The History of the Voting Rights Struggle: 1865–2020

The events of March 1965 in Selma, Alabama, leading up to the signing of the Voting Rights Act in August of that year changed the course of American history. It ensured access to one of the basic American rights: the right to vote. Yet the history of this right goes back much further than 1965, and the Selma movement follows us into the present day. With voting rights and access at the forefront of current American politics, the need to understand the history of the vote is key.

The History of the Voting Rights Struggle: 1865–2020 will examine this movement from Reconstruction to the present day. This course uses the Selma Online curriculum developed by Harvard University’s Hutchins Center for African and African American Research—which is led by Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr.—to tie into the film Selma. This course will cover what came before, during, and after the fateful events of March 1965 from the perspectives of both Alabama and the United States at large.

Students in this course will develop action plans to organize their friends, family, and neighbors against barriers to voting in their state. The course will also feature cast members from Hamilton discussing opportunities to volunteer with nonpartisan organizations focused on voting.

NOTE: Some content depicts racial violence and contains language that may be upsetting to participants but is vital to their understanding of the course topic.

Key Information:

  • The course began on Wednesday, October 7 and concluded Wednesday, December 2, but session recordings continue to be available on demand.
  • Classes occurred once a week for seven weeks.
  • The class did not meet on November 11 or November 25 (in observance of Veterans Day and the day before Thanksgiving).
  • Classes began at 7:00 p.m. ET/4:00 p.m. PT.
  • Weekly classes are 60 minutes in length on Zoom. These sessions incorporate a combination of lectures, activities conducted on the Zoom chat, polls, and Q&A discussions.
  • This course has an estimated weekly commitment of 90 minutes (one hour of class time plus an additional half hour to review online modules in the Selma Online curriculum and respond to reflection questions).

Intended Audience

This class is for high school students (grades 9–12). Adults are welcome to view the class recordings, which will be made available on our website. Educators are welcome to sign up for a special pedagogy Q&A with the Master Teacher. Educators can Register Here for the Pedagogy Q&A on Wednesday, December 9 at 7:00 p.m. ET.

Class Schedule 

Week 1

Attendance Quiz

CLASS RECORDING from Wednesday, October 7, 7:00 p.m.–8:00 p.m. ET
Race and Voting Rights: A Historical Introduction

Session 1 Recommended Resources.pdf

Week 2

Attendance Quiz

CLASS RECORDING from Wednesday, October 14, 7:00 p.m.–8:00 p.m. ET
Youth Activism & Voting Rights: Historical Forebears and Contemporary Discussions

Session 2 Recommended Resources.pdf

Week 3

Attendance Quiz

CLASS RECORDING from Wednesday, October 21, 7:00 p.m.–8:00 p.m. ET
The Right to Vote: What You Can Do Now

Session 3 Recommended Resources.pdf

Week 4

Attendance Quiz

CLASS RECORDING from Wednesday, October 28, 7:00 p.m.–8:00 p.m. ET
Democracy Denied in Dallas County 

Session 4 Recommended Resources.pdf

Week 5

Attendance Quiz

CLASS RECORDING from Wednesday, November 4, 7:00 p.m.–8:00 p.m. ET
Who’s Who in Selma

Session 5 Recommended Resources.pdf

Week 6

Attendance Quiz

CLASS RECORDING from Wednesday, November 18, 7:00 p.m.–8:00 p.m. ET
Selma’s Pivotal Moments / Presidential Support

Session 6 Recommended Resources.pdf

Week 7

Attendance Quiz

CLASS RECORDING from Wednesday, December 2, 7:00 p.m.–8:00 p.m. ET
The Right to Vote: Contemporary Discussions

Session 7 Recommended Resources.pdf

Note: The course will not meet on Wednesday, November 11 (in observance of Veterans Day) or on Wednesday, November 25 (day before Thanksgiving).

Meet Your Teacher

Alysha Butler is a social studies teacher at McKinley Technology High School in Washington, DC. In addition to teaching 11th grade US History, Ms. Butler also served as District Course Chair in 2019–2020. In 2019, she won the Gilder Lehrman Institute’s National History Teacher of the Year Award as well as the Daughters of the American Revolution Outstanding Teacher of United States History Award and was a 2019 GrantEd Recipient. Before teaching at McKinley Tech, she taught at Miramar High School in Florida, where she won the school’s Teacher of the Year Award in 2010.

A History Channel video highlighting Alysha Butler can be found here.


Participation Certificate

Students who get 100% on the attendance quiz can get a certificate from the Gilder Lehrman Institute confirming their attendance in each Online History School session. Quizzes are linked in the schedule as well as the video description.

Video Playlist

Class sessions are recorded and will be posted within 3 business days.

Please email with any questions about the course.