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extract from The Declaration of Independence - 'All men are created equal...'

[Detail] extract from The Declaration of Independence

Lesson Overview

The era of legal segregation in America, from Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) to Brown v. The Board of Education, Topeka, Kansas (1954), is seldom fully explored by students of American history and government. At most, these studies are sidebar discussions of isolated people or events. It is important for students to develop an understanding of the complex themes and concepts of African American life in the first half of the 20th century to provide a foundation for a more meaningful understanding of the modern Civil Rights Movement. The following mini-unit will allow students to explore to what extent the African American experience was "separate but equal."

After completing a study of Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), students will simulate the Afro-American Council Meeting in 1898 using African American Perspectives: Pamphlets from the Daniel A.P.Murray Collection, 1818-1907. This will be followed by an exploration of resources in American Memory and other classroom materials. The unit culminating activity asks students to role-play an imaginary meeting of a similar civil rights organization prior to the Brown case in 1954.


Students will be able to:

  • Research American Memory collections and identify the diverse experiences of African Americans between 1896 and 1953.
  • Describe the social, economic and political conditions of African Americans at the turn of the century.
  • Evaluate primary sources and create a presentation reflective of the African American experience


Time Required

One week

Recommended Grade Level

  • 9-12
  • 6-8


  • African American History


  • Progressive Era to New Era, 1900-1929


Agnes Dunn and Eric Powell