Brown V Board


Social Studies

US History

Virginia History



Brief Description

In 1954 the Supreme Court ruled on the case: Brown v Board of Education. This decision led to desegregation of America’s public schools. This lesson focuses on the events and individuals that influenced this decision as well as the response in Virginia. This lesson uses interactive, guided debate, as well as instructor led lecture. Students will investigate both sides of the issue as well as address modern issues along similar topics.


  • Students will learn about the events prior to Brown v Board of Education.
  • Students will research the key players to the decision.
  • Students will apply this knowledge in an interactive debate.

Standard of Learning

VUS.13 The student will demonstrate knowledge of the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960 s by a) identifying the importance of the Brown v Board of Education decision, the roles of Thurgood Marshall and Oliver Hill, and how Virginia Responded.



  • Desegregation
  • Civil Rights
  • Thurgood Marshall
  • Oliver Hill
  • Harry Flood Byrd
  • Brown v Board of Education
  • Plessy v Ferguson
  • Massive Resistance

Materials Needed

  • Access to Internet
  • Access to Library
  • Computer in classroom with PowerPoint-preferably overhead capability


Mini-Unit Plan

This is more of a part of a unit than a true stand-alone unit. As it will be laid out here there will be four lessons, which can be combined into one large lesson or even drawn out into more lessons, as seen fit by the classroom teacher. The first lesson is an overview lesson that is largely taught in a lecture format. The goal of the first lesson is to provide the class with an overview of information about desegregation. The second lesson provides for guided student research into a variety of topics in direct preparation for the third lesson. In the third lesson there is a class discussion/debate involving the information that the students put together over from the previous lesson. The fourth and final culminating lesson is less structured in its form here to allow for complete adaptation to the individual classroom. This lesson features a second debate forum on a topic similar to the desegregation debate with more of a current day twist to allow for comparison learning.

These lessons can be easily shortened to get right to the debate. Conceivably there can be less information given at the beginning allowing for more student-originated research to allow students to control the debate. The lecture lesson could easily be shorted from an in depth history to a ten to fifteen minute introduction putting students in direct control of the research. These are modifications that the individual classroom teacher can determine based on their class. The lessons are presented in a simple form with the intention of four distinct lessons with class time assumed to be fifty-minute classes. Two can be combined in a block schedule format, or lengthened in accordance with classroom instruction


Lesson One

This lesson is an introduction to the information surrounding desegregation. Students may have previous knowledge of some of these events; the design in this lesson is to present the information as a cohesive timeline. This lesson is aided by the download-able Power Point presentation about the information.

Begin this lesson with a brief discussion about the Supreme Court case of Plessy v Ferguson. Factual notes to be included are that Plessy was one eighth black and refused to leave the white car at the train. The Supreme Court ruled that the train station had the legal right to force Plessy off the train setting up the standard of ‘Separate But Equal’ a doctrine that would come to rule the nation in restaurants, schools, rest rooms, water fountains, buses, and of course trains. Discussion notes to be included are that Plessy appeared white to a casual bystander and would not have been noticed as out of place; further commentary about the ‘one drop’ laws that proclaimed a person a minority if their heritage included even a drop of minority heritage. Students should be made to understand that Plessy probably knew exactly what he was doing and he was in all likelihood doing this intentionally. The train station was most likely notified in advance of his arrival that he would be there and he would be in the wrong car. Plessy was involved in an overall plot to challenge the idea of separate cars. Plessy was chosen because he appeared white and could easily gain appeal to a white judge or jury.

Next, this entire scenario can be acted out with very little preparation. Have one student sit in a chair in the front of the class, preferably a white student, and have other students (also white) sit around that student and call this the white car. Have another student approach the designated student and demand that they leave the car, and have the student refuse. Then have the student arrested and placed in jail.

With this foundation laid, the next step is to move on to Brown v Board of Education. Factual notes to be included Brown was an elementary age female student who lived close to an all white school, but endured the law by commuting to a distant Colored school. Her Father attempted to enroll her in the closer school and was refused by the principal. He then went to the NAACP. The NAACP took the case to court where the case was lost and then tried twice in the Supreme Court before a unanimous decision overturned the ‘Separate But Equal’ doctrine that had ruled much of the nation since Plessy v Ferguson. Discussion notes to be included are that the NAACP had been waiting for a willing individual to be the foundation for the case. The NAACP had in fact been at work for years preparing the courts for this kind of decision. There was a plan in effect that started with institutions of higher learning and filtered down to the eventual case to challenge public schools. Also to be included should be side notes about how the Supreme Court operates; the format that gives each arguing attorney twenty minutes to present their case before the court before they pass a judgment.

