Professional Learning

Life Magazine’s Online Archive Produces Teachable Moments

October 28, 2009

This article accompanies the feature " Chronicles the 20th Century."

In spring 2009, and offered our visitors the chance to choose an educational theme for a photo gallery created by the curators of Life's newly released online library. You voted, and now we debut your winning choice: Civil Rights: Teachable Moments.

Here, deputy editor Ben Cosgrove explains how he and his colleagues approached this powerful subject:

Few political movements of any era have had the sort of impact -- personal, societal, and even global -- that the American civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s had. Sparked by a handful of seemingly insignificant moments and events, the drive for civil rights and racial equality in the United States evolved into one of the most transformative, inspiring journeys ever undertaken.

The civil rights era witnessed untold instances of bravery and vision, violence and fear, triumph and tragedy, and, through it all, photographers were there to chronicle the marches, rallies, speeches, riots, vigils, sermons, and funerals. When choosing the images that would make up the Teachable Moments photo gallery, then, it became clear that no one gallery could (nor, perhaps, should) include every single significant event from that astonishing era.

And so, with an eye toward pivotal or notable people and moments, we attempted to bookmark the era, starting with Brown v. Board of Education and ending with the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Some major figures and events from the era are, necessarily, missing. We know that -- but we also hope that Teachable Moments inspires people, young and old, to revisit the civil rights era as a whole, and rediscover a time of truly epic courage and change.

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