Teaching American History Project Lesson
  Norma Johnson

Author: Norma Johnson

Unit title: Civil Rights

Lesson title: Civil Rights in Reno: The Critical Years, 1957-1965

Subject: U.S. History

Level: 8th grade or higher

Length of Lesson: One 60-75 minute block class period

By the middle of the 1950s many people realized “Happy Days” were not being shared by all Americans. African Americans challenged the restrictions under which they lived in America. As the 1960s unfolded other groups, Hispanics, Native Americans, people with disabilities and a new women’s equality movement, also vigorously sought equal rights under the law.
As the end of the Fifties and the decade of the Sixties unfolded these groups, especially African Americans and later the other groups, boldly proclaimed that the time had come for radical changes. Segregation (Jim Crow Laws) had gone on far too long and things were due to change and would change.
The NAACP had searched for cases it could use to challenge the laws allowing segregation of public education (Plessy vs. Ferguson 1896). The first case it pursued was in Topeka, Kansas. Finally, 1954 the Supreme Court ruled, in Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, that it was unconstitutional to separate school children by race. This was just the beginning of their aggressive campaign for equality.
A new wave of civil rights activity spread across the country as civil rights leaders targeted segregation in the South. The sit-in started in the late Fifties and by 1961 approximately 70,000 African Americans and whites had participated these activities in the South. Protests took many forms during this period and spread from the original targets in the south to other areas of the country. One of those places was Reno, Nevada.

This lesson looks at events that took place in Reno between 1957 and 1965 that reflected what was going on nationally. Many events also paralleled those taking place in the South. The students have already been studying civil rights and have some knowledge before this lesson begins. It should be used to help students understand that the civil rights issue was nation wide and not just in the South and border states.


1. Students will be able to analyze local newspaper articles using the NARA template for information about the time period.
2. Students will be able to compare and contrast a civil rights events in the South and nationally to an event in Reno, NV.


Nevada State Content Standards:

History Content Standard 9.0: The Twentieth Century, a Changing World: 1945 to 1990: Students understand the shift of international relationships and power as well as the significant developments in American culture.
Benchmark 9.8.8: Identify the major issues, events, and people of the modern Civil Rights movement in the United States and Nevada, including: voting rights, integration, Grant Sawyer


In Class Student Activities:
Begin class with an overhead using the June 13, 1960 article from the Nevada State Journal. Let them read the title and ask them to guess where this sit-in might have taken place. Agree with all of their answers. Tell them it could have taken place anywhere. Uncover the first paragraph and ask them if they are surprised by the location of the sit-in. Then tell them where the article came from and when it took place.
Tell them that they are going to analyze several articles in class today to discover more about the civil rights movement in Reno, NV. 

Give each pair of students an article to analyze using the NARA template or one of your own. Watch their progress and when most are finishing up move on to the next part of the lesson.

Have the pairs form small groups and for about 2 minutes share their information.  While they discuss give each group a large piece of paper and a couple of marking pens. Explain to the class that they will now use their information about an event in Reno and compare it to an event that they have read about in the South. If they need to they can use their textbooks or research books, if available. Have them take their large piece of paper and divide it half. Put Reno on the top of one side and the event they will compare it to on the other. Have them list what happened and when for each side of the chart. Since this comes at the end of their unit, they should have the information in mind.

Give them time to complete their chart. Monitor their progress and push them to finish in 15 minutes. Let each group tell about their chart and then ask the class if they can think of any other events that they could use to compare to the Reno event.

After each group has shared their chart have them turn it over and list reasons why their group thinks that Reno, like many other communities, had civil rights activities during this period of time.

End the class by asking if they have heard of any civil rights violations that might go in the community today.

Download Supplemental Lesson Documents
News Article: June 13, 1960
News Article: August 3, 1960
News Article: February 24, 1963
News Article: April 3, 1963
News Article: July 7, 1963
News Article: March 18, 1965


Extended Enrichment Activities:

  • 1. Have students seek out and interview people who lived in Reno during the fifties and sixties. Have them conduct interviews on the civil rights activities they remember.
  • 2. Invite someone, possibly a journalist who lived in Reno during the period, to talk about their experiences. 
  • 3. Invite a panel of people who lived in Reno during this period to discuss what it was like for African Americans in Reno businesses.


Materials List:

  • NARA analyzing print worksheet. (bibliography)
  • Newspaper articles for each pair of students.
  • Large sheet of paper and 2 marking pens for each group.
  • Overhead of the newspaper article from June 13, 1960.


Evaluation /Assessment:

  • Collect the NARA worksheet at the end of class.
  • Each groups comparison presentation paper.
  • Discussions during the lesson.


Template for analyzing the newspaper article:

Newspaper articles:  Nevada Historical Society Archives
Nevada State Journal (June 21, 1957) p. 10 [Reno casino case, ”White Curtain”]
Nevada State Journal (Dec. 30, 1958) 1:1-2 [Equal rights pledge made]
Nevada State Journal (Aug. 3, 1960) [Desegregation of Reno Store]
Nevada State Journal (June 13, 1960)11:8 [Black leaders stage sit-in]
Nevada State Journal (Feb. 24, 1963) 16:4-5 [Local discrimination cases]
Nevada State Journal (April 3, 1963) 1:5-6 [Rights caravan to Carson City]
Nevada State Journal (March 18, 1965) 8:1-2 [‘We shall overcome’ at capitol] & [Laxalt, “Negroes talk”]