IS “SEPARATE BUT EQUAL” ACTUALLY EQUAL?
It’s 1953 and you’re an African American child living in Washington, DC.
Slavery was outlawed many years ago, but you know from your own experience that African American citizens still don’t have the same rights as white citizens in America.
For instance, many African American kids like you have to go to school at night!
How in the world did this happen?
Well, there are way more black children than there are white children in Washington, D.C. But there are segregated public schools – white students go to one set of schools and black students go to another. There are a lot of problems with this. One of them is that there aren’t nearly enough “black schools” for all the African American students. Some of the “white schools” are almost empty, because so many white people have moved out of the city. You and your friends can’t go to those schools because you aren’t white. It would actually be illegal.
The result is that if you and all the African American kids all went to your school at the same time, you wouldn’t even fit in the classrooms. There are way too many of you. You have to go in shifts – some go to school in the morning and some like you go in the afternoon and into the night. Even though you’ve never been inside a “white school,” you suspect that those schools are far better – with better buildings and better resources – than the schools that you and your African American friends are allowed to attend.
According to an earlier Supreme Court ruling, there can be separate schools as long as they both provide an equal education for white and African American students. “Separate but equal” they call it. You know from your own life that the Washington schools are definitely separate. But are they also equal?
Some people are now challenging this idea of “separate but equal” in a new Supreme Court case called Brown vs. Board of Education. You and your Mom are going to go to the court to see the case. Even though you don’t know what’s going to happen, you want to be in the front row to see how history plays out in the court.
Investigate the primary sources. Do you think “separate but equal” is actually equal for both white and African American children? Make your case.
Have your students take this challenge and make their case! To begin, send your students to this website with this challenge’s code.
Brown v. Board of Education is a famous United States Supreme Court case. The Court said state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students were not allowed by the U.S. Constitution.