The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow A Century of Segregation
Jim Crow Stories
A National Struggle
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Tools and Activities
For Teachers

Introduction Lesson Plan Activities Resources

Lesson Plan 2: Fighting Jim Crow in the Schools
overview procedures for teachers steps

Introductory Activity:
(half a class period)

During the Jim Crow era, many African Americans struggled to define the purpose of education. Booker T. Washington stressed vocational over cultural education, stating that "there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem." On the other hand, W.E.B. Du Bois insisted that "the object of all true education is not to make men carpenters, it is to make carpenters men."
Introduce, as a general topic of discussion, the question "What is Education For"? Have students address the following propositions:

  • To learn basic skills that will allow us to get jobs?
  • To become "productive members of society"?
  • To become good citizens?
  • To instill certain moral and social values?

Draw up a list of the students’ responses and have students rate them in importance. Save this list, as you will want to return to it in the culminating activity.

Learning Activity:
(two class periods)

The episodes from THE RISE AND FALL OF JIM CROW on which the students will be focusing present the topics of the Holtzclaw family, Booker T. Washington, Lucy Laney (1870s and 1880s), Charlotte Hawkins Brown's Palmer Institute (1900s), the Fisk University student strike (1924), and the battle over segregated schools in Farmville, Virginia (1950s). Have students access the Timeline on THE RISE AND FALL OF JIM CROW Web site so they can place these events in the history of Jim Crow.

  1. Divide students into groups of four or five. Each group will consider the following questions and take careful notes while watching the video.
  2. Have students view the video segments on the Holtzclaw family, Booker T. Washington, and Lucy Laney. The segments, which run consecutively, begin 12:20 minutes into Episode One and last approximately 12:20 minutes. Following the video clip, give students time to discuss among themselves the following questions.
    • Describe school life in the South during these years.
    • How important was education to the Holtzclaw family? What measures did they take to see that their children received an education?
    • What impressed William Holtzclaw about Tuskegee? What is vocational education?
    • What was Booker T. Washington's philosophy of education? Why did so many white leaders applaud and support Washington's philosophy?
    • What did Lucy Laney believe was the purpose of education? What did her students study? How did this differ from the Tuskegee model?
  3. Have students view the video segment on Charlotte Hawkins Brown and her school in Sedalia, North Carolina. The segment begins 13:10 minutes into Episode Two and lasts approximately 8:40 minutes. Following the video clip, give students to discuss among themselves the following questions.
    • How did Charlotte Hawkins Brown's "cultural" school differ from a "vocational" school?
    • How did Brown raise funds for the school? What difficulties did she have to endure to keep her school operating?
    • What was her educational philosophy? What do her former students remember about their education at the Palmer Institute?
  4. Have students view the video segment on W.E.B. Du Bois and the student strike at Fisk University. The segment begins 14:25 minutes into Episode Three and lasts approximately 9:00 minutes. Following the video clip, give students time to discuss among themselves the following questions.
    • What was the focus of Du Bois’ educational philosophy?
    • Why was the Fisk University administration hostile to Du Bois and the NAACP?
    • Why did students strike at Fisk University? What were their demands?
    • Describe Du Bois’ idea of the "Talented Tenth." In his opinion, what special responsibilities did educated African Americans have?
  5. Have students view the video segment on the fight for school desegregation in Farmville, Virginia. The segment begins 41:15 minutes into Episode Four and lasts approximately 14:45 minutes. Following the video clip, give students time to discuss among themselves the following questions.
    • Describe the educational system and the African American community in Farmville, Virginia. What steps were taken to obtain equal facilities for black students in Farmville?
    • What role did students play in the effort to obtain equality in education in Farmville? How did the Farmville school board respond? What pressures were put on students and their parents?
    • At what point did the NAACP become involved in the Farmville school battle?
  6. Discuss the following questions with the entire class. As different student groups respond, have them refer to the specific cases studied and talked about during the video series.
    • Why has education played such a significant role in the history of African Americans? How has education played an important role for other groups? (For example, immigrants, women, the poor.)
    • What was the role of students in the fight against Jim Crow?
    • One Farmville student recalls that "we had the idealism of American young people about America." In what way do the student strikes at Fisk University and Moton High School represent American idealism at its best? Are young people as a rule more idealistic than their parents?

Culminating Activity/Assessment:
(two class periods)

One of the greatest educational debates among African Americans at the turn of the twentieth century was between those who supported Booker T. Washington's philosophy of industrial education and those who supported the "Talented Tenth" philosophy of W.E.B. Du Bois. This culminating activity involves students in identifying and debating the basic ideas behind these differing educational philosophies.

  1. Divide your students into two groups. One group will read Booker T. Washington's essay "Industrial Education is the Solution". The other group will read "The Talented Tenth," by W.E.B. Du Bois. The following are study questions to guide both groups in their reading (both online articles have numbered paragraphs):

    Booker T. Washington, "Industrial Education is the Solution"
    • According to paragraphs 1 and 2, how has Tuskegee Institute transformed life for black people in and around the Institute?
    • What examples does Washington give in paragraphs 3 through 5 of "learning by doing"? What skills have people learned?
    • In paragraph 6, what does Washington have to say about the value of manual labor? How is Tuskegee training people to participate in Southern society?

    W.E.B. Du Bois, "The Talented Tenth"
    • According to Du Bois, what is the larger purpose of education? (See especially paragraphs 1 through 3 and paragraph 9.)
    • Is Du Bois’ "Talented Tenth" an elitist idea? How are the other nine-tenths of the population to benefit from this? (See paragraphs 5 through 7.)
    • What criticism of vocational education does Du Bois offer? (See paragraphs 12 through 15.)
    • How will whites as well as blacks benefit from the educational system Du Bois recommends?
  2. Have your two groups of students debate the question, "What is the purpose of education?" Have both groups begin with a statement of their position, each group adopting the position taken by the author of the paper they read. Put the following questions to each group:
    • How would your model of education benefit African Americans?
    • What would your model of education have done to improve the political position of African Americans living under Jim Crow?
  3. Invite your students to revisit the list regarding the purpose of education that they generated during the Introductory Activity.
    • What is the purpose of education? Are there any points that you believe should be added to the initial list? Would you still rate your responses in the same order?
    • Why was equal access to equal education such an important goal of the Civil Rights movement?

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Intergenerational Discussion Guide
presents ideas and facts on the Jim Crow era.
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