The 2012 series Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr. explores the complex tapestry of American history through the stories of celebrity guests. This hands-on, media-enhanced lesson explores life in the Jim Crow South, using video segments from Finding Your Roots Episode 7, highlighting the childhood experiences of Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., actor Samuel L. Jackson, former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and Brown University President Ruth Simmons.
In the Introductory Activity, students are given cards featuring the names of major events, laws or court cases from the 1860s through the 1960s, related to Jim Crow laws and the civil rights movement. Students are challenged to find out information about the items on their cards and place the cards on a timeline.
In Learning Activity 1, students view segments highlighting the childhood experiences of Henry Louis Gates, Jr. in Piedmont, WV; Samuel L. Jackson in Chattanooga, TN; Condoleezza Rice in Birmingham, AL; and Ruth Simmons in Grapeland, TX. Each individual grew up under the code of Jim Crow in the 1940s, 50s and 60s. Students use student organizers to record information about how the laws affected the featured guests and their communities. [This activity can either be conducted as a jigsaw activity (where the class is divided into groups and each group views one segment and students then share their information with the other groups) or with the entire class, having all the students view all three segments.] In Learning Activity 2, students use the Interactive Map of Jim Crow Laws featured on the Rise and Fall of Jim Crow website (listed in the Websites section below) to explore the realities of the Jim Crow laws in various southern states.
In the Culminating Activity, students compare and contrast the Jim Crow laws in the different states,and reflect upon the experiences of Gates, Jackson, Rice, and Simmons. The Culminating Activity concludes with students writing a reflection paper, focusing on themes presented in the lesson.
After completing this lesson, students will be able to:
- Name significant moments in the African American civil rights struggle.
- Describe what Jim Crow laws were.
- Discuss specific ways in which Jim Crow laws affected African American communities in Piedmont, WV, Chattanooga, TN, Grapeland, TX and Birmingham, AL.
- Discuss the similarities and differences between the rules and environments that existed in different parts of the South during the Jim Crow era.
(2) 45-minute class periods
For each student:
For the class:
*Note: This lesson can be conducted with one main computer for the class and/or with multiple computers so that students, in groups of 2-3 students each, can view segments on individual computers.
Part I: INTRODUCTORY ACTIVITY
- Divide the class in groups of 2-3. Distribute the Jim Crow Timeline Activity Cards, giving one card to each group.
- Let students know they are now going to have 15 minutes to find out information about the topic listed on their card and then work with the other groups to place the cards in order from earliest event to most recent. Ask students to find out information about the event/law on their card, write a 1-2 sentence summary about it and record the date(s) when it occurred.
- Once students have concluded their research, ask them to write the corresponding dates on the front of their cards and tape them to the wall or place them on along, flat surface (counter, floor, table, etc.) to create a timeline, with the earliest event on the left and the most recent event on the right.
- Once the students have placed all the items in chronological order, ask each group to share its findings. Refer to the Jim Crow Timeline Activity Cards Answer Key for details about each of the items featured on the cards.
- Ask students to describe what they know about Jim Crow. (Accept all answers.) Explain “Jim Crow” refers to laws that restricted rights of nonwhites in the U.S., especially in the South from the 1860s to the 1960s.
- Explain that this lesson focuses on African American experiences in the Jim Crow South during the 1940s and 50s, using video segments from the PBS series Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr., a program which explores the history of the United States through the family stories of well-known Americans.This lesson uses segments from a Finding Your Roots episode featuring actor Samuel L. Jackson, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Brown University President Ruth Simmons, and series host Henry Louis Gates, Jr., all of whom grew up in the Jim Crow South.
Part II: LEARNING ACTIVITY 1
- Distribute the Life in the Jim Crow South Student Organizer. Ask students to work in the groups they formed in the previous activity.
- Assign each group to view one of the following segments from Finding Your Roots:
A look at life under Jim Crow in Piedmont, WV during Henry Louis Gates, Jr.’s childhood and in Chattanooga, TN during Samuel L. Jackson’s childhood.
- Segment 2: Growing up under Jim Crow in Birmingham, Alabama Video
A look at life under Jim Crow in Birmingham, ALduring Condoleezza Rice’s childhood.
- Segment 3: Growing up under Jim Crow in Grapeland, Texas Video
A look at life under Jim Crow in Grapeland, TXduring Ruth Simmons’s childhood.
Note: If you do not have multiple computers, this activity could also be conducted by having the entire class view all of the segments and record their information in their organizers while viewing each one.
- Ask each group to view its assigned video segment and record information from the segment (including information about the city/state featured and how the laws affected the featured guest) in the Life in the Jim Crow South Student Organizer.
- Once all groups have viewed their assigned segments, ask each group to share its information with the rest of the class. As each group presents, instruct the other groups to record the new information in their student organizers.
Note: After all groups have shared their information, all students should have filled in all four of the rows on their Student Organizers. Refer to the Life in the Jim Crow South Student Organizer Answer Key for information about the content presented in each segment.
- Ask students to compare and contrast the experiences of all four guests. Ask students to discuss the ways in which the Jim Crow rules affected their lives, as well as the ways in which the black communities in Piedmont, WV, Chattanooga,TN, Birmingham, AL and Grapeland, TX coped during this period.
Part III: LEARNING ACTIVITY 2
- Ask students to view the Interactive Map on The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow website.
- Instruct them to select “Jim Crow Laws, ” click on “education,” and then select one of the following states:
- North Carolina
- West Virginia
- South Carolina
Note: If a category is empty, it means that the state didn’t have specific Jim Crow laws pertaining to that topic.
- Once students have gathered the information pertaining to their assigned state, ask them to share their information with the other groups.
- Ask students to reflect upon their own lives and compare their own experiences to the realities of life during the Jim Crow era. Encourage students to reflect upon laws and policies that exist today surrounding the categories discussed in this activity (education, transportation, etc.) and compare and contrast them to those which existed in the Jim Crow era.
Part IV: CULMINATING ACTIVITY
- Lead a discussion about the different Jim Crow laws in each of the states. Ask students to compare and contrast the rules that existed in the different states. Encourage students to think about the information presented about Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Samuel L. Jackson, Condoleezza Rice, and Ruth Simmons and their experiences growing up in the Jim Crow South.
- Ask students to write a reflection essay on one of the following topics:
- In the Growing up under Jim Crow in Birmingham, Alabama Video, Condoleezza Rice says, “In some ways, because it was so segregated, racism was both everything and nothing at all.” What do you think she means by that? Reflect upon that statement in light of what you have learned in this lesson about life in the Jim Crow South and write down your thoughts.
- In the Growing up under Jim Crow in Grapeland, Texas Video, Brown University President Ruth Simmons states, “I would not have thought it possible for a person of my background to become president of Brown University.” In addition to their own personal skills, talents and accomplishments, much has changed in U.S. policy and attitudes since Ruth Simmons, Samuel L. Jackson, and Condoleezza Rice were children. Select one of these three guests, and describe policies and laws that have been enacted and movements that have taken place since that person was born (Ruth Simmons in July 1945; Samuel L. Jackson in December 1948; and Condoleezza Rice in November 1954) to make it possible for them to rise to the pinnacles of their professions.
- Reflect upon and write about the similarities and differences between the childhood experiences of Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Samuel L. Jackson, Condoleezza Rice, and Ruth Simmons. Include details learned from this lesson about life during Jim Crow in West Virginia, Tennessee, Alabama and Texas to compare and contrast the environments in which each of these individuals spent their childhoods.