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        The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow | The Geography of Jim Crow: Lesson Plan

        In this lesson, from The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow, students locate statistical information using census data from the United States Historical Census Data Browser.

        Lesson Summary


        The U.S. Constitution requires that a national census be taken every ten years; U.S. census takers have done so since 1790. Historians have found census data to be an extremely important resource for identifying population shifts and trends. In this media-rich activity, students will locate statistical information related to The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow using census data from the United States Historical Census Data Browser. As a culminating activity, students devise their own set of census questions that support a specific argument associated with the history of Jim Crow.


        Students will:

        • draw inferences from statistical information;
        • connect episodes in the history of Jim Crow with larger social trends.

        Grade Level:


        Suggested Time

        Two to three 45-minute class periods

        Media Resources


        Web Sites

        United States Historical Census Data Browser

        Hosted by the Geospatial and Statistical Data Center at the Library of the University of Virginia, the United States Historical Census Data Browser contains selected detailed county- and state-level data for the United States for the years 1790 to 1960.

        Note: Using the Historical Census Browser is fairly straightforward. Categories and variables vary from year to year. Let students know that multiple selections can be made from variables listed in the data categories. (Information on the Web site's homepage explains how to select more than one category, depending upon the type of browser you are using.) Once variables have been selected, click the "Browse [Census Year] Data" at the bottom of the page. The website will then display the data by state. To obtain census information for counties within a given state, select the state and click the "View Counties" button at the bottom of the page.

        Before The Lesson

        • Visit the United States Historical Census Data Browser
        • Print copies of the Geography of Jim Crow Video Organizer and the Census Quest Questionnaire for each student.
        • Provide a map or atlas of the United States

        The Lesson

        Learning Activity

        Two 45-minute class periods

        1. Students may work on this activity individually or in small groups. Explain to students that they are going to search for statistical information relating to episodes in the struggle against Jim Crow depicted in the documentary series The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow, but first they must be familiar with the people and events portrayed in the documentary. Distribute the Geography of Jim Crow Video Organizer. Guide students to the first column of the organizer to identify the location of each event depicted in the video segment. Ask students to find these locations on a map:

        • Memphis, Tennessee
        • Nicodemus, Kansas
        • Wilmington, North Carolina
        • Mound Bayou, Mississippi
        • Talapoosa County, Alabama
        • Prince Edward County, Virginia

        2.Prior to watching each segment, ask students to review the focus question for the segment. Afterward, students summarize and discuss what they saw in the video.

        3. Next, distribute the Census Quest Questionnaire. Using the United States Historical Census Data Browser, have students answer the questions on the handout.

        Culminating Activity/Assessment

        One 45-minute class period and one homework activity

        1. After students have searched the Historical Census Browser, go over their answers in class. In addition to ensuring that students have discovered the correct information, discuss how this data might be used to support a specific argument regarding the history of Jim Crow. For example, how might the results of Question 1, regarding African American literacy rates in 1870, be used to support the educational goals of Booker T. Washington or W.E.B. Du Bois?

        2. Have students create their own census-based historical questions related to the Jim Crow era, using the Historical Census Browser. (For example, students might develop a census-based question that demonstrates the migration of African Americans from the South to the urban North in the mid-twentieth century.)

        3. Discuss the ideas students propose for their own census based questions and ask them to prepare their research as an in-class assignment or for homework. Once students have completed their projects, select the best questions for a classroom-created "Census Quest." Questions should be judged on their creative use of available online census materials as well as their relevance to the topic.

        4. You may elect to post these student-developed questions on your school or classroom website and use some of the student-created questions for a future Census Quest.


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