School Desegregation


  • Analyzing Primary Source Media

    In this self-paced interactive lesson, students examine primary source media—specifically, news footage carried on Boston television channels over the last five decades. Like historians who analyze documents, photographs, and other primary sources to learn more about the people, issues, and events of the past, students watch news footage on subjects including the 1979 oil crisis, the 1974 Boston school desegregation controversy, and affirmative action. They practice three steps—observe, interpret, and question—to analyze the media. For a final assignment, they select footage and write an essay or blog post that contains their analysis and reflects their understanding of the content in its historical context.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Boston Desegregation

    This news segment from 1975 reviews the events of the first year of Boston's controversial school desegregation plan. Because of geographic barriers between black and white communities, a federal court instituted and enforced busing to desegregate the city's schools. The plan was greeted with white resistance, racial violence, and the boycotting of several schools.
    Grades: 6-12
  • Boston Desegregation Controversy, 1974

    Citizens demonstrate at Boston’s City Hall Plaza against the mandatory busing of students to schools outside of their neighborhoods in this 1974 archival news footage from WGBH: "Evening Compass." The demonstrators, made up of parents and children and led by local politicians, hold signs targeting Senators Edward Kennedy and Edward Brooke and Judge W. Arthur Garrity, Jr. for their support of this policy, which was designed to desegregate schools. While protestors indicate that previous demonstrations were peaceful, the footage shows this demonstration ending with shouting, thrown objects, and property damage to a government building.

    This video is primary source footage and is presented as originally taped.

    Grades: 6-12
  • 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
  • Bus to the Burbs

    Ten years after the Supreme Court ruled that segregated schools were unconstitutional, the vast majority of American schools remained segregated. In Boston, a group of black parents began busing their children to better schools in predominantly white neighborhoods. The Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunities (METCO) busing program remains a strategy for integration today. This video segment from La Plaza: Bus to the Burbs takes a closer look at the METCO program.

    Grades: 6-12
  • A Class Divided 1: The Daring Lesson

    When the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered in April 1968, Jane Elliott taught her third-grade class a daring lesson in discrimination. The third time she taught the lesson, cameras were present.In this video segment from FRONTLINE: "A Class Divided,"Elliott divides her class into two groups — those with blue eyes and those with brown eyes — and discriminates against those with brown eyes.

    Grades: 3-12
  • A Class Divided 2: Day Two

    When the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered in April 1968,Jane Elliott taught her third-grade class a daring lesson in discrimination. The third time she taught the lesson, cameras were present.In this video segment from FRONTLINE: "A Class Divided,"Elliott changes the rules, and discriminates against students with blue eyes.

    Grades: 3-12
  • A Class Divided 3: An Interview with Jane Elliott

    Thirty years after she first taught her eye-color exercise to a third-grade class in Riceville, Iowa, Jane Elliott reflects on what she has learned about discrimination over the years. She also recounts her experiences, some of them disturbing, in her travels throughout the United States and abroad. This Web-exclusive interview was conducted on Dec. 19, 2002 for FRONTLINE.

    Grades: 6-12
  • 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
  • Desegregation Mandate: Jefferson County, AL

    Thirteen years after the Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education (1954) that segregated schools were unconstitutional, Birmingham's schools were still largely segregated. This letter from the Jefferson County school superintendent, dated May 1, 1967, mirrors the exact language of a federal court mandate to eliminate school segregation.

    Grades: 6-12
  • 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
  • NOVA: Percy Julian: Forgotten Genius | Getting an Education

    Learn about the education of chemist Percy Julian. Julian's early educational years paralleled an educational movement that prepared African Americans for industrial jobs, the growing white supremacist movement, and the rise of the Ku Klux Klan. Julian would eventually move north, and finally to Europe to earn his Ph.D. Explore more about this topic, from the NOVA program Percy Julian: Forgotten Genius.

    This video is available in both English and Spanish audio, along with corresponding closed captions.

    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

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