Resource spotlight: The Struggle for Justice

December 18th, 2012

As teachers begin to think about their lesson plans to help students commemorate Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday on January 15 (nationally observed this year on Monday, January 21), take a look at the National Portrait Gallery’s Struggle for Justice exhibit, much of which can be viewed online. The exhibition is a permanent installation on the museum’s second floor and documents America’s history of increasing participation and inclusiveness by and among her citizens. 

Smithsonian Magazine provides more information:

The exhibition’s complex story of American reform movements begins in the antebellum period with portraits of key figures like Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony and moves on through the 20th century to feature the visages of prominent activists like Martin Luther King and Betty Friedan.  To complement the art on the walls, several kiosks offer video footage of the subjects in news reels and film clips, profiling the stories of groups seeking justice for American Indians, persons with disabilities, women, gays and lesbians and the labor movement.

Admittedly, there are some causes that aren’t represented as well as others—or at least not yet. But worry not—the plan is to switch out some artifacts with other pieces in the collections.

And that’s a good thing, too, because every high school kid is now versed in the major social struggles—namely the fights for African American civil rights and women’s suffrage. But those issues were always covered in the textbooks with deliriously broad strokes and only a few noble American figures ever emerge as figureheads for entire social movements. And, as amazing as those fearless souls were, a whole host others took up the cause and it’s great to see their faces, too—American Indian activists Leonard Crow Dog and Kate Millett, gay rights activist Larry Kramer and United Farm Workers César Chávez and Delores Huerta. That said, Struggle for Justice makes for a more cogent narrative of how social conditions in America came to be what they are today. That handful of familiar faces that still persist in our popular culture are all there and accounted for—but there were plenty more that I had never heard of before, or names I had heard dropped in casual conversation, but was never entirely sure exactly where and how they fit into the larger story.

Head over to the museum’s online site to check out a slide show of the exhibition, watch six video clips that highlight Americans’ struggle for justice, and download lesson plans to incorporate the exhibition’s resources into your classroom. 

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