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Moravian College

Shelby Morgan ‘16

“The Role of Students in the Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi from 1960-1964”

Major/Minor: Historical Studies/Secondary Education
Hometown: Fogelsville, PA
Project Advisers: Dr. Robert Mayer


Briefly describe your project.

My project focuses on the role of students, both K-12 and college aged. The study involved the civil rights movement, specifically in Mississippi between the years 1960 – 1964.  Throughout my research I used a variety of sources including journal articles, documentaries, interviews, and memoirs to gain a perspective on what life was like for these students during the movement.  

Describe the origin of your project.

I approached Dr. Mayer about working with him on a SOAR project about one week before the proposal deadline.  I had heard about the opportunity through a friend and figured Dr. Mayer would be the perfect partner given as he is both my education and history advisor.

When I consulted him about possible topics, he was working on a book regarding the Freedom Struggle in Mississippi. He had mentioned that I could work alongside him to produce a separate yet related project if I felt it was something I would be interested in.  Given that my father is actually from Mississippi and that I had lived there for three years, I was immediately intrigued to the idea.  Additionally,  after I had already chosen to work with Dr. Mayer on the project, I found out that my family had already planned a trip to Mississippi for this summer.  I was ultimately able to gain more localized and first hand experiences with the various topics I had been researching.  

What’s the best part about working with your faculty mentor? What valuable insights have they brought to your project?

The best part about working with Dr. Mayer has been that he is extremely knowledgeable! He has pushed me to further my research to places I would have probably not otherwise considered. He also allowed me to choose my own resources and expand upon ideas I feel are the most interesting .Due to his support, I have also been able to help provide him with resources that would be beneficial to his research.

What has been your biggest obstacle so far?

My biggest obstacle so far has been trying to narrow down such an active portion of the civil rights movement into only a few important themes.  Although the title of my project makes it seem extremely specific, there was a lot of activity during this time, especially in Mississippi where students made up the bulk of the movement.

While every aspect of these students’ work was important, there are specific themes that help draw all of these events together and therefore give the most comprehensive overview.  However being able to sort through the plethora of information I have found to decide which of these themes is the most important has not been easy.  Also by using this research to create a lesson plan, I have had to condense my work down even further while simultaneously finding a way to relate this research to students in a meaningful way, a task which I have found is much more difficult than I had originally anticipated.  

What has been your biggest takeaway from this experience?

My biggest takeaway from this experience has been learning not only about the students in the context of their work in the 1960s, but also seeing how this relates to students today, including myself.  Through my research I have been able to build upon my skills as both an educator and a researcher while also gaining a better understanding of population that is most often overlooked.  In Mississippi students were the heart of the movement.  They did what they believed is right to escape the social constructs of the previous generation and create a future which not only promoted equality but hope for a better future for all human beings.

By being able to explore the movement from these student’s perspectives I have also learned of what we as young people are capable of.  Whether it be donating to a local food bank or curing cancer, I believe students have more power than they realize.  Therefore I have learned that it is my job as future to teacher to empower these students and show them that their values and beliefs are important, a lesson I hope can be learned through the lives of these Mississippi students.  

What was the result of your project? Was it congruent with your hypothesis?

Although I did not exactly have a definitive hypothesis going into this project, I have learned more from this project than I had originally anticipated.  While I knew I was interested in the topic, I found myself relating to what I was learning and interested in analyzing it further.  Also I realized that much of the information I was learning were things I had never heard of prior to this summer, thus prompting the lesson plan idea. I feel that by showing future students the civil rights movement from a perspective they can relate to they will have a better chance of getting something out of it, rather than just being able to memorize multiple choice answers on a test.  Therefore although I knew it was going to be an interesting project, I was definitely able to gain a better understanding and deeper appreciation for a topic I would have probably never fully studied otherwise.  

Do you think you’ll be able to extend on your research after this summer is over? If so, where would you like to see it go?

I do believe I will be able to extend this research after this summer is over because lesson plans are constantly being edited and revised to meet the needs of diverse students.  Therefore, while what I am currently working on is a base lesson plan I will be able to adapt and add to it as I find new research or current events change. I hope that this continuation keeps the lesson relevant and accessible to teachers across the country as well as students from diverse backgrounds both culturally and socioeconomically. Also because the research I am doing is so detailed and in depth I have not yet completed the entirety of the lesson plan and will most likely be finishing it at the beginning of next semester.