John Lewis: Non-Violent Activism

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

John Lewis

John Lewis

Additional Resources

A Legacy of Leadership in Non-Violent Activism and Community Organizing for Social Change


  • 6-8

Human Rights Issue:

  • Political Participation, Freedom of Expression, and Equality

Time requirement

  • 80 minutes

Guiding Questions:

  • What are the benefits to using non-violent activism?
  • Does non-violent activism work in achieving long-term sustainable change?
  • What tactics did non-violent activists use during the civil rights movement?


After this lesson, students will be able to

  • Describe a non-violent campaign for social, political, or cultural change.
  • Compare and contrast the elements of a campaign that advocates non-violence versus violence.
  • Analyze the tactics of non-violent protests.
  • What are the arguments for and against nonviolent protest? Compare the approach of the Irish Republican Army to the U.S. Civil Rights Movement.
  • Reflect on the legacy of John Lewis as a leader and advocate for non-violent social change.

Student skills:

  • Comparing and contrasting
  • Analyzing information
  • Group discussion and decision-making
  • Drawing inferences and making conclusions

New York State Learning Standards:

  • 2005 English Language Arts Standard 1: Language for Information and Understanding
    • Intermediate: KI 1, PI 1, 2, 3, 5, 6; KI 2, PI 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
    • Commencement: KI 1, PI 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6; KI 2, PI 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
  • 2005 English Language Arts Standard 3: Language for Critical Analysis and Evaluation
    • Intermediate: KI 1, PI 1, 3, 4; KI 2, PI 1, 2, 3, 4
    • Commencement: KI 1, PI 1, 2, 3; KI 2, PI 1, 2, 3, 4
  • 2005 English Language Arts Standard 4: Language for Social Interaction
    • Intermediate: KI 1, PI 1, 2, 4; KI 2, PI 2
    • Commencement: KI 1, PI 1, 2, 3; KI 2, PI 2, 3
  • Social Studies Standard 1: History of the United States and New York
    • Intermediate: KI 1, PI 1, 2, 3, 4; KI 2, PI 1, 2, 3, 4; KI 3, PI 1, 2, 3, 4; KI 4, PI 1, 2, 3, 4
    • Commencement: KI 1, PI 1, 2; KI 2, PI, 1, 2, 3, 4; KI 3, PI 1, 2, 3; KI 4, PI 1, 2, 3
  • Social Studies Standard 3: Geography
    • Intermediate: KI 1, PI 1, 4
    • Commencement: KI 1, PI 4
  • Social Studies Standard 5: Civics, Citizenship, and Government
    • Intermediate: KI 1, PU 1, 4; KI 2, PI 1, 5, 6; KI 3, PI 1, 2, 3; KI 4, PI 1, 2
    • Commencement: KI 1, PI 1; KI 2, PI 1, 2, 3, 5; KI 3, PI 1, 2, 3, 4; KI 4, PI 2, 3, 4, 6

NYS P-12 COMMON CORE LEARNING STANDARDS for ELA/Literacy in History/Social Studies 6-12

  • RH/SS.6-8.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources.
  • RH/SS.6-8.6 Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of the source distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.
  • RH/SS.6-8.2 Identify aspects of a text that reveal an author’s point of view or purpose (e.g., loaded language, inclusion or avoidance of particular facts).
  • RH/SS.6-8.7 Integrate visual information (e.g., in charts, graphs, photographs, videos, or maps) with other information in print and digital texts.
  • WH/SS.6-8.7 Conduct short research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question), drawing on several sources and generating additional related, focused questions that allow for multiple avenues of exploration.
  • WH/SS.6-8.9 Draw evidence from informational texts to support analysis reflection, and research.



  • Non-violence
  • Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee
  • Civil Rights
  • Participation


  • Justice
  • Non-violence
  • Change
  • Social Movements
  • Compromise

Technology Required:

  • Computer access
  • Internet access

Student Activities

Anticipatory set

Write the following on the board and have the students write their first thoughts:

  • Social movement
  • Political movement
  • Cultural movement

As a class, discuss how the term “social movement” includes elements of political change, social change, and in many cases cultural change. Have the class respond to the question, “How do we bring such change to society?” Record answers on the board.

Activity 1

  • Working in small groups, divide the class up assigning each group one of the following tasks.
    • Have the students research the two non-violent social movements described in the handout and answer the following questions:
    • What segment of the population took a leadership role in the movement?
    • What tactics did they use to try and achieve change?
    • What type of change was desired: social, political, and/or cultural?
    • Were they successful? Why? Why not?
  • Have students research the two social movements that advocated or used violence as a means to create change described in the handout and answer the following questions:
    • What segment of the population took a leadership role in the movement?
    • What tactics did they use to try and achieve change?
    • What type of change was desired: social, political, and/or cultural?
    • Were they successful? Why? Why not?
  • Within the small groups, students will fill in the compare/contrast chart on the non-violent and violent social movements. Students will use this chart to fill in the Venn Diagram. Groups will share their findings with the large group, and the class will complete a Venn diagram to compare and contrast the outcomes of the social movements that advocated non-violence and those that advocated violence.
    • Ask the class to respond to the following, “Which protests were more successful in bringing about social, political, and cultural change? Why do you think so?”

