In the 1896 case of Plessy v. Ferguson the Supreme Court ruled that segregation of races in public life was perfectly legal under the doctrine of “separate but equal.” This ruling legitimized Jim Crow laws and second-class citizenship for generations of African-Americans. Finally, in 1954, the Supreme Court reversed itself in the case of Brown v. Board of Education and banned the “separate but equal” doctrine, finally paving the way for true equal rights for African-Americans, nearly 100 years after the end of the Civil War.
Plessy marked the final death blow to any lingering hope for equality and civil rights following the Civil War and Reconstruction; Brown rekindled that hope following the global struggle against fascism and tyranny that had been World War II. Along with the Dred Scott and Bakke decision, these two cases are seminal rulings concerning race relations in this country.
In this activity students will read and analyze excerpts from the two opinions, answer questions which focus their attention on the main arguments made by the Court majorities, and discuss the ideological and legal bases for those arguments and the Court’s Opinions.
*excerpts from the majority opinions from Plessy v. Ferguson and Brown v. Board of Education;
*guided question worksheets;
*answer guide with suggested answers to the guided questions.
Materials are provided as word documents and PDFs in one zip file.
This activity is part of a complete and comprehensive unit
on the Civil War and Reconstruction.
I’ve used this activity with my 8th grade class for years, and it never fails to engage and interest students.
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