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Unit One: Timelines Using Primary Sources

Using timelines helps your students place history in the right “spot.”  A timeline activity is the perfect tool to help your students make sense of desegregation and court-ordered busing in Boston, Massachusetts, and finding the similarities and differences in that story and the stories of other cities. Integrating Boston’s public school was not an unusual situation. After Brown V. Board of Education, the Supreme Court ruled separate but equal schools unconstitutional and called for states to integrate their schools so that classrooms were racially equal. However, the actions of court-ordered busing and the response of the local students, teachers, and parents made Boston unique, even though other parts of the country struggled with similar situations.

Have your students investigate these events by creating a timeline, and placing Boston’s busing crisis in the larger context of the Civil Rights Movement. Students will be responsible for exploring primary documents related to desegregation and busing, and placing large events in chronological order. This activity can be adjusted to be a one-day activity or to be a week/unit long activity.

Classroom Activities 

Classic Timeline:

1. To start, use a long roll of paper to construct a timeline of the Civil Rights movement.

a. Students can begin making this timeline as you hit key elements in the unit, or you can have students create this timeline as a review of the unit.

b. These timeline moments can simply be the year and title of event, or they can also provide a description of the event as well.

2. These timeline events should be written in bold black lettering straight onto the paper.

3. Once students have learned about the Civil Rights movement, introduce them to how Boston’s desegregation plan fits into the decision made by Brown Vs. Board of Education.

4. Have students interact with sources to learn about large events that happened in Boston, and create their event pieces.

a. Students should be placed in groups to explore documents to increase conversation about these events and expand their own critical thinking skills.

b. Once they have a key event they would like to add to the timeline, they should create an event piece that includes the date, an event title, and a description of the “big picture” of this event. (Depending on size of class and size of timeline, each group will create between 4-6 event pieces.)

c. These event pieces can be typed and placed on a colored background, or added straight to the timeline in another color marker. (If using this to compare and contract Boston and Little Rock have students type up their event pieces and choose a colored background.)

5. Have students add event pieces to the timeline, and then have a group discussion about the timeline using the discussion questions.

If you are using this unit to teach about Boston in relation to Little Rock:

6. Have students repeat steps 4 and 5 creating event pieces that focus on the events that happened in Little Rock.

a. These event pieces should have their own color that is separate from Boston’s event pieces.

7. Have students add event pieces to the timeline, and then have a group discussion about the timeline using the discussion questions.

a. Once the events are placed on the main timeline students can see if those time period match up. When did Little Rock first integrate? Were the first days the same? When was legislation passed for both cities?

Timeline Booklet:

When researching a topic in history, it is often easier to think of the event as a narrative. Allow your students to use these sources to create a chronological narrative of what desegregation and court-ordered busing looked like in Boston. They should be creating their timeline to resemble a popup book. Each major event should fit into their narrative, as one of 20 spots.

1. Have students review documents and write down notes/draft a timeline of events, people, and places to use in their final popup book.

2. Have students determine what they consider to be the top 20 moments of their timeline/narrative.

3. Have them narrow down the information they have on each moment to one sentence. They should now have a 20 sentence story that is historically accurate and created from those primary sources.

4. Once they have their sentences done, they should be clearly written on the 20 smaller pieces of paper.

5. They should illustrate their sentence moment and then arrange them in the correct order within their folder.

6. Decorate the “cover page” of their story.

Lesson adapted from:

Stepping into History Timeline:

Looking at the “steps” that led to desegregation and court-ordered busing, have students use the documents to trace which events caused the busing crisis in Boston. Students should understand what factors contributed to the busing crisis, and how those events affected Boston schools.

1. To start, have students read about the Civil Rights movement and go through the primary sources to learn about desegregation and court-ordered busing in Boston. Let them start making connections between big events nationally and how they affected the city (i.e: Brown vs. Board meant Boston had to take a look at their schools).

2. Have the students trace and cut out their feet to make the footsteps. National events can be one color or one size, and Boston events can be another.

3. Write the bigger national events out chronologically, and then trace the local events that transpired as a result.

4. On each “step,” have the students write the date, the event, and five facts about the event. They can work in pairs, groups, or alone to explain these events.

5. Once they have the events written, have them arrange them chronologically, using both the national and local events.

6. Have them tape the events down on the floor, or glue them to a roll of paper, and then have a discussion about cause and effect and the ways events influence one another.

Lesson adapted from:

Discussion Questions

  • What do you consider to be the major moments of desegregation in Boston?
  • How do these documents help to create a narrative about desegregation and court-ordered busing in Boston?
  • How else might we account for major events? Do you need more documents to tell the whole story? Where would you begin looking for them?
  • Are there major comparisons and contradictions between Boston and Little Rock? Based on the documents, do you think Little Rock influenced the decisions in Boston?
  • How do the events that happened in Boston connect to the overall Civil Rights Movement?

Primary Source Set

Notice sent to Mayor John F. Collins: 0244001-103-004-001

Departmental Communication to Mayor Kevin H. White’s Office: 0245001-020-073-006

An Analysis of Students by Race by Grade: 0245001-020-075-001

An Act Providing for the Elimination of Racial Imbalance in the Public Schools: 0405004-001-005-002

Letter to Mayor Kevin White: 0245001-002-024-006

Because it is right – Educationally: 0405004-001-004-001

Departmental Communication to Mayor Kevin H. White’s Office: 0245001-020-071-004

Letter to Mayor Kevin White: 0245001-003-003-008

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