better through awareness, funding, or governmental legislation.

Task #5:

Charles Olgetree is a law professor at Harvard University and an authority on the legal protection of civil rights. In this clip he talks about the type of social activism that he encourages his law students to participate in.

Watch the clip and list at least four ways Charles Olgetree recommends that people can be social activists within their community.

Career: Education

Charles Ogletree

- Lawyer and Law Professor
- Former Chairperson of the Black American Law & Students Association
- Director of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice

Task #6:

Julius Chambers was a social activist throughout his career as a lawyer. In the second half of this clip he talks about poverty as a hindrance to an individual's future success. He feels that anti-poverty discrimination should be added to the civil rights featured above.

Watch the clip and think about if you agree that there should be anti-poverty discrimination laws. Write down your response and justify your answer with at least one reason.

Race and Society

Julius Chambers

- Lawyer
- Former Director of the Legal Defense Fund
- Former Chancellor of North Carolina Central University

Task #7:

Dorothy Height worked on racial and gender equality issues beginning in the 1930's. She felt that race issue were still present at the beginning of the 21st century. i

Watch the clip and decide whether you agree with Dorothy Height or not. Is race still a major factor affecting life in America today? Support your answer with at least two reasons.

Race & Gender

Dorothy Height

- Founding Member of SNCC
- Former Leader within the YWCA
- Past President of the National Council of Negro Women
- Humanitarian Aid Worker in area of Social Justice

Task #8:

Roger Wilkins believes in Racial Uplift where Blacks who have achieved a high level of success in America must help other Blacks work their way out of poverty. Other Black leaders disagree and feel that if some one wants to work their way out of poverty he or she can do it by hard work and that no one is required to provide assistance.

What do you think? Do you believe that successful Blacks should help the Black underclass work their way out of poverty? Or do you believe that a successful Black is doing enough just by breaking racial barriers as he or she achieves? Support your answer with at least two reasons.

Black Underclass

Roger Wilkins

- Former Journalist for the New York Times and Washington Post
- Former Chairman of the Pulitzer Prize Board
- Author and Editor

Discussion Question:

Identify what you feel is the largest societal problem worth fighting for. Why do you think this is such an important issue? Provide at least three reasons to support your point of view. Be prepared to discuss your answer in the group discussion.