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A Thousand Words Worth

Joy M. Barnes-Johnson
OverviewProcedure for teachersStudent Resources and Materials
Grade Level
Time Alloment
 Two class periods


Aesthetic realism is a philosophy that helps teachers and students make sense of the complex world we live in – its systems, its people, its places, and its things. Eli Siegel, the educator who coined the term, explained that, "the purpose of education is to like the world." He provided an intellectual means through which the world could be liked. In this philosophy, "the world, art, and self explain each other: each is the aesthetic oneness of opposites." Nguzo saba is a Swahili phrase that means "seven principles," observed as the basis for Kwanzaa. Birthed out of the labor associated with the struggle for Civil Rights, the nguzo saba embody the ideologies of self-respect and unity. This lesson will investigate the historical and socio-economic context for the emergence of these principles as a beacon of light for all of humanity and the power of photographic art to educate a nation and the world.

Learning Activities

Students will be able to:
  • Reflect on the significance of historical photography
  • Identify the political context for cultural events
  • Identify galvanizing elements of the Civil Rights Movement
  • Develop a means for understanding cultural pluralism


New York State Standards

Standard 1: History of the United States and New York
Students will use a variety of intellectual skills to demonstrate their understanding of major ideas, eras, themes, developments, and turning points in the history of the United States and New York.

Standard 5: Civics, Citizenship, and Government
Students will use a variety of intellectual skills to demonstrate their understanding of the necessity for establishing governments; the governmental system of the United States and other nations; the United States Constitution; the basic civic values of American constitutional democracy, and; the roles, rights, and responsibilities of citizenship, including avenues of participation.

Standard 4: Understanding the Cultural Contributions of the Arts
Students will develop an understanding of the personal and cultural forces that shape artistic communication and how the arts in turn shape the diverse cultures of past and present society.

Media Components


Road to Freedom #5: At the River I Stand

Web sites:

Photography and Social Change
This site is the course description and culminating project site for a course offered at Texas Technical University (circa 1999). The pictures on the site are those taken by students and posted as a demonstration of how history is documented using cameras. It is also designed to demonstrate social constructs and the human response to societal issues. The Lange and Steichen quotes used in the lesson are available on this site.

A Picture's Worth a Thousand Words?
This site explains the history and the context of the old adage. Links provided through the heading allow browsers to access work of author Paul Martin Lester, a professor at California State University-Fullerton.

The Year in Pictures: 2000
This site presents a photo essay of Time magazine's account of world events in 2000. Thumbnail links to each month allow visitors to view black and white and color images of the people, places, and things that changed the world's perspective of the "new millennium." Some of the images are extremely graphic and/or explore themes of war and violence. Links are provided to various photo-essays, including the Olympics, Tiger Woods, and Presidential campaigns, which are useful for this activity. A wealth of visual resources is available here.

Chrysler Museum Of Art, Ernest Withers Photography
This site presents photographic images of the work of Ernest Withers through the Chrysler Museum of Art. The 03/28/68 Withers photograph of Sanitation Workers Strike assembled at Clayborn Temple in Memphis, Tennessee is the third picture on the left side of the screen. This was Dr. King's last march.

Shattered: September 11
This site presents a slide show and commentary of the events surrounding the 2001 event. I recommend previewing the images to create and maintain an emotionally safe environment for students. Only #3 is used in this activity.

Kodak Civil Rights Photography
This site hosts the unique contrast that black and white photos present. Charles Moore captures the complexity of the Civil Rights Movement. Twenty pictures are given one-word titles. The catalog of images is both triumphant and terrifying as it chronicles the lives of black Americans, white Americans, young Americans, and older Americans during the turbulent times of the 1950s and 1960s. (Five images are used for this activity: POWERFUL, VOTE, BEAUTY, DRAGON, and SEGREGATION.)

Official Kwanzaa Site
This site is the official site for the Kwanzaa celebration and hosts the founder's welcome and several of his annual messages. Links provide explanations of the history of Kwanzaa, explanation of the symbols, and associated African art.


Per class:

  • Board or Large Instructional Writing Space
  • Overhead Projector
  • Markers
  • Internet access
  • TV/VCR
Per student:
  • Student Gallery template
  • Lenses activity sheet
  • "At the River I Stand" Questions
  • Kwanzaa Symbol Classification sheet