The process of becoming a citizen is not an easy one. For most of us, the right to citizenship was given to us at birth. Being born in the United States or abroad to parents who have citizenship automatically makes you a citizen. However, for persons coming to the United States from another country, it is quite different. The naturalization process is a lengthy one. A person must establish permanent residency for up to 5 years prior to applying. During that time, a person is required to learn to read, write, and speak English and acquire an understanding of U.S. history and government. Once someone has done so, he or she can apply for citizenship by completing the necessary paperwork and passing a required assessment. Once this has been completed, a person is granted full citizenship. This process also benefits their children under the age of 18. If a parent goes through the naturalization process, his or her qualifying children automatically become United States citizens and are afforded the same rights and privileges as their parents.
This is the way our system works today for establishing citizenship, but it was not always the case. African-Americans were not seen as citizens, even those born in the United States. Originally being brought from Africa as slaves, they were not afforded the rights outlined in the Constitution. They were deemed property and were treated as such. When the Founders were constructing the Constitution, they granted the vote to persons who they felt could aid in the running of the new country. This did not include blacks or women. The rights and citizenship for both would come much later by way of amendments to the Constitution through wars, protests, and debate.
Danielle Allen states that, “If the Declaration can stake a claim to freedom, it is only because it is so clear-eyed about the fact that the people’s strength resides in its equality.”
But during that time the Declaration was written, people were not viewed as equal. African Americans (men and women) were not considered persons but property and treated accordingly. Perhaps the most infamous example of this treatment would be Dred Scott, who was a slave from Missouri but moved to a free territory, Wisconsin, in 1857 with his slave owner. He believed that he should be free since they now lived in a free territory, but the Supreme Court ruled that slaves were not citizens with constitutional rights. The decision only fueled the deep tension that already existed between the Northern and Southern States over slavery. With the election of Abraham Lincoln, who was against slavery, the Southern states feared its end. In 1861, those Southern states united to form the Confederate States of America in hopes of preserving the institution of slavery against the ideals of the federal union. This brought about the Civil War, which was fought from 1861 to 1865. The South was defeated and the Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves in the South. The end of the war brought with it three amendments to the Constitution regarding the rights of African-Americans. The 13
Amendment, approved in 1865, put an end to slavery across the United States. The 14
Amendment, which was approved in 1868, gave all citizens the same protection under the law as outlined in the Constitution. Finally, the 15
Amendment, approved in 1870, gave African-American men the right to vote.
The promise of the Reconstruction Amendments was not fulfilled until a century later. During the Civil Rights Movement, young people joined the fight for equality. Students as young as 7
graders wanted to be part of the effort to end legalized segregation. They participated in peaceful sit-ins or stand-ins at white-only establishments and marched outside of movie theaters, where blacks were not allowed, in order to show their disapproval. One participant in the demonstrations tells of her experience when she was in 8
grade in Kansas City in 1957. When asked if anyone was allowed to participate in the peaceful protest, she responded, “No. we had to learn how to protest. We went down on Saturdays to the YWCA, and we did training to be protesters. It was funny. We’d get all dressed up in little skirts ad sweaters because they made a big deal out of what you wore. We had to look nice. We’d get into separate lines in the gymnasium of the Y. And one group would be the white people, and we’d be ourselves, and we’d practice marching back and forth, holding up our signs, and just being quiet. And they would practice trying to get us upset. They’d come up to try to push you into what was supposed to be a wall, try to trip you. They’d yell, “Hey, nigger! Hey, coon!” – all the bad things they expected they white people were going to call us – and they would try to snatch the signs out of our hands. And they even spat on us.” She goes on to explain that the training prepared them for the inevitable. These things were bound to happen. “We were practicing self-control. Because the idea was that we were going to be quiet, we were going to stand there and take it no matter what. And if you weren’t able to, if you didn’t pass the practice, then you couldn’t go.”
