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Geography Awareness Week 2017: The Geography of Civil Rights Movements

This week, Geography Awareness Week celebrates 30 years of geo goodness. Established in 1987, the week is designed to promote geography and highlight the relevance of a geographic education in preparing citizens to understand and debate pressing social and environmental issues and problems.

This year’s theme focuses on the Geography of Civil Rights Movements. A recent American Association of Geographers press release suggests that a “civil rights-themed Geography Awareness Week can be an important moment, especially during these turbulent political times, to come to terms with the nation’s unreconciled legacies of oppression and domination.”

The AAG goes on:

Geography Awareness Week offers a powerful opportunity to engage students in a hands-on reconstruction and interpretation of civil rights geographies  in their own cities, states, and schools – important in creating the empathy  necessary for them to ask critical questions about their own positions of privilege and marginality within networks of social power.

But geography can do more than speak to where civil rights struggles occurred. The geographic building blocks of social life – location, landscape, movement, sense of place, global interdependence, and the natural environment – are fundamental to how rights become reality in everyday lives. Geography can help us examine civil rights in a wide array of terrains of social and spatial struggle – from transportation racism to water and food security, from the prison industrial complex to energy poverty, from place naming rights to the right to housing, from climate justice to gender equality.

By focusing on civil rights, educators can shed valuable light on the important historical and contemporary struggles of people of color. But the story of civil rights also includes a wide range of marginalized groups who have faced and fought discrimination on the basis of age, class, disability, ethnicity, gender, national origin, race, religion, sexual orientation, etc. The social justice struggles of immigrants, indigenous populations, women, the poor, and workers should have a prominent place in Geography Awareness Week. Especially important is connecting the past with contemporary struggles for social, economic, political, and environmental justice.

So what can that look like?

Use the following resources and tools to help your students visualize civil rights through the lens of geography:

 

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