Civil Rights and the Right to Education

From Plessy v. Ferguson to Brown v. Board of Education, access to quality, equitable education has been a driving force in the civil and human rights struggle in the United States. Robert F. Kennedy’s work to advance the civil rights of African Americans was evident in a number of areas, perhaps no more so than in education. As attorney general, he demonstrated his commitment to civil rights during a 1961 speech at the University of Georgia Law School: “We will not stand by or be aloof. We will move. I happen to believe that the 1954 [Supreme Court school desegregation] decision was right. But my belief does not matter. It is the law. Some of you may believe the decision was wrong. That does not matter. It is the law.”

In this lesson plan, we explore Robert F. Kennedy’s legacy of pushing for quality education for all through the work of Ruby Bridges and Aaron Maybin. Students will break down key dates from the history of civil rights and education, analyze the impact of the featured human rights defenders, and explore the ways they can protect access to education. As we build a bridge between the past and the present and reflect on the work of the advocates of then and now, we should keep one question in mind: What do we do next?

Aaron Maybin is a NFL superstar, artist and activist, author and educator. Proud to say he was “made in a Baltimore hood,” he established Project Mayhem to provide aid, both personal and economic, to at-risk youth.

Ruby Bridges is more than a symbol for a nation. She advanced the cause of civil rights as the first African American student to integrate an elementary school in the South.

Because all the activities involve independent or group research that can be done online, this lesson plan fits into either virtual or in-person classrooms, with opportunities for discussion and collaboration on Zoom or with classmates.