Lesson Plan: Addressing Historical Race-based Injustices

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In this lesson, students will study the land reform program in Zimbabwe and explain their ideas about whether or not white people today should be required to make amends for historical race-based injustices for which they were not personally responsible. Students will then apply their thinking to how the United States today might address racial inequities that have resulted from discriminatory policies and practices for housing and property ownership.

For background information on Zimbabwe, its land reform process and discriminatory housing practices in the United States, please see the Resources section of this lesson.

The clips used in this lesson are from the film Mugabe and the White African, a documentary that shows how a white family fought in international court to keep its farm in Zimbabwe after President Robert Mugabe's government cancelled its title deed, declared ownership of the farm without providing any compensation and then used violence and intimidation to try to drive the family out. Please be sure to preview the film if you plan to show all of it to your class, as a number of scenes and images are quite intense.

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By the end of this lesson, students will:

  • Describe the relationship between owning land and power.
  • Judge whether white people today should be required to make amends for historical race-based injustices for which they were not personally responsible.
  • Research policies and practices in the United States that excluded African Americans and other people of color from home ownership.
  • Compare and contrast racial inequities that have resulted from discriminatory actions in Zimbabwe and the United States.
  • Make recommendations for how to best address historical race-based injustices in the United States that resulted from housing discrimination.
  • Explain how one such strategy would affect them personally or their families.


Geography, Social Studies, World History, U.S. History, Political Science, International Studies, Comparative Government, Current Events


Two 50-minute class period

Clip 1: "Zimbabwe's Land Reform Program" (length 4:59)
The clip begins at 20:55 with the words, "The problems for us here on Mount Carmel began..." It ends at 25:54 with the phrase "...that these farmers now currently have."

Clip 2: "It Is Distinctly Racially Discriminatory" (length 2:02)
The clip begins at 41:10 with a lawyer flipping through papers. It ends at 43:12 with the statement "It is distinctly racially discriminatory."

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1. Show the class a map of Africa and point out the location of Zimbabwe. Tell the class that the country was a British colony until 1980. Explain that during colonial times, it was common for the country's small population of white people to take the best land for farming, leaving smaller areas of less desirable land for a large population of black peasant farmers. By the time Zimbabwe achieved its independence from Great Britain in 1980, 6,000 white farmers owned 47 percent of the country's agricultural land, while more than 700,000 black farmers owned, leased or occupied the rest. (See Background Information.) Discuss:

  • What is the relationship between owning land and power?
  • Imagine that it is 1980 and Zimbabwe has just achieved independence. What should the new government do, if anything, to address the legacy of inequity in land ownership that resulted from white discrimination against black Africans?

2. Tell the class that when President Robert Mugabe took power in 1980, his government began addressing the inequity in land ownership by buying up white-owned farms and redistributing them to black peasant farmers. By 2000, however, Mugabe's popularity was waning. In an effort to attract more supporters, he began an aggressive land redistribution policy, under which his government declared immediate ownership of all farms without providing compensation, and then began driving out white farmers through violence and intimidation.

3. Show the class the video clip "Zimbabwe's Land Reform Program" (length 4:59), which explains in part how the land redistribution process in Zimbabwe affected the Mount Carmel farm owned by a white man named Mike Campbell and his family. Focus student viewing by asking students to listen for what these farmers believe President Mugabe's motivation is for the involuntary land seizures.

4. After watching the clip, discuss:

  • Why do the Campbells think President Mugabe is seizing white-owned farms?
  • Why do you think President Mugabe would want white farmers out of Zimbabwe?
  • Do you believe the government of Zimbabwe should be able to take away the property rights of white farmers as part of what they say is an effort to make up for policies in the past that discriminated against poor black farmers? Putting it more generally, do you think white people today should be required to make amends for historical race-based injustices for which they were not personally responsible? Explain.
  • Should the land reform process take into account that the Campbells purchased their farm after Zimbabwean independence, rather than inheriting it from British colonizers? Why or why not?
  • In your view, is it acceptable for people of different races to be treated unequally in certain circumstances? Explain.

5. Show the class the video clip "It Is Distinctly Racially Discriminatory" (length 2:02). Focus student viewing by having students watch for who is receiving the farms seized by the Zimbabwean government. Afterwards, discuss:

  • What is your reaction to finding out that the farms seized involuntarily from white farmers are being given to President Mugabe's family and supporters, rather than to poor black farmers?
  • How might such gifts benefit Mugabe?
  • Does knowing that Zimbabwe's land reform process is corrupt change your views about the justice or injustice of seizing white-owned farms? Explain.

6. Point out that the United States has also had a history of discriminatory policies and practices related to property ownership that has resulted in racial inequities. Help the class learn more about such discrimination by giving each student a handout, dividing the class into six groups and assigning a topic from the handout to each group. Students should then research their topics and record their findings on the handout.

7. Have each group report its findings to the class, so that all students can complete their handouts. Discuss:

  • How are the historical race-based injustices in the United States and Zimbabwe similar? How are they different? Capture student thinking in a Venn diagram.
  • What steps do you think should be taken to address any racial inequities in the United States that have resulted from housing discrimination? Brainstorm and prioritize a list of recommendations. Do any of these measures infringe on the rights of others or treat some races unequally? Is that acceptable if the idea is to achieve equality eventually? Explain your thinking.

8. Conclude the lesson by having each student choose one strategy from the class list of recommendations and explain how its implementation would affect him/her and/or his/her family.

