Legal Strategies


  • Bayard Rustin: A Freedom Budget, Part 2

    In a speech delivered on November 17, 1967 at Harvard University, civil rights leader Bayard Rustin outlined the "Freedom Budget for All Americans." In this audio recording, Rustin proposes an increase in federal spending for education, job training, and health care, and a guaranteed income plan. The Freedom Budget was designed to end poverty in America by 1975.

    Grades: 9-12
  • Burke Marshall

    As an assistant attorney general in the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, Burke Marshall played a key role in the federal government's efforts to desegregate the South. Representing the presidential administrations of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, Marshall mediated conflicts between civil rights protesters and southern white officials. In this interview, Marshall recalls the 1961 Freedom Rides and the 1962 desegregation of the University of Mississippi.

    Grades: 9-12
  • Constance Baker Motley

    In this interview, Constance Baker Motley describes her role as an attorney for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF) during the Civil Rights movement. As one of the few African American attorneys at the time, Motley worked on school desegregation cases, most notably Meredith v. Fair, in which she successfully argued that African American student James Meredith should be admitted to the University of Mississippi.

    Grades: 9-12
  • Documenting Brown 1: The Fourteenth Amendment

    In the years immediately following the Civil War, Reconstruction-era legislation granted African Americans full citizenship and voting rights. The Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution granted equal protection under the law. Soon after it was ratified, and for decades to follow, this equal protection clause would be used to argue that segregation was unconstitutional.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Documenting Brown 2: Plessy v. Ferguson

    In the mid-1920s, a Chinese American man named Gong Lum sued the local school board when his daughter, Martha, was denied admission to her local school because of her race. When the case went before the Supreme Court in 1927, Gong Lum lost. The Court affirmed that segregated schools for Chinese Americans did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Documenting Brown 3: Gong Lum v. Rice

    In the mid-1920s, a Chinese American man named Gong Lum sued the local school board when his daughter, Martha, was denied admission to her local school because of her race. When the case went before the Supreme Court in 1927, Gong Lum lost. The Court affirmed that segregated schools for Chinese Americans did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Documenting Brown 4: Mendez v. Westminster

    Until the 1940s, Mexican Americans throughout the Southwest faced discrimination in education, based on national origin. In California, Gonzalo Mendez filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of his children and 5,000 Mexican Americans who were denied equal access to education. Mendez won; in 1946, the U.S. District Court in southern California ruled that separate is not equal, formally challenging the decades-old "separate but equal" doctrine.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Documenting Brown 5: Brown v. Board of Education, 1954

    In 1954, the Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that segregated schools were unconstitutional, challenging centuries of legalized segregation in America. It was considered the most important civil rights case of the twentieth century. Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote the Court's unanimous opinion.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Documenting Brown 6: Brown v. Board of Education, 1955

    In 1954, the Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that segregated schools were unconstitutional. However, the Court did not specify how the ruling would be implemented. A year later, the Court issued a second ruling, known as Brown II, which declared that school districts should act "with all deliberate speed". The Court's opinion, which didn't specify a time frame, reflected the tension between those who insisted on immediate integration and those who opposed it.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Documenting Brown 7: Civil Rights Act of 1964

    In 1954, the Supreme Court declared that segregated schools were unconstitutional, but a decade later, most schools remained segregated. At the height of the Civil Rights Movement, President John F. Kennedy drafted legislation to enforce racial equality. It wasn't until President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which gave the federal government the power to withhold federal funds from segregated public schools, that many school districts first developed desegregation plans.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Documenting Brown: Collected Excerpts

    This collection of primary sources documents how the Fourteenth Amendment has been interpreted and enforced over time with respect to school desegregation. It includes excerpts from the Fourteenth Amendment, Plessy v. Ferguson, Gong Lum v. Rice, Mendez v. Westminster, Brown v. Board of Education, Brown II, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Freedom Riders: Freedom Riders Challenge Segregation

    In this video segment adapted from American Experience: "Freedom Riders," watch newsreel footage, archival photos, and interviews to explore how Freedom Riders made efforts to end the segregation of African Americans in the Southern United States. Even after the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled that the segregation of black and white riders on interstate buses was unconstitutional, Southern states continued to enforce local segregation laws. In response, members of both races decided to force the issue and challenge illegal segregation by riding together in buses headed to the South. This resource is part of the American Experience: "Freedom Riders" collection. 

