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

Introduction Lesson Plan Activities Resources

Lesson Plan 4: The Jim Crow Years: People Who Made a Difference
overview procedures for teachers steps

Introductory Activity:
(one class period)

  1. Write "People Who Made a Difference" on the top of a blackboard. Below that, create four columns, with the headings:
    • Name
    • Accomplishment
    • Occupation
    • Personality Traits

    Ask your students to give examples of people whose actions have helped to make a positive difference in the lives of others. In addition to well-known public figures, encourage your students to give examples of less-known people such as family members, friends, members of their community. How can people make a difference in small ways, ways that might not attract much public attention?
  2. As your students make suggestions, enter the appropriate information about these individuals in the four columns. When your students have given a sufficient number of examples, say 10 or 12, generalize the discussion by having the students consider broader questions:
    • What sorts of experiences made these people take the paths they took?
    • What sorts of opposition did they face?
    • Was their particular occupation related to the work they did for social change and if so, how?
    • Do these people have traits in common?
    • What occupations, in addition to the ones in the examples on the board, attract people who are interested in effecting social change? (Answers might include political, religious, labor, legal, science, medical and educational occupations.)
    • What personality traits, in addition to the ones already noted, are useful for people trying to accomplish social changes? [or achieve, or effect or bring about]

    Add the additional occupations and traits to the appropriate columns.
  3. Finally, ask your students to respond to the following critical/analytical questions:
    • Is there a downside to the traits that make these people leaders for social change? For example, can "courageousness" become "recklessness," or "stubbornness" lead to "inflexibility"?
    • Are these personality traits ones that are encouraged or discouraged in our schools and in our popular culture?
    • Does our culture seem to celebrate people who work for the betterment of others or does it celebrate what people accomplish for themselves?

Learning Activity:
(two class periods)

Students will produce two- to three-page profiles on individuals who made a difference in the struggle to end Jim Crow.

  1. Assign each student one person from the following list. This should be done prior to the viewing of THE RISE AND FALL OF JIM CROW.
    • Benjamin "Pap" Singleton (1809-1892)
    • Isaiah Montgomery (1847-1924)
    • Lucy Laney (1854-1933)
    • Booker T. Washington (1856-1915)
    • Ida B. Wells. (1862-1931).
    • Madame C.J. Walker (1867-1919 )*
    • W.E.B. DuBois (1868-1963)
    • Charlotte Hawkins Brown (1883-1961)
    • Jessie Daniel Ames (1883-1972)
    • Ned Cobb (1885-1973)
    • Marcus Garvey (1887-1940)*
    • A. Philip Randolph (1889-1979)*
    • Walter White (1893-1955)
    • Charles Hamilton Houston (1895-1950)
    • Hosea Williams (1926-2000)
    • Barbara Johns (1935-1986)
      * Although not prominently featured in the video, biographical information concerning these individuals is available on the Web site.
  2. As your students view THE RISE AND FALL OF JIM CROW they should take notes, considering the following:
    • What experiences influenced the actions and beliefs of your person?
    • What sorts of difficulties and obstacles did they face?
    • What did they succeed in accomplishing? How did it improve the lives of others?
    • How did they transform their occupations (for example, teacher, journalist) into a vehicle for social change?
    • What qualities did your person possess that made them effective leaders?
    • What qualities did your person possess that may have made them less effective as leaders for change?
    • How were your person's experiences and contributions special? Were other people carrying out the same work or were his or her contributions unique?
    • How did your individual build from, or otherwise respond to, the work of other individuals discussed in the video?
    • In "The Talented Tenth," W.E.B. Du Bois writes: "The Negro race, like all races, is going to be saved by its exceptional men. The problem of education, then, among Negroes must first of all deal with the Talented Tenth; it is the problem of developing the Best of this race that they may guide the Mass away from the contamination and death of the Worst, in their own and other races." Is your person someone W.E.B. Du Bois would consider a member of the "Talented Tenth?" Do you think your person would agree with Du Bois' argument that "the Negro race… is going to be saved by its exceptional men?"
  3. Having viewed the video and taken notes related to their particular subjects, your students should do further research. Direct them to the Web sites listed in the media section and ask that they include at least one print resource in their research. Have them find a photograph of their person and import it into their document.

Culminating Activity/Assessment:
(two class periods)

This lesson plan culminates in class presentations, in which all the students who have worked on a specific individual present their findings to the whole class.

  1. Have students who have worked on the same individual meet together and discuss their subjects; give them five or ten minutes to read each others' profiles.
  2. Have students introduce their individuals to the entire class, from the earliest in history to the most recent. (refer to the sequence listed above). If it can be arranged, have images of the various individuals displayed for these presentations on a slide projector or using a digital projector.
  3. Before the next group presents their subject, ask them to tell the class how their subject might have responded to the previous subject -- would their subject have approved or disapproved of the actions and accomplishments of that person?
  4. Following the presentations, have students hand in their 2-3 page profiles.

Community Connections:

Develop a project for your community called “People Who Made a Difference.” Have your students, working in groups of two or three, interview community members who have helped to improve their communities either on their own or through the creation of community organizations. (These might include local cultural centers, health centers, legal aid centers, environmental action groups, or other non profit organizations.) The selection of interview subjects should be made by students, subject to the advice and approval of the teacher. Once subjects have been selected, students should make arrangements to interview these community leaders, keeping in mind some of the questions discussed in the lesson plans. For example, students may wish to find out:

  • How long have they been working on this project?
  • What experiences prompted these people to become involved in their project?
  • What opposition or difficulties did they face? What successes and setbacks have they had?
  • What personality traits have aided them in their community work?
  • To whom did these people look for inspiration?

Following their interviews, students will write short biographical profiles. You may wish to post these community profiles on your school or classroom Web site, along with digital photographs of the interviewees.

  little girl

Intergenerational Discussion Guide
presents ideas and facts on the Jim Crow era.
  To download the Guide, you'll need the Adobe Acrobat Reader. Download Adobe Acrobat.  


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