Freedom Songs
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Freedom Songs

Lesson Summary:

In the 1960s, American Jews made up a large percentage of those white Americans who participated in the Civil Rights Movement. Many of them were motivated by progressive American values, Jewish ethical values, and a belief that they understood the African American experience. At rallies, sit-ins, and marches they stood shoulder to shoulder with African Americans, and they were strengthened by the same freedom songs. This Go & Learn guide uses the letter of a Jewish civil rights activist and several freedom songs to explore how this music, based in African American church music, was able to cross racial and religious boundaries and build community

Enduring Understandings:

  1. Music is a powerful vehicle for transmitting emotion, bringing people together, and inspiring action. 
  2. Shared rituals and traditions strengthen relationships and build trust within groups. 
  3. Both music (melody, rhythm, etc.) and lyrics can communicate ideas in a concise manner and help people establish connections to memory.

Essential Questions:

  1. What is the relationship between music and emotion? 
  2. How does shared ritual, like singing together, transform communities? 
  3. How does music communicate ideas?

Be Inspired:The ideas included are offered as starting points as you and your students explore, discover and live the lessons. Be sure to elicit and encourage student and parent participation, consistently reinforcing the value being addressed. Allow lessons to authentically develop and change based on engagement and interests.

Lesson Plan Components

For the educatorJewish Thought, Text, and Traditionsmore

Jewish every dayIncorporate Jewish Valuesmore

Materials and resourcesmore



  • Song lyrics for "This Little Light of Mine" 
  • audio recording of "This Little Light of Mine" (scroll to "Music" section, below)
  • speakers or sound system on which to play the music 
  • copies of the "Letter from Heather Tobis Booth to her Brother, 1964" or a projector on which to show the letter
  • butcher paper or chalk/white board for group notes
  • markers or chalk 
  • sheets of plain or lined paper
  • pens/pencils 
  • OPTIONAL: Lyrics for "Kol Ha olam Kulo"


Explore, Discover, and More Extension and Reinforcement Activitiesmore

Music Connectionsmore

List of All Songs

Evidence of Learningmore


  • Students will be able to explain the impact of singing freedom songs on Heather Booth using examples from her letter 
  • Students will be able to articulate the impact of music to build community, elicit emotions, or inspire action in their own lives 
  • Students will be able to apply ideas gleaned from the discussion of "This Little Light of Mine" to the development of their own songs that they could share and teach to others.


Lesson Contributors

The Jewish Women’s Archive is a national public history organization dedicated to telling the stories of Jewish women and inspiring change and inclusivity in communities everywhere. The collections and encyclopedia on invite learners of all ages to connect with role models from history and today. Nearly 100 lesson plans for kids, families, and adults help Jewish educators weave stories about identity and activism into programs about Jewish values, holidays, and ritual. And, JWA’s professional development programs and trainings encourage educators to connect with one another to create new ways of engaging the communities they serve. As we say at JWA, “You cannot be what you cannot see,” so check us out anytime, anywhere, at