    Grades: 6-12
  • Freedom Riders: Freedom Riders Create Change

    In this video segment adapted from American Experience: "Freedom Riders," view newsreel footage, archival photos, and interviews to explore how the Freedom Rides of 1961 brought about the end of racial segregation in interstate transportation. The Freedom Riders, aware that their nonviolent protest would elicit violence from some Southerners attempting to enforce local segregation laws, were determined to continue their protest even in the face of possible arrest. A series of events involving the U.S. attorney general, a U.S. senator, the governor of Mississippi, and a federal agency put an end to discriminatory practices in public transportation. This initial, unambiguous victory for the Civil Rights Movement paved the way for further progress. This resource is part of the American Experience: Freedom Riders Collection.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Freedom Riders: Fresh Troops

    In this video segment from the American Experience: "Freedom Riders" Web site, view newsreel footage, interviews, and archival photos to explore how students in Nashville, Tennessee, prepared for civil rights protests by training in the techniques of nonviolent direct action. This training prepared them for several initial efforts focused on the Nashville community and made them ideal reinforcements when attacks by white mobs decimated the ranks of the first Freedom Riders in 1961. This resource is part of the American Experience: Freedom Riders Collection.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Harry Briggs, Sr. and Eliza Briggs

    Harry and Eliza Briggs were among 20 African American parents in Clarendon County, South Carolina who sued the school board over unequal education. The case, Briggs v. Elliott, was eventually joined with four other lawsuits to form the landmark 1954 case Brown v. Board of Education, in which the United States Supreme Court ruled that segregated schools were unconstitutional. In this interview, the Briggs describe the importance of education, the conditions that existed in black schools, and the hardships endured by many of plaintiffs in the suit.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Mendez v. Westminster: Desegregating California's Schools

    In 1946, eight years before the landmark Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education, Mexican Americans in Orange County, California won a class action lawsuit to dismantle the segregated school system that existed there. In this video segment, Sylvia Mendez recalls the conditions that triggered the lawsuit and her parents' involvement in the case.

    Grades: 3-12
  • Implementing Brown

    This video segment reveals conflicting views of President Eisenhower's response to the Brown v. Board of Education ruling against segregated schools. NAACP attorney Constance Baker Motley argues that the president should have done more to enforce the ruling. Former attorney general Herbert Brownell and his deputy, William Rogers, explain the president's cautious response.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Simple Justice 1: A Handful of Lawyers

    On May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that segregated schools were unconstitutional. What happened that day reflected years of work, dating back to the law school days of the NAACP attorneys and the professor who trained them, Charles Houston. This video segment, from American Experience: "Simple Justice", looks at Houston's role in preparing the NAACP attorneys and the strategies they would use later in court to attack segregation.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Simple Justice 2: Social Science Evidence

    In this video segment, African American psychologist Dr. Kenneth B. Clark conducts his famous "doll test," designed to gather social science evidence of the effects of racial discrimination. That evidence would eventually be presented in Brown v. Board of Education. to argue that racial discrimination in public schools was a violation of the Constitution and psychologically harmful to African American children.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Simple Justice 3: The Trial Begins

    After decades of fighting for equal education, the NAACP's legal struggle came before the United States Supreme Court. The Court's decision in Brown v. Board of Education would either affirm or outlaw the segregated schools that existed across the country. This video segment from American Experience: "Simple Justice" recalls the opening arguments.

    Grades: 6-12

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