Meet Sylvia Mendez: Civil Rights Hero

We are very excited to bring you and your students the story of Sylvia Mendez and her fight against injustice in our play and video "The Fight For What’s Right.” This powerful drama brings to life the little-known story of how Sylvia and her family fought for school integration in California—and won. We hope that after you read the play as a class, you and your students will explore the additional resources that we've put together below.

 

Essential Questions

Post these questions in your classroom for students to refer to as they explore the resources.

1. What is prejudice?

2. What does it mean to be American?

3. What is injustice? How did the Mendez v. Westminster case help combat injustice in the United States?

 

Chuck Kennedy/MCT/MCT via Getty Images (Sylvia Mendez at right)

1. Listen to an interview with Sylvia Mendez and her sister.

Listen with your students to this interview with Sylvia Mendez talking to her younger sister Sandra Mendez Duran about the Mendez v. Westminster case. After listening, have students write three questions they would ask Sylvia if they could.

 

 

Getty Images

2. Explore a timeline of school integration.

This timeline from Teaching Tolerance magazine traces school integration in the United States from 1849 to 2007. Ask students what the timeline reveals about segregation in the U.S.

 

 

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3. Read a movie review and watch a video.

Read a review of the documentary film Freedom Riders. Then watch this video interview with Scholastic News Press Corps’ Kid Reporter Henry Dunkelberger and John Lewis, Democratic Congressman from Georgia, about Lewis’s participation in the rides. Ask students how the Freedom Rides story relates to the Mendez family’s story.

 

 

4. Read a Scope play and watch a video.

Read the November 2016 Scope play This Is What Courage Looks Like about Claudette Colvin, a brave teen who refused to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, during the segregated 1950s. Then watch the accompanying video about segregation in 1950s America. Have students share what they learned and discuss what Sylvia and Claudette have in common.

 

 

 MPI/Getty Images

5. Read a poem.

Read the Langston Hughes poem “I, Too” as a class. Discuss the themes presented in the poem and how they relate to the themes of the play The Fight for What’s Right.

 

 

Extension Activity

Write or post this quote on a whiteboard. Have students sit in small groups to discuss what King means. As a class, discuss segregation and its effect on our country. Students should draw on evidence from the play and any other resources used from above.

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