Civil Rights Activity 3: Oral History Project

Target Audience for Activity: Grades 5-12


  • Students will learn important dates and events in the Civil Rights struggle in Atlanta and the nation.
  • Students will learn how historical events influenced people's everyday lives.
  • Students will learn to use primary sources for historical research.
  • Students will learn that people make history.


  • Tape recorder with microphone, blank tapes
  • Map of the United States

An oral history is a recorded interview taken for the purpose of gathering first-hand accounts about historical events. Oral history interviews are primary source information. Each interview is usually transcribed into a written version that can be indexed and used easily by researchers.

Research Preparation

Students should use their knowledge about the Civil Rights movement to prepare questions for the interview. Questions should be open-ended and designed to generate longer answers than yes/no. Students should be encouraged to come up with their own questions. For purposes of comparison between all interviews, some suggested standard questions are:

  • Where were you living during the 1960s?
  • What specific events happened in your city/town that had to do with Civil Rights?
  • How did the Civil Rights movement affect your life?
  • How did your learn about the issues involved in the Civil Rights struggle?
  • If you could go back to the 1960s, is there anything you would do differently regarding your actions or attitudes toward the Civil Rights issues?
  • What do you remember about Civil Rights Acts being signed into law?
  • Do you remember hearing about Mayor Ivan Allen's testimony before Congress in support of a Civil Rights Act?
  • Who were the civic leaders in your city/town at the time and what did they do in response to Civil Rights issues?

Oral History Interview

Each student should select a family member, neighbor, or teacher who was actively involved in or remembers the Civil Rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s. If possible, record the interview on audiotape. The interview should last between 15 minutes and one hour.

Presentation of Oral History Interviews

  • Each student should write a report about the interview.
  • Present a summary of each interview to the class.
  • Using a map of the United States or Georgia, locate where the people interviewed were living during the 1950s/1960s.
  • How did people's experiences differ based on location?
  • Invite two or three people who were interviewed to come to the class and share their stories with the class.
  • Write a play or presentation for your school and/or PTA based on the oral history interviews during Black History Month.

For More Information on Oral History Projects

  • Ritchie, Donald A. Doing Oral History: A Practical Guide. New York: Oxford University Press. 2003.
  • Sommer, Barbara W. and Mary Kay Quinlan. The Oral History Manual. New York: AltaMira Press. 2002.
  • What did you do in the war, Grandma? An Oral History of Rhode Island Women during World War II written by students in the Honors English Program at South Kingstown High School.
  • The Whole World Was Watching: an oral history of 1968 is a joint project between South Kingstown High School and Brown University's Scholarly Technology Group.