Author:
Jennifer Welch, Rebecca Welch Weigel
Subject:
Performing Arts, Social Science
Material Type:
Unit of Study
Level:
High School
Tags:
Activism, Civil Rights Movement, Constitutional Theater, Living Document, Mississippi, President Johnson, Primary Source, US Government, US History, Vera Mae Pigee, Voting Rights Act of 1965, We the People, activism, civil-rights-movement, constitutional-theater, mississippi, president-johnson, primary-source, us-government, us-history, vera-mae-pigee, voting-rights-act-of-1965
License:
Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives
Language:
English
Media Formats:
Text/HTML

8. The Voting Rights Act of 1965

8. The Voting Rights Act of 1965

Overview

Through the play Beautiful Agitators and accompanying curriculum, students will eplore the life of Vera Mae Pigee and reflect on the struggle and sacrifice that led to the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Beautiful Agitators Lesson Plan: Scene Eleven

Standards: Voting Rights Act, local & national civil rights history, power relations & social justice, relationship between local and national movement, relationship between past and present movement

Content Strand 4:

A. Identify and explain the significance of the major actors, groups and events of the civil rights movement in the mid 20th century in Mississippi (i.e., Fannie Lou Hamer, Medgar Evers, Dr. T.R.M. Howard, James Meredith, Freedom Rides, Freedom Summer, Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, March on Washington, Voting Rights Act, etc)

B. Understand and describe the historical circumstances and conditions that necessitated the development of civil rights and human rights protections and/or activism for various minority groups in Mississippi.

Tactics: Youth participation, intergenerational cooperation, national partnerships & participation, patience & persistence, aligning different political motivations, taking action.

Counter-tactics: Legal vs. interpersonal discrimination 

Time Period: 1965 

Leaders: Vera Pigee, Mary Jane Pigee, JFK, Lyndon Johnson, Dr. Aaron Henry (Counter movement figure Senator Eastland)

Event: Voting Rights Act of 1965


BACKGROUND:

The passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was one of the most significant developments in legislative change in civil rights history.  However, its passage did not end the struggle nor was it the end of the civil rights movement. In the last scene of Beautiful Agitators, Vera Mae Pigee shares a powerful moment with her daughter expressing hopeful relief that the years of sacrifice, dedication and hard work has paved the way for this particular moment while emphasising that the work must go on.

 

LESSON: The Voting Rights Act of 1965

OBJECTIVES:

  1. Examine how the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was designed to end barriers to voting on the basis of race
  2. Explain how the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed
  3. Identify the two major civil rights moments that served as catalysts for the momentum to pass the Voting Rights Act of 1965

WATCH: 

President Johnson's Special Message to the Congress: The American Promise March 15, 1965

 

READ: Transcript of Johnson's Special Message to the Congress

READ: Voting Rights Act of 1965

WATCH: 

President Lyndon B. Johnson's Voting Rights Act Speech August 6, 1965

ACTIVITY: Discussion

  1. What events served as a catalyst for the Voting Rights Act?
  2. What was the vote split in both the House of Representatives and the Senate?
  3. How does the vote count reflect what you understand about the civil rights movement and where their efforts were focused?
  4. What was the function of the Voting Rights Act of 1965?

ACTIVITY: What will YOU do to “catch it yourself”?

READ: Beautiful Agitators Scene 11

REFLECTING ON THE SCRIPT:

VERA: Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will. It is our indomitable will that led to this moment.You and the other young people who dedicated themselves to our cause will travel all over the country, furthering your careers in business, education, religion, whatever you choose. Your future success is worth all of the effort, sacrifices, and years of struggling. No longer can the white man decide the height of the star on which a colored person could hitch his social, economic and educational aspirations. Now you can choose  the height, width and depth of your own stars. The constitution only gives people the right to pursue happiness,  Mary Jane, you have to catch it yourself.

Vera Mae is reflecting back on the long road of the struggle.  She is looking to the future and dreaming of the potential that may now be open to future generations.  She is also imparting a valuable lesson that the struggle is never over and people must continue to be engaged in the struggle to fight against injustice to preserve civil and human rights.  She is asking Mary Jane what her vision of the future is and what she is going to do to see to catch that dream.

  • Students will identify a civil rights issue that is important to them personally. Students will answer the question "What will you do to catch it for yourselves"?
  • Write a monologue, poem, speech, short story, journal entry, action plan, etc. that addresses the issues surrounding your cause and demonstrate who is impacted by this issue. Explore the struggle surrounding the issue and address the solutions you propose? Ex: Monologue from perspective of disenfranchised voter, spoken word poem/immigration, speech:equitable funding education, etc.

ACTIVITY: Drafting a New Voting Rights Act

Students will work in small groups to submit a list of recommendations for a new Voting Rights Act.  Students should provide evidence for their claims and be able to defend their assertions.  After working in the small groups, students will come together to share their recommendations. The instructor will facilitate a discussion regarding the recommendations.  Students will work together to rank the recommendations and determine a final list.  Students will be asked to choose a recommendation they are passionate about and make a plan to reach out to an organization that they can engage with as volunteers. Ex: League of Women Voter- voter registration drive.


 

Beautiful Agitators Script: Scene Eleven

Scene Eleven

August 6, 1965

Characters: Vera & Mary Jane alone together in the beauty parlor listening to President Johnson's speech announcing the signing of the Voting Rights Act. Vera styles Mary Jane’s hair.

MARY JANE: It’s happening...President Johnson has done it. Finally, we’ve won. 

VERA: The glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together. For everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.”

MARY JANE: Amen. Mama, just look at where your hard work has brought us. All these years, the trauma, the sacrifice…  it wasn’t in vain.

VERA: Mary Jane, Your great - great-grandmother, Alice Matthews was born Monday April 10, 1865. She could not read or write and did not remember all of the details about Lee surrendering Sunday April 9, 1865; but she knew her mother told her she was born the first day after surrender. She told me “I am white because my father was a white southern cotton plantation owner of Negro slaves and my mother was a pretty black girl who was his property. (beat) We are the bi-product of a white man’s wishes, but we are not the courier of his demons."I will be the first to admit it was difficult to set those demons aside and pursue our nonviolent movement. I held the words of Gandhi close to me when I felt weak. Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will. It is our indomitable will that led to this moment.You and the other young people who dedicated themselves to our cause will travel all over the country, furthering your careers in business, education, religion, whatever you choose. Your future success is worth all of the effort, sacrifices, and years of struggling. No longer can the white man decide the height of the star on which a colored person could hitch his social, economic and educational aspirations. Now you can choose  the height, width and depth of your own stars. The constitution only gives people the right to pursue happiness,  Mary Jane, you have to catch it yourself.

                                                                                        End of Play

Beautiful Agitators

 written by Aallyah Wright, Charles Coleman, Jessica James, Nick Houston and Jennifer Welch

commissioned and produced by StoryWorks, Jennifer Welch, artistic director

Lesson Eight Video: The Voting Rights Act of 1965

Lesson Eight Video: The Voting Rights Act of 1965