Activity 2

  • Opening Question: Can non-violence be strong?
  • Show the class a short video on John Lewis and his work and influence in the Civil Rights Movement
  • Have the students read John Lewis’ originally prepared March on Washington speech and answer the following questions:
    • Do you think Lewis should have given his speech as originally written?
    • Did the compromise language take away from the power of his speech? Why? Why not?
    • In making the requested changes to his speech, how was Lewis demonstrating his commitment to the civil rights movement?
    • What were the social, political, and/or cultural changes he wanted?
    • Can non-violence be powerful?
  • Show students the short video on the March on Washington and the Civil Rights Movement:
  • As a class, respond to the following questions:
    • What were some of the non-violent tactics used during the Civil Rights Movement?
    • Were these tactics successful? Why? Why not?
    • Did the March on Washington help achieve Lewis’ goals?
    • What social, political, and/or cultural changes occurred as a result?

Cumulating activity

Have each group select a current social justice movement. In writing, students should identify the social, political, and/or cultural changes the movement seeks to make, the leader(s) of the movement, and the tactics being used to achieve the desired change(s). Are the individuals involved like John Lewis? Is John Lewis’s legacy seen in this event?

  • Create a power point on the actions of John Lewis in his activism for social change.
  • Become a defender
  • Review the non-violent tactics used during the Civil Rights Movement. Create a t-shirt, poster, lawn sign, song, or movie to bring publicity to a social justice cause important to you.
  • Organize a “Non-violence Day” at school. Make a collection of social activist songs to download as a playlist to be played during the lunch periods.
  • Design a public education campaign for your school on non-violent responses to pressing social issues.
  • Select a current social justice issue that impacts your community. Develop a non-violent campaign to create change on the issue.

Tell us about it

The Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights is sponsoring an annual contest honoring a student who submits the best advocacy activity based upon the lesson studied. A goal of the lesson is to instill into each student that one voice, one person, can make monumental changes in the lives of many. Tell us how you “Became a Defender!”

The criteria for the contest are:

  • A one-page summary of the advocacy activity
  • Digitized copies of materials that can be sent electronically
  • Photos of the activity (please include a parental consent form)
  • A one-page summary of how the activity made a change in the lives of one or many persons

The prizes include:

  • A week long “virtual” internship at RFK Center
  • An opportunity to meet the defender through a SKYPE visit
  • A visit from Kerry Kennedy or a defender to your school
  • A poster of a Speak Truth To Power Human Rights Defender
  • A donation of a signed copy of Speak Truth To Power for the school library
  • The application and instructions for entry can be downloaded here (link for materials).
  • The deadline for all applications is the third week in November.

The winning student and teacher will be notified by the last week of January.

Additional Resources

U.S. Commission on Civil Rights:

  • The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights is a part of the U.S. government that was created to ensure that no one in the U.S. is being denied their civil rights. They attempt to achieve this goal by investigate citizen complaints, collecting information about discrimination, and appraising federal laws and policies with respect to discrimination. Their website provides a space to both learn more about current Civil Rights issues as well as file complaints about civil rights violations.

National Civil Rights Museum:

  • The National Civil Rights Museum, housed in the Lorraine Motel, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated, is dedicated to chronicling the key moments of the American Civil Rights Movement to inspire participation in civil and human rights efforts globally through their collections, exhibitions, and educational programs. Their website houses information about the museum as well as teacher and student resources.

American Civil Liberties Union:

  • The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is a group of over 500,000 members and supporters with nearly 200 ACLU staff attorneys working every day on current civil rights cases and issues including First Amendment rights, equal protection under the law, due process, and right to privacy. They maintain staffed offices in all fifty states, Puerto Rico, and Washington, D.C.

The White House: Civil Right:

  • This page serves to explain how the President is working on civil rights legislation, their overall guiding principles and policy priorities.

African American Odyssey: A Quest for Full Citizenship:

  • This nine-part exhibition from the Library of Congress uses a mix of primary source documents and in-depth scholarship to explore black America’s quest for equality from the early national period through the twentieth century. Culled from the over two hundred years of the Library’s materials, it examines the drama and achievement of this remarkable story.

Voting Rights Act (1965):

  • The Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was passed to enforce the Fifteenth Amendment from ninety-five years prior, was a historic piece of legislation and a huge success for the Civil Rights Movement. On this site you can view scans of the original document and a brief historical background.

Shy U.S. Intellectual Created Playbook Used in a Revolution:

  • By Sheryl Gay Stolberg. Published: February 16, 2011

Eyes on the Prize:

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.