Lesson Plan: African American Women in Arts and Literature

The Five Women

St. Joseph’s University professor Katherine Sibley provides a brief overview of the five women she will discuss in her lecture.


This lesson plan about five African American women in arts and literature during the Civil Rights era opens with reflective questions that ask students to consider their prior knowledge of famous American women. Students then watch, analyze, and respond to an introductory video that provides an overview of St. Joseph’s University professor Katherine Sibley's lecture about Pauli Murray, Nina Simone, Anne Moody, Billie Holiday, and Lorraine Hansberry. After completing a vocabulary activity and viewing a background video about the causes that the five women engaged with, students complete a choice board exploration activity where they study two of the five featured women. Students then prepare a presentation of their findings, comparing the work and impact of the two women. The lesson concludes with a reflective video clip and summative writing prompt.


  • SET UP

    This lesson offers several options for you to use with your students whether you are teaching in class, using a hybrid model, or engaging through distance learning. It can be completed in steps as a class or students can move at their own pace and complete the activities independently.

    You can post links to the videos in the lesson along with the related handouts and engage in discussion to share responses on a discussion board or learning management system.

    You can also save and share the following Google resources for students to use with this lesson.

    Handout: Graphic Organizer (Google Docs).

    Handout: Choice Board (Google Slides).

    In Google, choose "File" then "Make a Copy" to get your own copy. You can make any needed adjustments in the instructions such as which activities students need to complete, when it is due, etc. and then make it available to them via Google.


    Pose the following brainstorming questions to your students, directing them to record their responses in their graphic organizer, share with a partner, and then with the class if they choose:

    • Make a list of five famous American women that you’ve heard about or studied before.
    • Compare their contributions to American society.

    Play this introductory video clip [Clip #1] (1:31), in which St. Joseph’s University professor Katherine Sibley provides a brief overview of the five women she will discuss in her lecture. Direct your students to answer each of the following questions in their graphic organizers.

    • What did the five featured women use to “create a better future for black people” in the United States?
    • Why did Katherine Sibley choose to feature the five women?
    • Based on the clip, what commonalities are found among the women?

    Direct your students to their graphic organizers to view the vocabulary terms that will appear in the lesson in the chart in their graphic organizer handout. The vocabulary words are also listed to the right on this webpage. We recommend having your students define and present the terms in a jigsaw activity to save time.

    Depending on time and resources, you may consider having your students define and present the terms in a Frayer's Model activity, where each student takes one or two words. Students can then post their models around the room for reference throughout the lesson. Note: this is not an all-encompassing list of terms included in each video. We recommend you previewing the video clips to determine any necessary additions/subtractions to this list for your specific students.


    Have your students view this background video clip [Clip #2] (1:16), in which St. Joseph’s University professor Katherine Sibley discusses the causes that the women featured in her lecture engaged with. Direct your students to answer each of the following questions in their graphic organizers.

    • Based on the clip, who were impacted by the “causes [the] group embraced?”
    • In what “areas” did the five women engage?
    • According to Katherine Sibley, what must be “disentangled?”

    Next, provide your students access to the choice board (Google Slides).

    Have your students choose (or assign) choose either Pauli Murray, Nina Simone, or Anne Moody AND either Billie Holiday or Lorraine Hansberry to study. Direct your students to view the video clips for their selections, taking notes and answering each question in the choice board.

  • Pauli Murray [Clip #3] (13:08).

    • For what two reasons did Pauli Murray play “a major role,” and what two causes did she “promote?”
    • Who did Murray meet in 1933? Describe their relationship, according to Katherine Sibley.
    • What was Murray “well aware of” and what did she “represent?”
    • Describe the successes and challenges that Murray faced as she tried to “further her activism.”
    • Which of Murray’s works was considered “The Bible” by Thurgood Marshall?
    • Read Murray’s poem Hope is a Song in a Weary Throat (Civil Rights/Carolinas) and compare your findings with the students featured in the video clip.
    • Summarize the impact of Murray’s efforts during the 1960s.
  • Billie Holiday [Clip #4] (2:14).

    • What “horrific spectacle” occurred in the 1930s?
    • How did Abel Meeropol react to the event?
    • According to Katherine Sibley, what was Billie Holiday’s “best selling” recording?
    • Summarize what you hear in the excerpt of Strange Fruit.
    • Access this website (The Kennedy Center). Listen to the entire recording of Strange Fruit. How does it make you feel?
    • Why was Holiday’s “promise” cut short?
    • BONUS: Whose children did Abel Meeropol adopt?
  • Lorraine Hansberry [Clip #5] (2:45).

    • According to Katherine Sibley, what was notable about A Raisin in the Sun?
    • What was the play “based on?”
    • Based on the clip, what two things does the play “concern?”
    • Where did Lorraine Hansberry’s activism “first emerge?”
    • Read Hansberry’s poem Lynchsong (Prison Culture). Compare your findings with those of the students in the video clip.
    • Why did Hansberry’s work “elicit” the interest of the FBI?
    • Who did Hansberry “inspire” toward the end of her life?
  • Nina Simone [Clip #6] (7:13).

    • Which talents of Nina Simone were “soon apparent” after being born?
    • With what song did Simone “find success?” Why was she “conflicted?”
    • Which two events “horrified” Simone, and how did she respond?
    • From what source did Simone base the song Mississippi Goddam? What theme was “pilloried” in the song?
    • Summarize the lyrics of Mississippi Goddam (Genius). What do you hear in the song excerpt played in the clip?
    • Compare Simone’s later efforts, including her song Four Women (Genius).
    • Why did Simone “give up on activism?”
  • Anne Moody [Clip #7] (8:08).

    • What did Anne Moody write in 1968? Describe this “memoir.”
    • According to Katherine Sibley, what was Moody’s childhood like?
    • Based on the clip, what “actions” did Moody engage with during her college years?
    • Compare what you see in the Woolworth Sit-In photograph with what the students in the clip discuss.
    • According to Sibley, what action did Moody take in 1964 in Canton, Mississippi?
    • Based on the clip, why was Moody unable to return home until later in her life?
    • What did Moody mean when she said her efforts gave her life “fuller dimension?”

    Direct your students to return to their graphic organizers.

    Using the chart as a guide, have your students review what they have learned in the lesson and prepare a short presentation to compare the life and legacy of the two women they selected to study in the choice board activity. Encourage your students to conduct additional research as necessary.

    At a minimum, students' presentations should use the following categories to compare the two women:

    • Childhood
    • Education
    • Career
    • Activism
    • Personal Network
    • Successes
    • Shortcomings.

    After your students share their presentations from the application section of the lesson, have them view this reflective video clip [Clip #8] (1:44), in which St. Joseph’s University professor Katherine Sibley summarizes the legacy of the five women featured in her lecture. Direct your students to answer each of the following questions in their graphic organizers.

    • Based on the clip summarize what Lorraine Hansberry said to the group of “young, black writers.”
    • According to Katherine Sibley, how did the five women “use writing to emancipate?”
    • Compare the successes and shortcomings of the five women, according to Sibley.

    After your students are finished, direct them to complete the final culminating writing prompt in their graphic organizers, and have students share their responses, comparing their perspectives with their classmates' perspectives: Having now learned about five African American women in arts and literature, describe their importance, contributions, and legacies. Be sure to include evidence from the video clips in the lesson to support your argument.

Additional Resources


  • Brown V. Board Of Education (1954)
  • Civil Rights Movement
  • Emancipate
  • Harlem Renaissance
  • Lynching
  • Pan Africanism
  • Sit-in


Civil Rights & Civil LibertiesEnglish & LiteratureMediaU.S. History


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