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April 28, 2021

Lesson Plan: Compare state voting laws today with laws of the Jim Crow era

Cover image: Republican Governor Brian Kemp signs the law S.B. 202, a restrictive voting law that activists have said aimed to curtail the influence of Black voters who were instrumental in state elections that helped Democrats win the White House and narrow control of the U.S. Senate, in this handout photo posted to Kemp’s Twitter feed on March 25, 2021.

 

For a Google doc version of this lesson, click here.

Overview

This lesson will explore the backlash over the recently passed Georgia voting law. Students will analyze voting laws in various states and determine how these laws compare to Jim Crow voting laws. They will also engage in a discussion of the role corporations plays in coming out against these laws.

Essential Question: Are new voting laws being proposed and passed in states around the nation designed to infringe upon the rights of minority voters? How do these new laws compare to laws of the Jim Crow era?

Estimated time: One or two 50-minute class periods

Grades: 9-12

Subject: U.S. History, Civics, Social Studies

Warm-up Activity: Watch at least the first three minutes from this PBS NewsHour video on SB 202, the new Georgia voting law, and answer the following questions.

  1. Why do supporters believe the law is necessary?
  2. What do supporters say is in the bill that makes voting easier?
  3. What do critics oppose about the bill?
  4. What proposals were scrapped from the bill?

Main Activity

  1. Participants should start by research voting laws in their own state, plus Georgia, and two other states (in varying regions). Students should complete the graphic organizer and then answer the discussion questions as a class.
  2. Complete the following questions individually, small groups or as a class:
    • How do the voting laws in each of the states you researched compare? Do you see any trends?
    • Conduct some research: You may want to use this link from America’s Black Holocaust Museum in Milwaukee or this link to PBS’s American Experience to understand Jim Crow voting laws. After researching Jim Crow laws and comparing voting laws across states, do you think the new Georgia voting law can be labeled as modern day Jim Crow? Why or why not?
    • Many corporations have come out against the new Georgia law and proposed laws in Texas. Major League Baseball (MLB) decided to move the All Star Game to Denver.
      • Do you agree with corporations making these kinds of statements? (What about companies that decide not to take a stance on the Georgia voting law?)
      • Can this be an effective way to affect change?
      • Do you think these companies might have any other motives for coming out against Georgia’s law?

 

Extension Activity:

  1. Have students design their own elections bill. What would they want their law to do? Would it make voting more accessible? How will it change society for the better? 
  2. Ask your students to research one of several lawsuits that has come about in reaction to the Georgia law. What individuals or groups are involved? What are they arguing? What is the government’s defense? You may want to start with this Atlanta Journal Constitution piece, Lawsuit alleges that Georgia voting law discriminates against Black voters.
  3. Have your students watch the exchange between Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams and Republican Sen. John Kennedy during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing last week. What do you make of their exchange? After getting cut off, Abrams made this video on Tuesday finishing her list of objections to the voting law. Do you agree with Abrams use of social media to finish her point? Why or why not?

Standards

C3 Framework:

  • D2.Civ.5.6-8. Explain the origins, functions, and structure of government with reference to the U.S. Constitution, state constitutions, and selected other systems of government.
  • D2.Civ.5.9-12. Evaluate citizens’ and institutions’ effectiveness in addressing social and political problems at the local, state, tribal, national, and/or international level.

Common Core:

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.1(5): Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.3(6): Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric

Ricky House is a U.S. history educator at an independent school in Washington, D.C. He is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh, where he served as an Urban Fellow and Master of Arts in Teaching candidate. He has over eight years of teaching experience in school systems in Arlington, Virginia, Anne Arundel County Maryland and Washington, D.C. He has appeared on PBS NewsHour and has written several columns for NewsHour as well.


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