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In the Classroom > Picturing America Lessons

Voting and Representation in Democracies

Lesson created by: Crystal Hollister

Grade Level: 7


19-B James Karales, Selma-to-Montgomery March for Voting Rights in 1965, 1965

Selma-to-Montgomery March for Voting Rights

James Karales (1930–2002), Selma-to-Montgomery March for Voting Rights in 1965, 1965. Photographic print. Located in the James Karales Collection, Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library, Duke University. Photograph © Estate of James Karales.


  • Students will understand that the quest for liberty and representation in democracies is a world-wide struggle that has been ongoing since the birth of democracy itself.

Focusing Statement

In this photo, taken by James Karales, we will look for information about democracy in the United States. The title of this photograph is "Selma-to-Montgomery March for Voting rights in 1965." Students should have some prior knowledge about the creation of Roman democracy and representative government.

Background Information for Students:

The Selma-to-Montgomery March for voting rights ended three weeks—and three events—that represented the political and emotional peak of the modern civil rights movement. On "Bloody Sunday," March 7, 1965, some 600 civil rights marchers headed east out of Selma on U.S. Route 80. They got only as far as the Edmund Pettus Bridge six blocks away, where state and local lawmen attacked them with billy clubs and tear gas and drove them back into Selma. Two days later on March 9, Martin Luther King, Jr., led a "symbolic" march to the bridge. Then civil rights leaders sought court protection for a third, full-scale march from Selma to the state capitol in Montgomery. Federal District Court Judge Frank M. Johnson, Jr., weighed the right of mobility against the right to march and ruled in favor of the demonstrators. "The law is clear that the right to petition one's government for the redress of grievances may be exercised in large groups...," said Judge Johnson, "and these rights may be exercised by marching, even along public highways." On Sunday, March 21, about 3,200 marchers set out for Montgomery, walking 12 miles a day and sleeping in fields. By the time they reached the capitol on Thursday, March 25, they were 25,000-strong. Less than five months after the last of the three marches, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965—the best possible redress of grievances. (Taken from: We Shall Overcome: Historic Places of the Civil Rights Movement)

Examining Expressive Content

  • What is the first thing you notice about this photograph?
  • Who is represented in the photo?
  • What are they doing?
  • Is there anything else in the photo?
  • Why do you think the photographer chose to take the picture from this angle? How does the angle affect the message or feeling you get from the photo?
  • Why do you think he chose to use black and white film?
  • What is the message he is trying to convey through this photo? What were the artist's choices in taking this photo? How do those choices affect the message of the photo?

Teaching Plan

  1. Include learning about the historical context in the middle of the discussion of the photo.
  2. After students had a chance to examine the photo and talk about it, ask students:
    • Who do you think was represented in American democracy during this time period?
    • Is there anything that you know about voting rights in the 1960's?
    • What kinds of things were happening in the USA during the 1960's? (Usually, simply mentioning Martin Luther King is enough to jog students' memories about why there was a march and what the political climate of the time was like.)

Putting It All Together

When going back to the photo, ask the following:

  • Does that background information change how you view this photo or the message you get from it?
  • How do you think the photographer was influenced by living in the 1960's?
  • Is there anything about the 1960's, voting rights, or the photographer that would help you to understand this photo better?
  • What does this photo make you wonder about?

Then, to bring the focus back around to Ancient Rome, ask students: how do the voting rights in the 1960's (or lack thereof) compare with the voting rights in the Roman Republic?


Massachusetts History & Social Science Curriculum Framework- gr. 7 Learning Standards

  • 7.38 Describe the government of the Roman Republic and its contribution to the development of democratic principles, including separation of powers, rule of law, representative government and the notion of civic duty. (H, C)

Common Core Standards

English Language Arts Standards » History/Social Studies » Grade 6-8

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.2 Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of the source distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.7 Integrate visual information (e.g., in charts, graphs, photographs, videos, or maps) with other information in print and digital texts.

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