Amendment protected these actions because it protects “freedom of speech.” Children then were aware of injustices in the world and chose to take part, peacefully, to attempt to change things. They were aware of the consequences of their actions as well as their rights. Being aware, or informed, of your rights as a citizen is a way of protecting yourself and fellow citizens. The willingness of people to stand up for what they believe in is what has brought about the necessary changes to bring us closer to a society where people are viewed as equals.
amendment was to protect black suffrage. It stated that federal or state governments could not deny a citizen the right to vote based on race, color, or former slave status. But the voting right was only extended to black men. Black women, as well as white women, remained unrecognized. Women rights activists such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony established leagues to gather signatures in support of the Amendment to show their backing and their active role in politics. Although they supported and fought for the abolishment of slavery, their cause was not included in the Amendment. White women took offense to this. They felt that the Amendment should include women as well, some for racist reasons. Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton formed the National Women’s Suffrage Association in hopes of obtaining voting rights for woman. It was not enough to say that women were also considered ‘citizens’ and therefore should be included in the 14
Amendments. This was Susan B. Anthony’s argument when she and a group of women voted in the 1872 election. This act led to her being arrested and fined for voting illegally. Though now a labeled a criminal, she continued to fight for women’s rights. The aim was to change the federal law. This change took place in 1920 in the form of the 19
Thanks to all of the petitioning and lobbying, voting is now considered a voluntary right granted to all citizens. It is a way to participate in the election of officials who will assist in governing the country in which we live.
Jury duty, on the other hand, is the responsibility of all citizens. As one commentator explained, “[j]ury service stands as a
, government sponsored political institution. It is the one area where ordinary citizens are required to exercise state power as individuals. Some overlook the jury because it is mandatory, yet, with millions of participants each year, the jury may serve a more powerful role in promoting democracy and citizenship than any voluntary association.”
This mandatory duty allows for an accused person to be tried by a jury of his or her peers and allows the jurors an active role in upholding the law. Juries are chosen randomly from lists of registered voters, persons with driver’s licenses, or with state-issued identification cards.
It is interesting to think about the relationship between the right to vote and the duty to serve on a jury. Although voting is a privilege, not all persons are
voters. As educators, we should think about why people do not take advantage of that right and how to encourage our students to do better. For instance, there is evidence that civic participation results in more civic participation. As one study showed, people who take part in the jury, a mandatory duty, are more likely to vote, a voluntary right. That jury study, conducted in eight counties across the country, found an increase in voter turnout by people who had served on juries where deliberation actually took place. These people were not committed voters at the onset. But taking part in the civic duty of jury service increased average turnout between 4 – 7%.
As the studies author wrote, “[t]he only time you are a part of direct democracy in American is when you serve as a juror and the only time you really feel a part of direct democracy in America is when you deliberate.”
As we seek information about our history to make sense of what our futures can potentially hold, it remains important to gather the facts, understand the information encountered, and discuss our findings with one another. It is apparent in this study, that through discussion and participation, people are able to make more informed decisions and learn the value of participating.
You can also see why jury service matters as a civic duty on its own. No one person has all of the answers, but through collaboration and discussion, problems can be solved. Allowing a jury of one’s peers to decide a case is one of our constitutional rights. People present different perspectives and contribute knowledge based on their own experiences. Serving on a jury was found to provide an education on democratic citizenship, affording people the opportunity to experience the justice system as a living, breathing entity while administering justice on the state’s behalf, and not just words on a page. As citizens, it is our right and responsibility to take an active position in how our government is run.
Introduction for Lesson 1
- Students are aware that the Pilgrims came over on the Mayflower in search of a new life, but they are not sure why the Pilgrims left England or how they established the new country that was to be their home. “Schoolhouse Rock” is an excellent resource to use to explain this to younger students. The ‘No More Kings’ segment does a great job explaining the colonization of the New World. The story is set to music. It explains why people left England and describes their relationship with the King in the time immediately following. A questions and answer/comment session can take place to make sure students understand the how and why of colonization, which can be charted for visual learners. This introduction can be given the day before or just before the lesson’s hook to get the students thinking about the topic. (“Fireworks” is an alternative segment)