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If class time permits, replace the guided discussion at the beginning of the lesson with an authentic research activity that will give students more background on the history of Zimbabwe. Use a KWL chart to focus student research, and then have them use POV's timeline of Zimbabwe's history, background information and other resources to gather information and report on their findings.

Propose and assess ways that Zimbabwe could address race-based historical wrongs and achieve economic justice without involuntary land seizures and violence. Have small student groups first discuss basic principles related to reparations and reconciliation policies used in South Africa. Groups should then review potential measures that could be granted to victims of discrimination and brainstorm their own strategies. Finally, groups should choose the three approaches that they think would be most effective in Zimbabwe and share their thinking with the class.

Compare the land reform process in Zimbabwe to eminent domain policies in the United States. Have students break into small groups to study Eminent Domain Cases and then write persuasive essays that address the question "Under what circumstances does a government have the right to force citizens off their land?"

Take an in-depth look at the argument that housing discrimination in the United States could justify reparations for African Americans. Have students read, "Housing Discrimination as a Basis for Black Reparations" and write a review essay that provides a critical discussion of the author's significant points.

Explore other POV and PBS films that address African land reform and issues of race, genocide and related issues of justice and healing. For each film, background information and educator resources are available online.

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Additional Background on Zimbabwe

BBC. "Zimbabwe Country Profile."
This site provides very well-organized information on Zimbabwe, including facts on the government, economy and media.

NewsHour: "Profile: Robert Mugabe"
This brief biography explains how Robert Mugabe rose to power and provides details on what has happened in Zimbabwe under his leadership.

NewHour: "Zimbabwe's Land Program"
This article traces the history of land reform in Zimbabwe since independence in 1980.

U.S. Department of State. "Background Note: Zimbabwe."
This profile provides general information about Zimbabwe, including details on its history, government and relations with the United States.

Discriminatory Housing Policies and Practices in the United States

Nier III, Charles Lewis. "The Shadow of Credit: The Historical Origins of Racial Predatory Lending and Its Impact on African American Wealth Accumulation." University of Pennsylvania Journal of Law and Social Change 11 (2007-2008)
This in-depth article explains how lending policies and other factors prevented African Americans from getting loans and owning property, which caused a wealth gap between black and white and led to concentrated pockets of poverty that persist in many communities today. An abstract of this article is also available.

PBS. "Your Home Is Your Future."
This resource provides a brief summary of how specific U.S. government policies and past discrimination have limited access to home ownership for African Americans and other people of color.

U.S. Housing Scholars and Research and Advocacy Organizations. "Residential Segregation and Housing Discrimination in the United States."
This 2008 report to the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination names U.S. government policies that contribute to and promote residential segregation and makes recommendations to help reduce discrimination.

Student Action
Africa Action Student Network
The Africa Action Student Network is a community of student activists across the country committed to mobilizing and advocating for U.S. policies that promote political, economic and social justice in Africa.

Amnesty International. "Students and Youth."
Amnesty International USA's youth members (ages 14 to 25) undertake public demonstrations and letter writing campaigns, as well as teach-ins and face-to-face meetings with elected and appointed officials.

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These standards are drawn from Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science and Technical Subjects

SL, 9-10, 11-12.1 Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on [grade-appropriate] topics, text and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

W.9-10, 11-12.3 Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details and well-structured event sequences.

RH.9-10.2 Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of how key events or ideas develop over the course of the text.

RH.11-12.2 Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas.

RH.9-10.9 Compare and contrast treatments of the same topic in several primary and secondary sources.

RH.11-12.9 Integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources.

WHST. 9-10, 11-12.4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization and style are appropriate to task, purpose and audience.

WHST. 9-10, 11-12.7 Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question) or solve a problem; narrow or broaden the inquiry when appropriate; synthesize multiple sources on the subject, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.

These standards are drawn from "Content Knowledge," a compilation of content standards and benchmarks for K-12 curriculum by McRel (Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning)

Behavioral Studies

Standard 4: Understands conflict, cooperation and interdependence among individuals, groups and institutions.


Standard 14: Understands issues concerning the disparities between ideals and reality in American political and social life.

Standard 25: Understands issues regarding personal, political and economic rights.


Standard 9: Understands the nature, distribution and migration of human populations on Earth's surface.

Standard 10: Understands the nature and complexity of Earth's cultural mosaics.

Standard 13: Understands the forces of cooperation and conflict that shape the divisions of Earth's surface.

Historical Understanding

Standard 2: Understands the historical perspective.

Language Arts

Standard 1: Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process.

Standard 9: Uses viewing skills and strategies to understand and interpret visual media.

United States History

Standard 24: Understands how the New Deal addressed the Great Depression, transformed American federalism and initiated the welfare state.

Standard 26: Understands the economic boom and social transformation of post-World War II United States.

Standard 28: Understands domestic policies in the post-World War II period.

Standard 29: Understands the struggle for racial and gender equality and for the extension of civil liberties.

World History

Standard 43: Understands how post-World War II reconstruction occurred, new international power relations took shape, and colonial empires broke up.

Standard 44: Understands the search for community, stability, and peace in an interdependent world.

Standard 45: Understands major global trends since World War II.

Cari Ladd, M.Ed., is an educational writer with a background in secondary education and media development. Previously, she served as PBS Interactive's Director of Education, overseeing the development of curricular resources tied to PBS programs, the PBS TeacherSource website (now PBS Teachers) and online teacher professional development services. She has also taught in Maryland and Northern Virginia.