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Based on true events, My Lord What a Night imagines the friendship between Marian Anderson and Albert Einstein. It explores the unique moments where their lives may have intersected and how they could have affected one another. Although few details of their friendship are known, there is a lot known about their lives. Both came from humble beginnings, worked hard to develop their natural talents and faced racially motivated adversity.

This lesson looks at how their identities informed their civic engagement. Students will examine the lives of historical figures to better understand what leads people to major accomplishments or difficult decisions. This lesson culminates with students presenting what they’ve learned.

*Prior to this lesson students should have an understanding of how our government works and the various roles citizens fulfill in society.

Grade 6-8 

  • D2.Civ.1.6-8. Distinguish the powers and responsibilities of citizens, political parties, interest groups and the media in a variety of governmental and nongovernmental contexts.
  • D2.Civ.2.6-8. Explain specific roles played by citizens (such as voters, jurors, taxpayers, members of the armed forces, petitioners, protesters and office-holders).
  • D2.Civ.10.6-8. Explain the relevance of personal interests and perspectives, civic virtues and democratic principles when people address issues and problems in government and civil society.

Grades 9-12

  • D2.Civ.2.9-12. Analyze the role of citizens in the U.S. political system, with attention to various theories of democracy, changes in Americans’ participation over time and alternative models from other countries, past and present.
  • D2.Civ.5.9-12. Evaluate citizens’ and institutions’ effectiveness in addressing social and political problems at the local, state, tribal, national and/or international level.
  • D2.Civ.6.6-8. Describe the roles of political, civil and economic organizations in shaping people’s lives.

Class One

Activity One (20 minutes)

  • On a sheet of paper or in a journal, have students answer, “What does civic responsibility mean to you?”
  • Students will share their responses with one person and post them around the room.
  • Students will walk around the room and respond to or ask questions about other people’s definitions of civic responsibility.
  • Students will get their papers, consider how others thought and adjust their response based on those thoughts and questions.
  • In a large group discussion, students will share their new definition and consider how their thinking changed through the process.

Is there a connection between your identity and your civic responsibility?

Activity Two (30 minutes)

Marian Anderson and Albert Einstein stand as giants in history. They both made it to the top of their respective fields and used their platforms to affect change in the world. Marian Anderson’s Lincoln Memorial concert challenged the racially biased standard of segregation. Albert Einstein spoke out against Anti-Semitism and American racism regularly. In this activity, students will read biographies to understand who Marian Anderson and Albert Einstein were and to what life events led them to take their individual stands.

Read through biographies
Discuss the stands they took against racial discrimination.
  • What caused them to take a stand?

  • Who was involved in their stand? How did the people around them shape their stand?

  • What was the impact of their stand?

  • How did their lives prepare them to make an impact?

  • Marian Anderson was reluctant to respond to the discrimination she faced, while Albert Einstein addressed inequities head on. How did their personalities affect their protests?

  • What citizen roles were Marian Anderson and Albert Einstein fulfilling?

  • How did their personal interests and careers affect their response to the inequities they faced?

  • What were Marian Anderson’s and Albert Einstein’s responsibilities towards addressing these inequities as public figures? Do you think their tactics would be different if they weren’t in the public eye? Why or why not?

As a group, use the biographies of Anderson and Einstein to identify five to 10 moments in Meach person's life that led to their protests.

High School Extension (Extra 15 minutes)

To deepen the learning and understanding of the complexity of these ideas, high school students should employ the ProjectZero Parts, People and Interactions thinking routine to examine these events from a systemic level. Focusing on either Marian Anderson’s Lincoln Memorial concert or Albert Einstein’s decision to join the NAACP and speak out against American racism.
Parts, People and Interactions Thinking Routine (PDF)

  • What are the parts of the system?
  • Who are the people connected to the system?
  • How do the people in the system interact with each other and with the parts of the system?
  • How does a change in one element of the system affect the various parts and people connected to the system?
  • What are the parts of the system?
  • Who are the people connected to the system?
  • How do the people in the system interact with each other and with the parts of the system?
  • How does a change in one element of the system affect the various parts and people connected to the system?

Additional Resources for this section

Evening star. [volume], March 18, 1939, Page A-18, Image 18
Superintendent of D.C. Schools Frank Ballou denies Howard University’s request to use the Central High School (today's Cardozo High School) auditorium for a concert featuring Marian Anderson. Also mentioned is Charles H. Houston (Houston Elementary School) who was a former Board of Education member and is, at this time, the chairman of the Marian Anderson Citizens Committee. He was the first general counsel of the NAACP and Dean of Howard University Law School.

Evening star. [volume], March 24, 1939, Page B-2, Image 22
The Marian Anderson Citizens’ Committee calls a meeting to protest the Board of Education’s decision to not allow the concert at Central to set precedent for integrating public school facilities during non-school hours. More than 70 organizations are included in the meeting. Charles Houston and Mary McLeod Bethune are speakers. McLeod Bethune is Director of Negro Affairs for the National Youth Administration.

https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2007/04/albert-einstein-civil-rights-activist/

https://www.brainpickings.org/2015/01/06/albert-einstein-w-e-b-du-bois-racism/

Class Two

Activity Three (50 minutes)

Students will create a life map for a historical figure or someone they admire who has had a significant achievement or faced a difficult choice. The life map should highlight significant events in that person’s life that shaped their work and major accomplishments. Students should arrange the information either digitally or physically to present on the person’s life and explain how it led to their significant achievement or difficult choice.

  • What was a major accomplishment from this person’s life?
  • What helped them accomplish this?
  • Who helped them accomplish it?
  • Where does your historical figure fit into society? (Office holder, voter, protestor, juror, etc.)
  • How did their personal interests and careers affect their response to the inequities they faced?
  • How did their actions impact the world or others around them?

Use the “Historical Figure Research” graphic organizer to identify five to 10 events from their life that led them towards their major accomplishment or difficult decision.

High School Extension

Students should use the Parts, People and Interactions Routine to investigate the system that created the issue their historical figure faced. This investigation should be worked into their historical figure presentations.

  • What are the parts of the system?
  • Who are the people connected to the system?
  • How do the people in the system interact with each other and with the parts of the system?
  • How does a change in one element of the system affect the various parts and people connected to the system?

Class Three

Activity Four (60 minutes)
Presentations (50 minutes)

Students present the life map for their historical figure. Students should explain the person’s journey and what led to their significant achievement or difficult choice. They should also be able to explain their civic role and its impact. Allow time for students to ask questions and share observations after each presentation

Closing Reflection (5-10 minutes)

Consider your life, your abilities, passions and unique life circumstances. How do you see that intersecting with your civic responsibility? What hard decision or significant stand might you take in the future?

Assessments
  • Discussion Participation
  • Completion of Graphic Organizer
  • Presentation