Teaching the Movement: “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” Now Available with a Curriculum Guide

Teaching the Movement: “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” Now Available with a Curriculum Guide


Vol. 21, No. 3, 1999 pp. 6-7

How many high school history courses fail to get past World War II to cover the Civil Rights Movement? When courses do treat the Civil Rights Movement, how often do they focus on only a few prominent leaders and major events, giving little voice to the ordinary men and women across the South and their daily efforts that made the Movement?

Though a growing body of scholarship on the U.S. Civil Rights Movement has emerged in the past decade, there remains a disturbing absence of materials that make this crucial period of our history accessible to students. Knowledge about this chapter in U.S. history is essential to understanding our diverse society today.

As the title of the lead article by national NAACP Board Chair Julian Bond in SRC’s special issue of Southern Changes featuring “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” reminds us, “Democracy Demands Memory.” In describing the results of a racial attitudes survey by SRC, Bond noted “The more poll respondents knew about our history, and the more results of ending race-specific remedies to discrimination were explained to them, the more likely they were to respond thoughtfully, rather than with bumper-sticker answers.”

During the past seventeen years, the SRC undertook an extraordinary oral history project that evolved into the nationally-broadcast public radio series, “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” This one-of-a-kind audio series and its accompanying curriculum provides students of today with the historical background necessary to promote racial justice. And by combiming the personal stories of so many individuals who go unmentioned in most history books with the popular music that filled the airwaves at the time, the series makes the history accessible and engaging for students.

Background on “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?”

Created out of the desire to record the words of a generation of Southerners who worked to overthrow Jim Crow and extend democracy to all Americans, the audio series documents a local history seldom recorded in textbooks. Through the personal histories of 250 individuals in five Southern communities-Atlanta, Georgia; Columbia, South Carolina; Montgomery, Alabama; Little Rock, Arkansas; and Jackson, Mississippi-the series chronicles the Civil Rights Movement. “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” goes behind the headlines to the emotional events that took place in the living rooms, courtrooms, church basements and streets of these five key cities where the Movement took hold between 1940 and 1970.

The Civil Rights Movement remains one of the most dramatic and important epochs of American history. While ending the cruelty of segregation in the South was its original inspiration, the Movement reshaped our national sense of equality, and planted in the American consciousness a new perception of individual rights that profoundly influenced later societal movements of the poor, women, the physically challenged, and other minorities. Because of this social movement, the meaning of the U.S. Constitution was vastly expanded, and federal laws greatly enlarged individual liberties and protections.

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As a consequence of the Civil Rights Movement, the nation’s political system swelled with millions of new voters, and the American workplace expanded with the talent and productivity of workers with new opportunities.

At the heart of the Civil Rights Movement were literally thousands of men and women who did extraordinary deeds when faced with the personal dilemmas of segregation. In hundreds of local communities throughout the American South-over a period of decades-the Civil Rights Movement was a social phenomenon which drew its strengths and sufferance from the common condition of segregation throughout the region. This common condition created, over the years, a sense of common purpose and, ultimately, common destiny for both black and white citizens.

Interviews with people who participated in the Civil Rights Movement provide the content of the radio series. Hundreds of inspiring stories are connected and enlivened by music from the period, adding vitality and making the series more accessible to people, young and old. Almost every popular musical style of the period is used, including Blues, Rythym and Blues, Rock and Roll, Jazz, Country, Spirituals, Pop, and several “Movement” songs. With rare power-the authentic movement for civil rights-the movement of the unnamed and uncelebrated, comes to life through the voices of those who acted to overthrow segregation and racial inequality.

The Peabody Award-winning series, “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” was first broadcast in 1997 on National Public Radio on more than 250 stations nationwide. Due to the tremendous response from the listening public to that initial broadcast, the series was rebroadcast in 1998.