Civil Rights Movement and the Black Panthers

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The Basics


Subject Area and/or Course Title:

US History


Targeted Grade Level:

11th grade


Time Required:

4 50-minute class periods


Related Standards:

 N/A (for independent school)



Jared Levy


The Lesson


Introductory Narrative to Lesson:

During the 2014-2015 school year, students read, heard, and watched global reactions to events such as the protests in Ferguson, the recorded death of Eric Garner, and the frustrations surrounding police violence against African Americans. Rather than allow media “hot takes” to frame the discussion, social studies classrooms ought to be the place to provide context for these historically dense tragedies and this lesson is an extension of that belief.

The focal point of the lesson is unpacking D'Angelo's song, "The Charade," a modern-day masterpiece with the poignant lyric, “All we wanted was a chance to talk/’Stead we only got outlined in chalk.” The timing of the album’s release, its title, and many other aspects of Black Messiah make it a vital piece of art to look at both within the scope of current events and within an investigation African American Civil Rights history. D'Angelo also sings, “Feet have bled a million miles we've walked.” That walk began with the first slave rebellions and continues into the present day.

This lesson is intentionally focused on the educator coming to their students’ music tastes. It is also responsive to students’ inclination to be concerned with current events. As it is important for teachers to model academic behavior for students, at the end of this lesson, students too learn the history of the African American Civil Rights Movement and apply it to commentary on contemporary events that illustrate the relevance of such a perspective.


Instructional Goals or Objectives:

Connect historical aspects of the African American Civil Rights Movement—such as the influence of religion, the use of nonviolence, and the legacy of Black Power—with contemporary examples of the continued struggle.


Procedures/Lesson Activities:

Song used in this lesson:

  • “The Charade” by D’Angelo
  • “Go Down Moses” performed by The Ambassadors Chorale and Ensemble
  • “Mississippi Goddam” by Nina Simone
  • “Alright” by Kendrick Lamar

Lesson Activities

Day 1:

  • Play D’Angelo’s performance of “The Charade” on SNL (5 minutes)
  • Ask the students, “What historically loaded symbols or dress do you see?”
  • List their answers on the white board (5 – 10 minutes)
  • Handout the lyrics to “The Charade”
  • Listen to “The Charade” again (5 minutes)
  • Ask the students, “What do you hear?”
  • List their answers on the white board (5 – 10 minutes)
  • Transition by saying that what strikes me is the line “a million miles we walk”
  • Ask the students, “When did the Civil Rights Movement begin?” (5 - 10 minutes)
  • Introduce a reading on the beginning of the Civil Rights movement
  • Give time to read in class (10 - 15 minutes)
  • Have students write, chart, or do a short “exit ticket” or “3-2-1” response to state connections, questions, or take-aways (5 – 15 minutes)

Day 2:


  • Project the album cover of Black Messiah on the board
  • Ask the students, “What do you see in this image?”
  • Discuss the image, assuming that they will mention raised fists, but steer the conversation to it being “symbolic of praise in church,” as mentioned in the New York Times article, “Black Messiah Was Released in Response to Protests” (5 minutes)
  • Project the New York Times article on the board, summarize key points, and discuss D’Angelo’s background in the church (5 minutes)
  • Introduce the history of spirituals (5 minutes)
  • Play “Go Down Moses” by The Ambassadors Chorale and Ensemble in VAT Unit 3 (5 minutes)
  • Project Josephine Wright’s passage on the song and read aloud (5 – 10 minutes)
  • Pass out William Brown’s account of hearing “Go Down Moses” and summarize (5 minutes)
  • Project the version of “Go down, Lincoln” … and discuss, “What is being done there?” (5 – 10 minutes)
  • Talk about parody and contrafactum (5 minutes)
  • Homework: Identify a parody song. Write a paragraph on why the parody is effective/ funny/ etc.

