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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.

Background Material for Teacher

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.


Plans in this Unit

Henry Patterson and Integrating Levittown

From Boycott to Black Power

Civil Rights Meeting Flyers

Grade Level

High School

Standards/Eligible Content







PA Core Standards





This publication has been financed in part with Federal funds from the National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior. However, the contents and opinions do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Department of the Interior. This program receives Federal financial assistance for identification and protection of historic properties. Under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the Age Discrimination Act of 1975, as amended, the U.S. Department of the Interior prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, disability or age in its federally assisted programs. If you believe you have been discriminated against in any program, activity, or facility as described above, or if you desire further information, please write to: Office of Equal Opportunity, National Park Service, 1849 C Street, N.W., Washington, DC 20240.

About the Author

This lesson was created by Amy Jane Cohen.  Updated for SAS by Casey Wernick and Amy Seeberger, Education Interns, of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.



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