HM - April 2017 - Backstory: Civil Rights

Classroom Applications

Legislation Impossible
Teacher Resource Set

by Noel Sucese

Link to Podcast: Backstory's Legislation Impossible: The Civil Rights Act of 1964

While concern for the rights of African Americans and conflicts surrounding their quest to gain recognition as equals during the 1960s rightly dominated our nation’s attention, the zeitgeist of the Civil Rights Movement ignited a firestorm from what was often called the “weaker sex.” Despite the victory of the 19th Amendment, as well as their contributions made throughout both World Wars I and II, women still remained subject to sex-based discrimination at universities, workplaces, and even in their personal lives. When the inclusion of a sex-based discrimination provision in the Civil Rights Act failed to ameliorate the growing crisis among America’s women, they took action. Patterned after the NAACP, the National Organization for Women (NOW) formed in 1966 to put pressure on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to enforce the law. NOW served as a vehicle for women of various ages, orientations, and races to organize and push for reproductive, political, and social rights well into the 1970s. Through NOW, second wave feminists continued the mission of forerunners such as Alice Paul, to pass the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). Like the Civil Rights Movement, the Women’s Liberation Movement was not monolithic. Its fractures, factions, and opponents (many of whom happened to be female) led to the failure of ERA’s ratification. Ultimately, adding Title VII to the Civil Rights Act changed the course of women’s history in our nation. 
Through the investigation of primary sources concerning the establishment of NOW, The Commission on the Status of Women, and Executive Order 10980, students will gain insight into how the past shapes the present. Excerpts taken from NOW founder Betty Friedan’s groundbreaking work, The Feminine Mystique, encourages students to practice placing themselves into the shoes of those alive during the time period in order to avoid present mindedness. Finally, by examining letters written by women who supported and opposed the ERA, students will analyze how complex gender roles, class, and race created different views during the time period. Just as the movement was not monolithic, history is not monocausal. The sources discussed above align with the BackStory segment, “How Sex Got into the Civil Rights Act,” found in the BackStory episode, “Civil Rights Act of 1964.”


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