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        The Law and Politics of Jim Crow

        This lesson examines the changing legal status of African Americans after slavery, the political violence that accompanied that change, and the legal challenges to Jim Crow.

        Lesson Summary


        In this lesson, students learn about the Jim Crow era in American history and how it was not just a system of discrimination and segregation based on race; it was also a legal system, backed by the United States Supreme Court in cases such as Plessy v. Ferguson and sustained by thousands of local statutes and ordinances. This lesson examines the changing legal status of African Americans, the political violence that accompanied that change, and the legal challenge to Jim Crow undertaken by the NAACP and the individuals shown in the PBS series The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow.


        Students will:

        • understand Jim Crow as a political and legal system;
        • enhance understanding and draw conclusions from the study of primary documents;
        • explain the strategies the NAACP and other activists used to challenge Jim Crow in the courts.

        Grade Level:


        Suggested Time

        Two 45-minute class periods

        Media Resources


        To complete the Culminating Activity, print multiple copies of the documents below for one or more student groups:

        Web Sites

        The Lesson

        Learning Activity

        One 45-minute class period

        1. Ask students what they know about the end of Reconstruction in the United States (For detailed information on Reconstruction and the Hayes-Tilden election of 1876, see the Century of Segregation Timeline.) Discuss.

        2. Organize students into groups or allow them to work individually. Distribute the Law and Politics of Jim Crow - Video Questions handout to each student.

        3. Tell students they are going to watch a collection of videos from the PBS series The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow. Explain to students that they will learn about the struggles the new black middle class faced after Reconstruction ended, and the lengths they went to in order to maintain their status and rights.

        4. Ask students to review the questions on the handout before watching each video and to take notes while they watch the segment. Play the segments in the order presented on the handout.

        5. Following each segment, give students (in groups or individually) time to discuss their responses to the questions among themselves.

        Culminating Activity/Assessment

        One 45-minute class period

        1. Divide students into groups and have each group read and discuss one or more of the following documents, which should be accessed online beforehand and printed out. Have students access the Century of Segregation Timeline so they can place these documents in the history of Jim Crow. Allow the groups 15 minutes to read and discuss their document.

        2. Have each group make a presentation about its document to the class. Students should give a brief description of the content of the document and discuss how it is related to the political and legal system of Jim Crow. Special attention should be given to the following questions:

        • What kind of a document is this? (i.e., testimony, a statement of principles, a law, etc.)
        • When was the document created?


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