American History as It Happened

MODULE EIGHT: 1991-Present

MANHATTAN, NEW YORK, UNITED STATES – 2019/08/09: Protesters marching in the streets – Community organizations and Activists demanding police accountability gathered for a rally and march at the clock in Grand Central Terminal on August to commemorate the 5 year anniversary of Mike Brown’s death by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson. Four participants were arrested during the march in Times Square for alleged disorderly conduct. (Photo by Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images)

This module looks at events of the period 1991 to the present day. It touches on positive developments, such as the black-pride outpouring of the Million Man March of 1995; the presidential campaign of Barack Obama in 2007 – 2008 and the meaning of Obama’s victory in 2008; and the opening of the African-American History Museum on the Federal Mall in Washington, D.C., in 2015. The material also examines the Rodney King beating of 1991 and the riots that occurred in 1992 after police officers were acquitted on all charges in the King case; the white-supremacist murder of nine church members in Charleston, SC; and the growing awareness of law-enforcement killings of Black Americans that led to the Black Lives Matter movement. Students and teachers have links to PDFs of every article cited in the document section.

Students work with this content to hone the skills necessary for the DBQ portion of the AP US History exam. The practice DBQ to be answered in this module is: Assess the validity of this statement: Despite the many acts of racism reported across the United States in the years before, during, and after the election of Barack Obama in 2008, his victory as the first African-American president in U.S. history was a sign that the nation had entered a new era in race relations.

PERIOD SUMMARY: African-Americans reached extraordinary milestones in politics and pop culture during these decades. Two Black men were elected governors of their states—Douglas Wilder of Virginia (1990-1994) and Deval Patrick of Massachusetts (2007-2015). General Colin Powell was the first Black man to serve as U.S. Secretary of State (1991). In 2002, the Motion Picture Academy awarded Oscars for Best Actress and Best Actor to black performers Halle Berry and Denzel Washington. And, in 2008, US Senator Barack Obama of Illinois achieved the previously unthinkable when he became the first African-American elected president of the United States. Another notable black American milestone of the time was the opening in 2016 of the National Museum of African-American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.

Yet, during the same period, notorious acts of racial bias rocked the nation. In 1992, a disastrous, racially tinged riot resulted in death and widespread destruction in Los Angeles. The early 1990s saw the rise of mass incarceration and the war on drugs, which resulted in millions of young Blacks being put behind bars for non-violent drug offenses. In 2015, a self-proclaimed white supremacist murdered nine Black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina. After the 2016 presidential election of Donald Trump, reported incidents of racial harassment dramatically increased nationwide. Throughout the first decades of the 21st century, dozens of killings of Black men by law-enforcement officers raised troubling questions about racial profiling and lethal force, inspiring the Black Lives Matter movement.



OBJECTIVE: Explore the African-American experience in the period from 1991 to the present, and have students construct an argument explaining whether or not the nation has entered a new era in race relations since Barack Obama’s presidency.



  • CUL-4.0:Explain how different group identities, including racial, ethnic, class, and regional identities, have emerged and changed over time.

CCSS English Language Arts: Literacy

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.1: Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.2: Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.6: Evaluate authors’ differing points of view on the same historical event or issue by assessing the authors’ claims, reasoning, and evidence.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.9: Integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources.

MATERIALS: Document Excerpts

Document One: “Let’s Make It a Federal Case” [Rodney King beating],by Paul Chevigny The Nation, March 23, 1992

Document Two: “Outmarching the Hatred” [The Million Man March], Unsigned editorial, The Nation, November 6, 1995

Document Three: “The Obama Effect,” by Gary Younge, The Nation, December 31, 2007

Document Four: “Ready, Set, Obama,” Unsigned Editorial, The Nation, November 24, 2008

Document Five: “Obama Elected,” by Melissa Harris-Lacewell, The Nation November 24, 2008

Document Six: “Warped History,” The Roots of Dylann Roof’s Racism Go Deep [mass murder at black church in Charleston, SC], by Eric Foner, The Nation, May 19, 1870

Document Seven:The Week” (unsigned article), The Nation, July 20, 2015

Document Eight: “Origins of a Movement: A New Book Charts the Rise and Resilience of Black Lives Matter,” by Nathalie Baptiste, The Nation, February 27, 2017

BEFORE reading, ask:

  • How would you describe race relations in the United States during the past few years?
  • What effect did the election of the first African-American president have on race relations?
  • What is the Black Lives Matter movement? How did it begin?

Have the class read the student-page content (including introduction and the eight documents). Encourage students to read and attempt to answer all scaffolding questions (“As You Read: Things to Look For”).

AFTER reading, ask:

  • What new information did you learn from the documents? Identify opinions or ideas that you found interesting, and explain why.
  • What achievements in race relations have Americans made since 1991? What injustices and struggles remain?
  • What actions have been used to combat racial prejudice? Have they been successful? Please explain.

AS YOU READ: Things to Look For (Scaffolding questions also provided to students)

  • Review the titles of publication for the documents that are excerpts from The Nation. What additional information can you glean from the titles? Which title do you think is most significant? Why?
  • Several documents from The Nation focus on violence against African-Americans. What do these high-profile cases have in common?
  • Identify actions that improved racial equality and race relations. How many involved activism? How many involved politics? How many involved changing attitudes?
  • Documents six and seven focus on public displays of history. One notes that these public displays “tells us a great deal about a society’s values.” What is the meaning of this phrase? How does it apply to these two excerpts?

Students are given a list of these words; only the teacher site includes the definitions.

Bradley Effect: The presumption that some whites, afraid of being seen as racist, would mislead pollsters by saying they intended to cast a ballot for an African American candidate but instead voted for a different, white candidate. The ‘effect’ was named after California gubernatorial candidate Tom Bradley, an African American who had been mayor of Los Angeles, but who lost the 1982 governor’s race despite polls showing him ahead.

Emanuel AME Church: historic African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina. Nine members of a Bible study group there—including the church’s senior pastor, Clementa C. Pinkney—were murdered by Dylann Roof, a 21-year-old self-proclaimed white supremacist, on June 17, 2015.

George Zimmerman: Florida man charged with second-degree murder by shooting in the death of Travyvon Martin, a black teenager, in 2012. Zimmerman, a member of his community neighborhood watch, claimed immunity under Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, saying he acted in self-defense after Martin attacked him. The teenager, however, was unarmed, and his death inspired numerous protests nation-wide. Zimmerman was found not guilty.

Jim Crow: laws that enforced segregation and discrimination of black people, especially in the Southern states of the US, from the 1880s through till the 1960s. The laws were superseded legally by the passage of the Civil Rights Acts of the 1960s.

Klansmen: members of the Klu Klux Klan, a white supremacist group that formed in 1866 by young veterans of the former Confederacy in response to Reconstruction.

Louis Farrakhan: leader of the Nation of Islam, a movement that combines elements of Islam with black nationalism. Farrakhan was the organizer of the 1995 Million Man March (see below). Over more than 40 years of public life, he frequently stirred controversy with black separatist and anti-Semitic comments.

Million Man March: a large, peaceful gathering of African-American men to promote unity and community involvement, held in 1995 in Washington, D.C. The march was initiated by Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan.

Reconstruction: the period immediately after the Civil War (1865-1877). During this time, formerly enslaved African-Americans were granted US citizenship, including the right to vote, and federal troops were stationed in 11 southern states to support and enforce blacks’ rights. Reconstruction ended in 1877 when—as part of a deal that confirmed the election of Republican Rutherford B. Hayes as president—US troops were removed from those states.