Ken Burns Classroom

Integration or Separation?

Overview: Students examine how frustration with the lack of progress in terms of equity, social justice, and access to opportunity for African-Americans bolstered the civil rights movement of the 1960s. They evaluate how this disenfranchisement played a role in forming more militant factions during this period. Next, students assess the dilemma Jackie Robinson faced as a younger generation vocalized new concerns and became actively involved in the movement.

Last, students compare and contrast the state of race relations in the 1960s versus today and think critically about what can be done to improve existing conditions.

For extended discussion of complex contemporary issues related to race in the United States, consider showing your students “The American Fault Line: Race and the American Ideal,” a conversation with Ken Burns and Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Lesson Objectives: In this lesson, students will do the following:

  • Explore sources of frustration with the lack of progress in social justice and the advent of the civil rights movement in the 1960s.
  • Examine the development of more militant factions and ideologies, as well as Jackie Robinson’s stance on emerging public figures such as Malcolm X.
  • Analyze the state of race relations in the 1960s compared to today. What has changed? What has not?
  • Explore ways government policy and societal changes can serve to maintain or improve race relations.

Optional Viewing:

Lesson Procedure:

  1. Before showing the video clips, familiarize students with terms and names such as Black Power, generation gap, militancy, Black Panthers, Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Huey Newton, Nation of Islam, and implicit (unconscious bias or judgment of someone) and explicit (intentional) racism.
  2. Distribute the 3-2-1 Strategy Chart to all students and have them complete their charts as they watch the clips.
  3. Chart Activity: After watching the video clips, have students complete the 3-2-1 Strategy Chart. Then organize a “four squares activity” with one-quarter of the class in each of the four corners of the room. Have students share the facts they gathered by going to at least two people in other groups to give a fact and get a fact. They can also clarify details of the facts.
  4. Bring the class together and have students ask the questions they generated in the second section of the chart. Hold a general class discussion to find answers to their questions. Then have students share their most memorable moments of the video clips.

Teacher Tip: During the discussions, keep in mind several key points:

  • The frustration with the lack of progress and equity promised by integration
  • The differing views potentially tied to the generation gap between older and younger African-Americans and other minority communities
  • How public perception of Jackie Robinson changed after he retired from baseball

Post-Viewing Discussion/Activity:

  • Why might people have become disenchanted with the promised progress of integration?
  • What other methods of achieving equity and equality were proposed?
  • What was the dilemma Jackie Robinson found himself in as he continued to be a vocal public figure in the advancement of civil rights?
  • Do you feel the state of race relations is better or worse than in the 1960s? Give examples.
  • How can government policy and societal practices foster progress? What steps need to be taken to improve treatment, conditions, and access to resources?
  • How might implicit and/or explicit racism further entrench discriminatory practices or barriers to progress?

Assessment Suggestions: At the conclusion of the activity, evaluate students on the following:

  • Active participation during discussions and activities
  • Completion of graphic organizers from the activity
  • Quality and viability of assessment of whether race relations now are better or worse than in the 1960s, and of their recommendations

Extension Activity: Have students compare and contrast race relations between the 1960s and today. Have them research the civil rights period and identify the main problems outlined by Jackie Robinson, Malcolm X, and other public figures, and compare these with issues that continue to surface in current events. Students may conduct surveys or interviews to inform this analysis, and draw conclusions for next steps based on their assessment.

Standards: McREL

United States History

Standard 29: Understands the struggle for racial and gender equality and for the extension of civil liberties

Level IV (Grades 9–12)

  • Understands significant influences on the civil rights movement

Standard 31: Understands economic, social, and cultural developments in the contemporary United States

  • Level IV (Grades 9–12)
  • Understands major contemporary social issues and the groups involved

Historical Understanding

  • Understands and knows how to analyze chronological relationships and patterns
  • Understands the historical perspective

Common Core

  • CSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.1: Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.2: Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.3: Evaluate various explanations for actions or events and determine which explanation best accords with textual evidence, acknowledging where the text leaves matters uncertain.

About The Authors

Greg Timmons

Greg Timmons has been a social studies teacher for over 30 years. He has written lessons for several PBS productions including The NewsHour, FRONTLINE, and various Ken Burns’s productions including The War, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea Baseball, Prohibition and The Dust Bowl.” He resides in Montana and Washington state.

Handout: 3-2-1 Activity Chart


NAME: _________________________                        DATE:  __________________


List three things you didn’t know about issues in terms of equity, equality, and social justice for African-Americans and other minority communities during the 1960s.






Create two questions you have after watching the video clips.





Describe one memorable moment you remember from each of the video clips and why they made an impression on you.