Date of Award

May 2014

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts



First Advisor

Jasmine Alinder

Second Advisor

Aims McGuinness

Committee Members

Jasmine Alinder, Aims McGuinness, Rachel Baum


Civil Rights, Education, Milwaukee


This thesis explores civil rights education as practiced by civil rights activists from the 1960s to the present day using the city of Milwaukee as a geographical focus. The first part of the thesis focuses on the civil rights historical narratives employed throughout the second half of the twentieth century, with a focus on activists in Milwaukee. The first chapter describes the various social realms in which activists employed civil rights education including law, religious organizations, and schools. The second chapter uses 1964 Milwaukee Freedom School curricula as a case study to analyze a historically significant form of civil rights education. The second part of this thesis analyzes the more recent creation of a digital collection as an effective and increasingly relevant educational tool. The final chapter uses the March on Milwaukee Civil Rights Project collection as a case study to consider how digital archival collections can become effective educational tools in academic institutions and beyond. The final chapter contributes to existing literature by modeling assessment methods specific to a digital archival collection. The thesis argues that the March on Milwaukee digital collection is distinctive because of its community outreach initiatives, which have extended a target audience beyond the confines of higher education to at-risk high school students.

This thesis finds that local activists, teachers, and scholars have used civil rights narratives to educate and motivate people residing in cities such as Milwaukee, WI, to actively reflect on the causes of racial inequality as well as possible solutions. The case studies involving the 1964 Milwaukee freedom school curricula and the current March on Milwaukee digital collection provide specific evidence of community-driven education that have successfully engaged people who have traditionally been underserved by academic libraries and archives. The thesis analyzes a wide range of primary sources, including archival documents and newspapers, in addition to germane secondary works relevant to the history of race relations in Milwaukee and the United states. This thesis also uses interviews, historical scholarship, and current assessment models relating to digital collections. The evidence gathered from March on Milwaukee developer interviews and secondary scholarship on digital collections supports the idea that Milwaukee civil rights histories have evolved and continue to be relevant in 2014.

The thesis concludes that the success of future digital archival collections will depend not merely on making information available to site visitors but also on the ability of librarians and archives to reach out to communities through partnerships and collaborations similar to those associated with the March on Milwaukee Civil Rights Project. Assessment of engagement efforts of this kind will require librarians and archives to complement quantitative measures with qualitative approaches that consider not just how many people access a site for how long, but also the extent to which people engage meaningfully with the information and find it useful and relevant for their own lives.