The most commonly-used tool for facilitating political education about the histories and struggles of different identity groups in the United States is the historical timeline. Typically it is comprised of 8½ x 11-size images with brief, descriptive captions, and it is installed along a wall—or around all four walls—of a room. This setup offers opportunities for visual, kinesthetic, and dialogic engagement with the content of the timeline. Each image/caption represents a key moment in the political, economic, or social history of an identity group—African Americans, Chinese Americans, Mexican Americans, Irish Americans, women, LGBT, etc. In depicting the highlights of policies and events, as well as their effects on and responses from communities, the timeline encourages participants to explore the experiences of different groups, draw connections between historical events, and recognize the parallels and convergences of experience, oppression, struggle, and resilience that they represent.
One of the earliest and most widely used timelines appears to be that found in BRIDGE, published in 2004 by the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. The BRIDGE timeline focuses on policies that disproportionately disadvantaged or harmed different groups of color in the U.S. over time. The BRIDGE timeline has been adapted by many organizations over the years, and has inspired others to develop their own historical timeline activities as part of a larger political education or dialogue initiative. Some notable variations include:
Key moments in a community’s history are added to the timeline, thus making it more relevant to a particular location and/or identity group.
The National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights is in the process of revising the BRIDGE timeline to introduce a history of the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. These revisions will add key events leading to today’s border militarization and link these to domestic policies that criminalize people of color in the United States.
Causa Justa :: Just Cause uses a timeline that includes a focus on African American migration within the U.S. and specifically to Oakland and the San Francisco Bay Area.
The UC Berkeley Labor Center’s C. L. Dellums African American Union Leadership School timeline includes additional material on African American history, starting with the transatlantic slave trade, as well as on labor organizing in California.
The Western States Center’s Uniting Communities Toolkit highlights key moments in the history of the struggle for LGBT equality and links these to immigration histories and the fights for racial and gender justice in the U.S.
Community Coalition in South Los Angeles has a timeline focusing narrowly on the history of racism in the United States, focusing heavily on the slavery of African Americans.
The Service Employees International Union’s Citizenship, Race, and Immigration timeline highlights the ways in which U.S. immigration and citizenship policies have been used to oppress people based on race, national origin, class, gender, and other characteristics while promoting the interests of more powerful groups.
In some cases, participants are encouraged to add their own histories to the timelines, as a way to personalize the activity and link personal history with broader political/social history.
MPOWER’s Power and Oppression workshop series asks participants to draw a picture that tells a story about a time when the participants or their families overcame or resisted oppression, and add this to the timeline.
The UC Berkeley Labor Center’s C. L. Dellums African American Union Leadership School invites participants to add their own or their families’ histories of migration to the timeline.
The events in the timeline represent historical events depicted in a film or video that is viewed by participants in advance of the activity. The activity thus begins as an opportunity to process and discuss the content of the film/video.
MPOWER’s timeline is built around events from the film The Shadow of Hate, which depicts how white supremacy and anti-immigrant sentiment have impacted the lives of different minority groups throughout U.S. history.
Resources with historical timeline activities
Other timeline resources
Project South offers timelines related to movement building, real cost of prisons, and work & wage.
In their book “Can We All Get Along?” Paula D. McClain and Joseph Stewart Jr. include an appendix with detailed timelines of different racial/ethnic identity groups in the U.S.
Image: Kheel Center, Cornell University, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en