"Is this America?"

On August 22, 1964, Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer of Ruleville, Mississippi spoke to the Democratic National Convention and to a national television audience. As millions watched her speech on television, President Lyndon Johnson, who did not want political controversy to interrupt his march to his party's nomination for the presidency, called a press conference to cut off her television coverage. But stations replayed her speech later that night, and her words captured the attention of people around the country.

Hamer's words were an impassioned plea for justice for African Americans and a call for all the people of the United States to consider what kind of country they lived in.

“Is this America, the land of the free and the home of the brave, where we have to sleep with our telephones off the hooks because our lives be threatened daily, because we want to live as decent human beings, in America?” 

—Fannie Lou Hamer, August 22, 1964

Hamer was one of many civil rights activists who chose to "get in the way," as Representative John Lewis says in the video.

The civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s transformed the United States, wrenching it away from the Jim Crow era and challenging the systemic racism that denied African Americans their Constitutional rights. And while national figures like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks are celebrated for their important roles, the foundation of the civil rights movement was the local activism and organizing that took place in communities throughout the country. A new curriculum from the Choices Program, Freedom Now: The Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi focuses on the local activism of the civil rights movement in Mississippi. Mississippi symbolized both the vicious, systemic racism that existed throughout the South, and the powerful black movement that developed in response. The civil rights movement that emerged in small towns throughout Mississippi rarely made national headlines, but thousands of black Mississippians put their lives on the line everyday in pursuit of a better life. 

For more than twenty years, the Watson Institute's Choices Program has brought controversial issues to high school classrooms. The program's first publication was about future of the U.S.-Soviet relationship. With the help of scholars and practioners at Brown and Watson, the program began by focusing primarily on interational issues that were current and contentious. Over the years, the program expanded to include to include coverage of historical events that had an international dimension. Much of the work makes new and innovative scholarship from Brown accessible to high school teachers for use in their classrooms. With the exception of John Lewis, who spoke at last year's commencement, all of the people in the video teach at Brown.