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Civil Rights Movement Poems: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Nora Jarvis

Nora has a Master's degree in teaching, and has taught a variety of elementary grades.

The Civil Rights Movement was an important time in history when people were protesting the unfair treatment of black Americans. Learn about the different poets, like Langston Hughes, Robert Hayden, and Gwendolyn Brooks, that wrote poetry during the Civil Rights Movement.

Civil Rights Movement

From the late 1800s to the mid 1950s, the United States had laws, called Jim Crow laws, which segregated, or kept black people and white people apart. These laws said that black kids and white kids couldn't go to school together, black people couldn't eat in certain restaurants, and black people couldn't use the same bathrooms as white people.

In the 1950s and 1960s, people who knew this wasn't fair began to demand that black people have the same rights as white people. To do this, they boycotted businesses and marched in the streets. This was called the Civil Right Movement. Another way that some people protested was through poetry.

March on Washington:1963
At the March on Washington, people protested the unfair treatment of black people

Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes wrote poems about what it was like for black people that moved from the South to the North. The South was a very violent place, but when black people moved north, they still faced problems. Hughes wrote a poem called 'Ballad of the Landlord,' which told the story of a landlord who refuses to make repairs on an apartment that a black man rents. When the black man asks to have the repairs made, the landlord's response is threatening, to which his tenant responds:

'What? You gonna get eviction orders?

You gonna cut off my heat?

You gonna take my furniture and

Throw it in the street?'

When the black man tries to get help from the police, the police take the landlord's side. The black man, not the landlord, goes to jail.

Robert Hayden

Robert Hayden was also an important poet during the Civil Rights Movement. His most famous poem was called 'Middle Passage', in which he described Africans being put on ships and moved across the world to be slaves in America. Hayden makes connections between slavery and how black people were treated during the time of Jim Crow laws. 'Middle Passage' is a powerful poem that shows how slavery has affected black peoples' lives for generations.

The poem depicts the horrible conditions that Africans endured as they were shipped across the ocean. When they arrive in America, their lives are no better. For generations they live as slaves, and then even as slavery ends, black people in America do not have equal rights. The poem ends with this powerful line that speaks to the hard lives of slaves and their descendants:

'Voyage through death

to life upon these shores.'

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