National Writing Project

Our Grandparents' Civil Rights Era

Publication: Rethinking Schools
Date: Summer 2013

Summary: Willow McCormick of the Oregon Writing Project illustrates how writing and reading letters can be used as an entry point to talk with students about institutionalized racism and the Civil Rights Movement. In tackling these difficult conversations, McCormick offers insightful guidance for introducing young students to the concept of social justice through primary source documents.


It was sobering to pin these letters on the bulletin board and connect the thread to our state. They brought the history home, and it felt uncomfortably close in time and place. When I asked the students what they heard in the letters and how they connected to the rest of our study, the general feeling was that 1969 wasn't that long ago, and Grants Pass wasn't that far away. Although it was difficult to face that closeness, ultimately it was these letters that surfaced the true intention of our study: The fight for civil rights isn't fixed in the past or deep in the South. It's an ongoing struggle that still reverberates in every part of our society. There is much work to be done, and having an understanding of the problem is the best start to solving it."

About the Author

WILLOW MCCORMICK is a second grade teacher in West Linn, Oregon and a teacher-consultant with the Oregon Writing Project.

This article was originally published at Rethinking Schools. Subscribe to the magazine and save 25% when you use the discount code NWP17C at checkout.

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