Day 3:

  • Share homework (5 minutes)
  • Go to the “Go Down Moses” Wikipedia page and look at “Music”
  • Lead the students in a brief discussion about covers, versions, and homage (5 minutes)
  • Play Louis Armstrong’s version of “Go Down Moses” (5 minutes)
  • Ask the students, “What is different about this version? Why play this song in 1958?” (5 minutes)
  • Introduction on the African American Civil Rights Movement from 1954 to 1968 (10 minutes)
  • Play “Mississippi Goddam” (5 minutes)
  • Use the “Story Behind the Song” strategy (15 minutes)
  • Homework: Pick a contemporary song (written in the last ten years) that addresses civil rights (I will create a Spotify playlist, but if they want to pick their own song, they can meet with me in order to do so) and use the song analysis sheet that Marianna provided in Week 5

Day 4:

  • Project the album cover of Black Messiah on the board again
  • Ask the students, “What does Black Messiah mean?”
  • Have a discussion about the meaning of Black Messiah, knowing that they will bring up the biblical allusion, and incorporate the analysis about its historical relationship to Isaac Hayes’ Black Moses (1971), but segue into COINTELPRO (5 – 10 minutes)
  • Show the COINTELPRO document and discuss (5 – 10 minutes)
  • Have the students read the New York Times article with D’Angelo and Bobby Seale (10 minutes)
  • Discuss the article (5 minutes)
  • Introduce the assessment, which will be an essay comparing and contrasting the song they chose with a historical song from the African American Civil Rights Movement (5 minutes)
  • Ask the students, “Do you have questions about the assessment?” (5 minutes)
  • Let the students out 5 minutes early


Assessment and Evaluation:

An essay comparing and contrasting a contemporary Civil Rights song with a historical song from the African American Civil Rights Movement



Works Cited

Brown, William Wells. The Negro in the American Rebellion, His Heroism and His Fidelity. Boston: Lee & Shepard, 1867. Print.

Coscarelli, Joe. "D’Angelo’s ‘Black Messiah’ Was Released in Response to Protests." The New York Times. The New York Times, 16 Dec. 2014. Web. 29 July 2015.

"D'Angelo, The Vanguard - The Charade (Live on SNL)." YouTube. YouTube, 1 Feb. 2015. Web. 28 July 2015.

D'Angelo, and Kendra Foster. "The Charade Lyrics." Genius. N.p., 15 Dec. 2015. Web.

Dombal, Ryan. "?uestlove Talks Michele Bachmann Fiasco, New D'Angelo Album." Pitchfork. N.p., 1 Dec. 2011. Web. 27 July 2015.

Frere-Jones, Sasha. "D'Angelo Reborn." The New Yorker. N.p., 12 Jan. 2015. Web. 27 July 2015.

"Go Down Moses." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 29 July 2015.

Gordon, Jeremy. "Kendrick Lamar's "Alright" Chanted by Protesters During Cleveland Police Altercation." Pitchfork. N.p., 29 July 2015. Web. 29 July 2015.

Hamilton, Jack. "D’Angelo’s Black Messiah Is Everything It Promised to Be, and More." Slate. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 July 2015. Web.

Hiatt, Brian. "The Second Coming of D'Angelo." Rolling Stone. N.p., 14 June 2015. Web. 27 July 2015.

Hoover, J. Edgar. "COINTELPRO Long-Range Goals and Prevention of a Black "Messiah"" Genius. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 July 2015.

Hughes, Hilary. "D'Angelo Stuns SNL With a Powerful 'Charade'" Village Voice. N.p., 01 Feb. 2015. Web. 27 July 2015.

Hyman, Dan. "D'Angelo and Bobby Seale on the Past and Future of Political Protest." The New York Times. The New York Times, 20 June 2015. Web. 27 July 2015.

Kane, Ben. n.d. Tweets [@kanevibrations]. Retrieved July 27, 2015, from

Kenrick, Tom. "Groove Of The Week #5 – D’Angelo ‘The Charade’." Web log post. Tom Kenrick – Bass Player: Free Bass Transcriptions. N.p., 4 Feb. 2015. Web.

"Louis Armstrong - Go Down Moses (Lyrics)." YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. 29 July 2015.

"Nina Simone - Mississippi Goddam." YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. 29 July 2015.

Shetty, Sharan. "D’Angelo Saves SNL With Brilliant Performances of “Really Love” and “The Charade”." Slate. N.p., 2 Jan. 2015. Web.

Townes, Carimah. "Questlove Asked Artists To Get Political. D’Angelo Just Responded." ThinkProgress. N.p., 15 Dec. 2014. Web. 27 July 2015.

Wright, Josephine. "Songs of Remembrance." The Journal of African American History 91.4, P. Sterling Stuckey: In Praise of an Intellectual Legacy (2006): 413-24. JSTOR. Web. 29 July 2015.



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