The era of legal segregation in America, from Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) to Brown v. The Board of Education, Topeka, Kansas (1954), is seldom fully explored by students of American history and government. At most, these studies are sidebar discussions of isolated people or events. It is important for students to develop an understanding of the complex themes and concepts of African American life in the first half of the 20th century to provide a foundation for a more meaningful understanding of the modern Civil Rights Movement. The following mini-unit will allow students to explore to what extent the African American experience was "separate but equal."
After completing a study of Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), students will simulate the Afro-American Council Meeting in 1898 usingAfrican American Perspectives: Pamphlets from the Daniel A.P.Murray Collection, 1818-1907. This will be followed by an exploration of resources in American Memory and other classroom materials. The unit culminating activity asks students to role-play an imaginary meeting of a similar civil rights organization prior to the Brown case in 1954.
- Progressive Era to New Era, 1900-1929
Students will be able to:
- Research American Memory collections and identify the diverse experiences of African Americans between 1896 and 1953.
- Describe the social, economic and political conditions of African Americans at the turn of the century.
- Evaluate primary sources and create a presentation reflective of the African American experience
Note: Before the lesson, divide students into home and expert groups. Students begin in their home groups, and return to home groups for debriefing. Members of home groups should be also be assigned equally to each of the three expert groups. Each expert group will "attend" a different session of the 1898 Afro-American Council Meeting.
Tell students that the National Afro-American Council met in Washington, D. C. in 1898, to consider the status of the race at the turn of the century. Using African American Perspectives: Pamphlets from the Daniel A.P.Murray Collection, 1818-1907, students will simulate attendance at this Council meeting. Although this collection does not include the actual speeches made at the meeting, it offers similar voices, ideas, and concerns. Students will "attend" one of the three sessions of the meeting: Segregation & Violence; Solving the Race Problem; or Contributions to the Nation.
Students read and study materials similar to conference materials they might have received if they had attended this meeting.
Introductory Activity (15 minutes)
Divide students into home groups prior to activity.
- As a class, students complete the "K" column of a K - W - L chart focusing on their prior knowledge of African-American life experiences at this time.
- After completing the chart, the teacher will help students compile a master list of information the class has already learned about the African-American condition at the turn of the century.
- The class will brainstorm additional themes and ideas they need to understand the topic and write these in the "W" column of the K - W - L
Activity One - Attend the 1898 National Afro-American Council (1 Day)
Students should read the documents listed for their session and answer the questions for their session. See Learning Guide Answer Key for possible responses to the questions.
Students return to their home groups. Home groups should have members from each of the expert groups. Home groups discuss observations from the study, debriefing each other about the sessions and answering the questions for all sessions.
Divide students into three expert groups:
Activity Two - Research American Memory (1 Day)
Tell students that they are now going to plan a 1953 meeting to consider the status of the race at the middle of the twentieth century. They will research the topic of their 1898 conference session, looking for more recent data on their topic for discussion at the 1953 meeting.
- Students form into expert groups by session topics.
- In their expert groups, each student locates two to three items that support the session topic, beginning with the collections listed:
- Each expert group evaluates resources found by members of the group, selecting 2-3 items that together provide a comprehensive overview of the topic. Groups identify print and online materials using appropriate citation guidelines.
Activity Three - Synthesis of Convention (1 Day)
The expert groups meet to examine items they've evaluated and selected and plan a short council meeting session related to the group theme.
- Groups can develop a storyboard, post items on a school Internet site or print copies for classroom display.
- Each group "attends" the other two sessions of the 1953 meeting created by the class.
The teacher needs to continuously monitor student progress with attention to technical skills, understanding, and focus of the student activity. Various techniques can be incorporated for assessment as the teacher deems necessary.
Access this resource at:
Segregation: From Jim Crow to Linda Brown
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