Living Autobiographies, Important Tennesseans 1945-1975

GRADES: 5 and 9 (United States History)
DURATION: One or more sessions for preparation plus one or more sessions for oral presentations

  • Copies of images of historic figures from the Civil Rights / Cold War section of the TN4Me website
  • Internet access or copies of text materials from the website
  • Note: To print out copies of images in “slideshows”, follow these steps:
    1.    Go to the section of the website where the image occurs.
    2.    When the slide shows up, click on the upper right corner to stop the slide show.
    3.    Right click on the image and select Print.
    4.    To print in grayscale, select Grayscale under the Color tab under Preferences.


The Tennessee 4 Me website has information on and portraits or photographs of many Tennesseans who were important in the Civil Rights / Cold War period from 1945 to 1975 (   These can be useful in helping students learn about the contributions of these people and their place in United States History. Depending on their grade-level, students may focus their research on important figures in the Civil Rights Movement, in the Women’s Rights Movement, in politics, or in important military events in the Cold War period.

Guiding Questions: 

  • Who were some Tennesseans who were important historical figures between 1945 and 1975?

Objectives:  Students will 

  1. Prepare a short oral “autobiography” on a particular historical figure.
  2. Share their autobiography with other students.


  • Provide students with a scoring guide ahead of time and have them do a self-critique as well as score each other’s performances.


  • Explain to students that they will be researching a historical person who was important during the time period from 1945 to 1975 in the United States.
  • Explain that they will be using images and background information from the website. (If you have not already done the Using the Website lesson, you may wish to do that one before proceeding.)
  • Either have students sign up for a particular historical figure, or assign them to students.
  • Explain the each student will prepare a short “autobiography” that he/she will share orally with the rest of the class.
  • Ask students to brainstorm what they should include in the autobiography. (Name, what events of the Civil Rights / Cold War Era they were involved in, what specifically they did, some interesting facts about them, etc.)
  • Have students go online and research their historical figure. (Encourage them to make use of images involving the person as well as text information.)
  • Have them make notes and use these to create an Oral Presentation (such as “Hello, I am Charles Pendleton from Camden, Tennessee. I died heroically in the Korean War. I am one of the three Tennesseans awarded the Medal of Honor during the Korean War”).

Extensions:Have students

  • Pair students up, with one acting as a newspaper journalist and the other as a specific historical figure. Have the journalist interview the historical figure for information to write a newspaper article. (Have the students decide on the questions ahead of time and be prepared to answer them in character.)
  • After doing the Civil Rights and Cold War Timeline lesson, have students group their characters according to which major events they were involved in.
  • Have students dress in character and station them around a room or along a hallway. Have other students, parents, or community members move from character to character, as each character shares his or her autobiography.


Tennessee Grade 5 Social Studies Standards (

5.6.01.b. Identify the accomplishments of notables who have made contributions to society in the areas of civil rights, women's rights, military actions, and politics.

Tennessee United States History Standards (

9.8   Identify significant events in the struggle for Civil Rights…
9.10 Match leading figures of the Civil Rights era with their respective groups and goals…

Tennessee Social Studies Process Skills
  • Use picture clues and picture captions to aid comprehension.
  • Use maps, graphs, globes, media, and technology sources.
  • Discover resources available from museums, historical sites, presidential libraries, and local and state preservation societies.


National History Standards (
Era 2: Colonization and Settlement (1585-1763)
The struggle for racial and gender equality and for the extension of civil liberties.
Standard 4A: The student understands the “Second Reconstruction” and its advancement of civil rights.
Grade Level
Therefore, the student is able to
Evaluate the agendas, strategies, and effectiveness of various African Americans, Asian Americans, Latino Americans, and Native Americans, as well as the disabled, in the quest for civil rights and equal opportunities. [Explain historical continuity and change]