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        The Economics of Jim Crow

        In this lesson, students learn how the laws and practices of Jim Crow crippled many African Americans and lead to economic destabilization.

        Lesson Summary


        The economy of the Southern States during the era of Jim Crow was primarily based on agriculture. While the majority of Southern blacks worked in agriculture as sharecroppers and tenant farmers, others sought work in the cities of the South and North, including a small but influential black middle class. In this unit students examine the economics of Jim Crow, how Jim Crow laws sustained black economic dependency, and why the rise of a black middle class challenged white supremacy. As a culminating activity, students devise an “Economic Bill of Rights” for African Americans in three eras: 1865, 1895 and 1940.


        Students will:

        • explain the relationship between Jim Crow laws and the economic conditions of African Americans;
        • consider the manner in which economic conditions change over time;
        • recognize the relationship between economic power and political power.

        Grade Level:


        Suggested Time

        Four 45-minute class periods

        Media Resources


        For individual students or groups:

        Web Sites

        A Century of Segregation Timeline

        Edwin R. Embree, "Southern Farm Tenancy, The Way Out of Its Evils," Survey Graphic (March 1936)

        Edwin Embree critiques the tenant and sharecropping system and suggests a plan to remedy the system's abuses.

        The Lesson

        Learning Activity One

        One 45-minute class period

        1. Divide students into groups of four or five.

        2. Explain to students that they will be watching several video segments about the economics of the Jim Crow system. Distribute the Economics of Jim Crow - Discussion Questions handout to each group. Tell students to review the questions before watching each segment and to take careful notes as they watch. Students should watch the videos in the order presented on the handout.

        3. After students have watched all four video segments, review the discussion questions together. Discuss the Learning Activity 1 Summary Questions as a class.

        Learning Activity Two

        One 45-minute class period

        1. Distribute copies of the article Southern Farm Tenancy, The Way Out of Its Evils to each group formed during Learning Activity One. Remind students that the article was originally published in 1936. Give students time to visit the Century of Segregation Timeline so they can see other events that were taking place during this period.

        2. Ask students to consider the Learning Activity 2 Summary Questions with their groups.

        Culminating Activity/Assessment

        Two 45-minute class periods

        1. Divide your class into three large groups and have them work together on this project. Each group will represent African Americans from a different era: 1865, 1895 and 1940. (Have them visit the Century of Segregation Timeline so they can see what else was taking place during this time.) Their objective is to convene as a group and create an "Economic Bill of Rights for African Americans" appropriate to the era they are representing.

        2. Their Bill of Rights should consist of two sections: "Grievances," which will list the economic injustices they faced, and "Demands," which will list the actions they want taken to remedy their situations. Have the groups select a spokesperson to present their grievances and demands to the class.

        3. Return to the handout and discuss the Culminating Activity Questions with the entire class.


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