Connecting cfe’s Work to Brown V. Board of Education

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Connecting CFE’s Work to Brown v. Board of Education:

Separate but equal has no place in the field of public education.
Day 1What does a fair and equal education look like?

  1. Begin with a writing prompt: Ask students to describe their vision of a great school. (What resources would be available? What would the classrooms look like? What would you see in the halls? What type of training would the teachers have?)

  1. Ask several students to share with the class and chart their responses into categories (for example: resources, facilities, teacher training, counseling, extracurricular activities, etc…)

  1. Discussion Questions – ask the class to share their thoughts:

  • Do most schools in NYC look like this vision?

  • Do all schools have equal facilities? Resources?

  • Should schools be equal?

  • How did our schools grow to be so different?

  • How does race and economic status factor into the equality of schools?

Day 2 - How does America’s history of segregation give us a context for today’s inequity in the education system?

    1. Make copies of two photos from the early 1900s: one of a Caucasian school, one of a school for African American students. Ask students to identify for each picture:

      • Exterior differences: What are the buildings made of? What does the playground/yard area look like? How many windows are there? Describe the way you’d feel if this was the outside of your school.

      • Interior differences: How are the classrooms lit? What is on the walls? How do the students look? Describe the desks and other furniture. How many students are in the room? Does this seem like a good environment for learning?

      • Revisit the categories and criteria the class came up with yesterday. Which school fits the criteria better?



This site has a lot of thumbnail size images of African American schools during the time of segregation in the U.S., which you can enlarge.

  • If you google search for “schools 1940” or “schools 1950” then look under IMAGES, you’ll find countless images of Caucasian schools to show your students.

  1. Mini-lesson on Segregation

  • Explain to students that these photos were taken during the time of legal segregation in this country.

  • Give details on segregation: Explain that until the 1960s/1970s many

states had laws that required segregation.

  • Define de jure (segregation by law) and de facto (segregation by practice or custom) segregation. (Visit for a concise definition of these terms)

  1. Group Activity

  • Pass out examples of Jim Crow laws. To obtain samples of these laws, visit

  • In groups, have each student examine a different set of laws and images of segregated facilities. Have them compare their sources and come up with a statement that answers the question: What was the impact of segregation on American society?

  • How did segregation impact schools?

Day 3 How do people work towards achieving justice?

        1. Hand out background information on the Plessy v. Ferguson case.

    • Ask students to identify the majority opinion (separate but equal)

    • Ask students if they think schools could be segregated and still be equal.

    • Why can’t separate be equal?

    • Examine the 14th Amendment – does it allow for segregation laws?

    • How did Justice Brown (majority decision) justify segregation in relation to the 14th Amendment?

    • What was Harlan’s dissent? (Explain that justices who do not agree with the majority have the right to issue a separate opinion.)

    • Ask students to compare Brown’s decision to Harlan’s – which makes more sense? Why?

    1. Ask students to imagine they live in a legally segregated world. What are some ways

they could work to end segregation? (Students will most likely hit upon the fact that groups of people have more power than individuals alone. They may also say small steps are needed before bigger changes can be made.) Are there ways we live in a segregated world now?

    1. Mini-lesson on the road to Brown. Explain to students that the NAACP’s lawyers use

precedents to build up to Brown.

    1. Pass out copy of the Brown v. Board of Ed decision. “Separate but equal has no place in

the field of public education.” See
5. Refer back to de facto and de jure segregation. Though we no longer have de jure

segregation, do we still have de facto? For homework, ask students to note de facto

segregation as they journey home today.

Day 4 How does CFE continue the work that Brown v. Board of Education began?

1. Connect Brown v. Board of Education to today’s world through CFE’s work – How far have we come? Why aren’t schools equal yet? How does race and economic inequity fit into the differences in schools today? (See mini-lesson on CFE using Timeline).


1. Look at Bill Clinton’s speech (Sept. 25, 1997) at Central High Schoool’s 40th anniversary of integration. What does he suggest we still need to work on? How?

2. Read the memoir Warriors Don’t Cry by Melba Patillo Beals (adult and young adult abridged versions are available) to gain a deeper understanding of school integration at the time of Brown.
3. Watch clips from the Civil Rights Movement: see Eyes on the Prize
4. Visit Facing History and Ourselves website. They have a unit titled “Choices in Little Rock”.

5. Read special classroom section from Teaching Tolerance’s Spring 2004 issue.

Assessment: Since this is a weeklong unit, a comprehensive project would help students connect their ideas. Some suggestions are:

  • Essay or creative piece connecting the 3 court decisions

  • Diary entries in the voice of people from different time periods reacting to these court decisions

  • Compare/contrast essay: Schools before Brown and schools today

  • Memorial or monument to those who have organized for change – link together the three time periods.

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