Civil Rights in Pennsylvania

Home Education Unit Plans Civil Rights in Pennsylvania

Civil Rights in Pennsylvania

Throughout the twentieth century, blacks in Pennsylvania employed numerous strategies to achieve the civil rights they deserved. Their efforts for to receive their rights began with a strategy of New Deal liberalism in the 1940s and 50s headed by prominent black leaders. When attempts to rewrite the laws using the esablished political system failed, black leaders encouraged more direct action, like boycotts and sit-ins. The movement quickly took on a black nationalist approach. Philadelphia became the perfect place for several Black Power conferences and home of the short-lived, though active, Black Panther Party. This unit leads students through these phases in the fight for civil rights in Pennsylvania using primary sources from two collections at HSP. 


20th century
African American
Civil Rights

Big Ideas

Pennsylvania History

Essential Questions

How can the story of another Pennsylvanian, past or present, influence your life?
How has social disagreement and collaboration been beneficial to Pennsylvania society?


  • Textual evidence, material artifacts, the built environment, and historic sites are central to understanding the history of Pennsylvania.
  • Conflict and cooperation among social groups, organizations, and nation-states are critical to comprehending society in the Pennsylvania. Domestic instability, ethnic and racial relations, labor relation, immigration, and wars and revolutions are examples of social disagreement and collaboration.


  • Analyze a primary source for accuracy and bias and connect it to a time and place in Pennsylvania.
  • Summarize how conflict and compromise in Pennsylvania history impact contemporary society.

End of Unit Assessment

Each of the lessons focused on a different form of organizing for political action:  letter-writing, boycotting, and organizing meetings.  Have students each write a persuasive essay indicating which  form of action they think holds the promise of the most success in trying to change societal attitudes and public policy. Students should be asked to identify particular passages in the primary sources to back up their assertions. Evaluate their writing not only using a rubric for persuasive essays but also by how they analyze and use the information found in the primary sources in this unit.