Baltimore Youth Movements, 1930s-1960s

Prudence Cumberbatch, Brooklyn College

Course: 20th Century African American History

Syllabus Section: African American Youth Movements

Audience: High School, Undergraduate

Scope: This lesson is designed for two classroom periods.

Classroom period 1: Sections I. & II., and Discussion Questions

Classroom period 1: Section III., and Discussion Questions

Background Information

In teaching the civil rights movement of Baltimore, Maryland it is important to focus on both its uniqueness as a border state and the protracted struggle for what Lillie May Jackson, one of its longest serving and most successful civil rights leaders, described as "first-class citizenship." For her, this included access to the promises of opportunity laid out in America's founding documents, which would require the dismantling of the institutionalized racism that circumscribed the lives of her black constituents. As a border state, Maryland's racial history can be seen as one of paradoxes – not quite as repressive as its Southern counterparts but not offering its black residents the opportunities for economic and educational advancement as residents of the northern states. It was a state that recorded a number of firsts in the national Civil Rights struggle. Maryland possessed one of the largest free black populations of any slave state prior to the Civil War and it ended slavery officially in late 1864, the first border state to do so. While it retained a variety of Jim Crow statutes that included segregated public schools until the 1950s, Maryland was the one of the first southern states to equalize teachers' salaries in the 1930s/40s, the first Southern state to integrate its law school in 1935 and Baltimore was one of the first school systems to adhere to the Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education.

Learning Goals

  1. To familiarize students with the leading figures of Baltimore's Civil Rights history.
  2. To provide students with the context through which they can compare Maryland's struggle for equal rights with other struggles further south.
  3. To understand the role of young people in Baltimore's civil rights movement.
  4. To familiarize students with the dynamics of gender in the emergence of Civil Rights strategies and leadership in Baltimore.

Materials Needed

  • Internet access to AASC and other websites

Instructional Procedures:

The goal of this lesson plan to is to explore two distinct youth movements in Baltimore during the 1930s and the 1950s/1960s that place the city in the vanguard of the civil rights struggle.

Open with discussion of Maryland's unique position as a border state, where blacks some elements of citizenship, including the right to vote, while being denied basic equality of opportunity. As well as how this frames the struggle to erase the less desirable aspects of the state's racial history in both the lives of black residents and the treatment of Maryland and Baltimore in the historical literature. Depending on the needs of your class, the following can be assigned as homework or viewed in class. Students should analyze these resources before answering the discussion questions below.

I. Overview:

  1. AASC Subject Entry: Baltimore: From Frederick Douglass to The Wire


II. Youth Movements in the 1930s:

  1. City-Wide Young People's Forum


  2. AASC Subject Entry: Pennsylvania Avenue
  3. Donald Gaines Murray

The movement of the 1930s, initiated in part by Juanita Jackson Mitchell, marked the emergence of young people as a distinct group of political actors. It was influenced by yet separate from the political activities of their parents and elder supporters which included Lillie May Jackson, Juanita's mother, and influential editor of the Baltimore Afro-American, and Carl J. Murphy. Other young Baltimoreans such as Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Mitchell, Jr., would emerge from these local struggles to become national figures in the civil rights movement.

Fighting for jobs, educational opportunities and against lynching, young people in the 1930s were an important component of several significant campaigns for racial justice.



III. Youth Movement in the 1950s/1960s:

  1. Baltimore CORE


  2. Civic Interest Group and Youth Protest


  3. Gwynn Oak Amusement Park Protest Movement


The movement of the 1950s and 1960s focused on racial injustice on several fronts including education, public accommodations, voting rights and housing. Again, young people were at the forefront in Baltimore's civil rights struggle. In 1955, students from Morgan State University, in conjunction with Baltimore CORE, organized one of the early lunch counter sit-in movements. While not as well known as the Greensboro Sit-in, the campaign produced results and marked the beginnings of a new wave of activism in the city and a new generation of activists including, Clarence Mitchell III, the son of Juanita and Clarence Mitchell, Jr. and Judge Robert Mack Bell.



For students and teachers trying to understand the racial dynamics of Maryland, and more specifically Baltimore, the analysis of its struggle through the lens of young activists opens the door to many questions. Underlying this discussion is Baltimore's relevance to what Jacqueline Dowd Hall has described at the "long Civil Rights Movement." While there are scholars who disagree with this characterization of the struggle for racial justice in the United States, in Baltimore's case, the continuity of a movement lasting from the 1930s through the 1960s shows an endurance of individuals, organizations, and overall goals that support this larger theory.


Discussion Questions:

  1. In what ways did Baltimore's black population have more legal rights than Southern blacks? List the rights and opportunities they enjoyed and were denied and discuss how these differences affected the lives of Black Baltimoreans in comparison to other black southerners.
  2. Discuss the ways that Maryland's civil struggle is framed in the literature of the civil rights movement.
  3. Compare the role of young people in the struggle for freedom in the 1930s and 1950s/1960s.
  4. Discuss the ways that the leaders who emerged during the 1930s drew upon their experiences in the continuing fight for racial justice.
  5. Identify one leader and define the particular role that they played.
  6. How did the strategies used by young people in the 1930s to fight against discrimination differ from the strategies used by youth in the 1950s/60s? Were there common tactics used in both eras?
  7. Why was the movement of the 1950s/60s much more successful than the earlier period of activism?

Further Reading:

Baum, Howell. "Brown" in Baltimore: School Desegregation and the Limits of Liberalism (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2010)

Bynum, Thomas. NAACP Youth and the Fight for Black Freedom, 1936-1965 (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2013)

Elfenbein, Jessica and Elizabeth Nix, eds. Baltimore '68: Riots and Rebirth in an American City (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2011)

Gibson, Larry S. Young Thurgood: The Making of a Supreme Court Justice (Prometheus Books, 2012)

Houston, Charles, H. "Don't Shout Too Soon," The Crisis March 1936, 79, 91

Houston, Charles, H. "A Challenge to Negro College Youth," The Crisis January 1938, 14-15.


Miller, Eben. Born Along the Color Line: The 1933 Amenia Conference and the Rise of a National Civil Rights Movement (Cambridge: Oxford University Press, 2012)


Pietella, Antero. Not in My Neighborhood: How Bigotry Shaped a Great American City (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2010)

Skotnes, Andor. A New Deal for All?: Race and Class Struggles in Depression-Era Baltimore (Durham: Duke University Press, 2012)

Sartain, Lee. Borders of Equality: The NAACP and the Baltimore Civil Rights Struggle, 1914-1970 (University of Mississippi Press, 2013)

Smith, C. Fraser. Here Lies Jim Crow: Civil Rights in Maryland (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008)


Other Resources:

"A Thorny Path: School Desegregation in Baltimore,", Underbelly, The Maryland Historical Society Blog, May 15, 2014


All the Kings Horses: The Story of Gwynn Oak Amusement Park


"'Are We Satisfied?' The Baltimore Plan for School Desegregation,", Underbelly, The Maryland Historical Society Blog, September 25, 2014


Birth of the Civil Rights Movement in Maryland, C-Span, February 23, 2012


Color At the Bar, Maryland Public Television


Do, Trang. Baltimore Civil Rights Icon Dr. Helena Hicks Recalls Momentous Sit-in 60 Years Later


Helena Hicks (interview) Maryland's Civil Rights Movement Seen and Heard WYPR July 2, 2012