The History of the Voting Rights Struggle: 1865-2020

The momentous events of March 1965 in Selma, Alabama, leading up to the Voting Rights Act signed in August of that year changed the course of American history by ensuring access for all to one of the fundamental American rights: the right to vote. Yet the history of voting rights goes back much further than 1965, and the Selma movement reverberates into the present day. With voting rights and access at the forefront of contemporary American politics, the need to understand historical context is critical.

The History of the Voting Rights Struggle: 1865–2020, a course in the Gilder Lehrman Online History School, will examine the struggle for voting rights from Reconstruction to the present day through the lens of the film Selma, employing 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. Using primary source documents, secondary data, and key scenes from the film Selma, this course will cover what came before, during, and after the fateful events of March 1965, from the juxtaposed perspectives of Alabama and the nation at large. As part of the course, students will also research and learn more about access to the vote in their own states, and develop action plans to organize their friends, family, and neighbors against barriers to 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.

This course has an estimated weekly commitment of 3 hours: 2 hours of class time plus an additional hour to prepare for classes in the Selma Online course modules.

Beginning on Monday, June 29, the course will occur on Zoom twice a week for four weeks. The sessions begin at 4:00 p.m. ET and last for 60 minutes, including time for a Q&A with the students. 


This course has ended. Thank you to all who attended!

Intended Audience

This course is for high school students (grades 9–12). Parents, teachers, and families are welcome to audit the course but are asked not to participate in polls or submit discussion questions so that we may prioritize student learning.

Please note that course enrollment is limited, and priority will be given to students before auditors are confirmed.

Lesson Schedule

Registration is for the full four-week, seven-session course. 

Week 1

Monday, June 29, 4:00–5:00 p.m. ET

Race and Voting Rights

Wednesday, July 1, 4:00–5:00 p.m. ET

Democracy Denied in Dallas County

Week 2

Monday, July 6, 4:00–5:00 p.m. ET

 Youth Activism & Voting Rights

Wednesday, July 8, 4:00–5:00 p.m. ET

Who’s Who in Selma

Week 3

Monday, July 13,  4:00–5:00 p.m. ET

Selma’s Pivotal Moments

Wednesday, July 15, 4:00–5:00 p.m. ET

Presidential Support

Week 4 

Monday, July 20, 4:00–5:00 p.m. ET

The Right to Vote: Contemporary Discussions


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 attend 5 out of 7 classes qualify to receive a certificate from the Gilder Lehrman Institute confirming their participation in this History School course.


Please email with any questions about the course.