After this portion, the next step is to have a student read the opinion of the court from the decision. Or perhaps have the conclusion on a handout that each student can receive a copy of and views while either the teacher or some combination of students reads this for the class.

Given this background to the birth of desegregation, the next step is to introduce changes from a ‘national perspective’ to a ‘Virginia perspective’ in relation to the actual implementation of the new court decision. Discussion turns to Governor Harry Byrd who announced the plan of ‘Massive Resistance’ to the desegregation mandate. Harry Byrd is largely remembered for his positive influence of fiscally responsible road building throughout the state. This positive memory should not be understated, as segregation was the popular opinion of the day, and for a politician to announce resistance to desegregation might be similar to a politician being outspoken either in favor of or in opposition to any war that the United States has participated in since the Second World War. Certainly there were those in favor of the Vietnam War at the time, although that opinion is currently frowned upon by history. Present struggles with Iraq are hotly debated with history’s final judgment years away. Harry Byrd s stance was certainly popular with the majority of white voters at the time of the decision, though history would certainly frown on resistance to desegregation at this point.

At this point it is important to sidestep and present the history of these events as related to current or recent events. Students will understand better if there is a modern correlation to these events. Similar only in a very general sense: Magic Johnson retires from basketball because he has contracted HIV. Karl Malone goes public saying he does not want to be on the same court as someone with HIV because of a potential blood injury, resulting in transmission of this disease. This view was popular at the time, but history has given us the ignorant slant because HIV has not proven to transmit in this manor. Giving students this comparison allows a recent historical event with names they might know to compare the idea of a public figure going on record in opposition to desegregation.

As this introductory lesson comes to a close the next step is a mention of the methodology in which Virginia went about Massive Resistance, a battle fought mostly in the courts allowing for a rather peaceable transition into desegregation. This introduction is concluded with an introduction to the next lesson, which will hinge largely on student research. Depending on the size of the class and the temperament, the teacher can allow the students to work individual or in groups to research the players in this history. If each student will be allowed the choice of who to investigate, informing them on this first day will allow more time to choose a character that interests the individual. If the roles will be assigned, assigning them at this point would not be premature. To allow for personal detachment from these events, if the instructor is assigning the roles, the suggestion is to give the roles of the traditional white, majority positions to the minority students, and the traditional minority roles to the white students. The true goal of understanding a different perspective can be best obtained by assuming that role.



One or more of the provided handouts will be presented as a homework assignment or as an in class quiz as an evaluation of student comprehension of this material. Students can perform this evaluation either open note or closed note, individually or in pairs.



Upon completion of this lesson students should have a broad idea on the beginning of the desegregation movement. Students should be in position to begin research on the activities of those mentioned in preparation for a forum discussion.


Lesson Two

This lesson is student operated more than teacher dominated. Students are either assigned or chose from the following groups or people:

  • Plessy
  • Ferguson
  • Brown
  • Board of Education
  • Thurgood Marshall
  • Oliver Hill
  • Harry Byrd
  • Dr Hugh Speer
  • Charles Hamilton
  • Supreme Court

Students are given specific web sites or books to check for their chosen or assigned topics. At this point students are free to begin their research in class to discover insights into the opinions and perspectives of these individuals based on their historically recorded activities. The instructor can roam free to assist students and ensure time on task. This step can be easily erased and assigned as homework. This lesson could also be expanded to include a second research day if students require more time.



Students are required to hand in a copy of their research for evaluation by the instructor. Students should also prepare an overview sentence to read at the beginning of the next lesson.



At the conclusion of this lesson, students should be prepared to articulate and defend the opinion of the individual that they investigated.


Lesson Three

The classroom must be arranged in a circle. Each student or group of students can be prepared with the opinion of the group or person that they investigated. The instructor will act only as chairman of the discussion and will lead with various topics at various times. Students are instructed to immerse themselves in their role, taking on the opinion and potential actions of that person to discuss the various events. The topics that the instructor will lead the group through are:

  • How can we ensure desegregation?
  • How can we prevent desegregation?
  • What are the benefits of Segregation?
  • What are the benefits of Desegregation?
  • What are the consequences of ignoring the Supreme Court ruling?
  • Defend Segregation
  • Defend Desegregation
  • How can desegregation be forced on the nation?

The teacher will move the discussion from topic to topic allowing for equal time to each topic. Some topics will illicit more discussion than others and the instructor can dictate the time spent to allow for this variance.

The instructor should control the discussion as these issues can become very personal and there is no need for the debate to take on an unnecessary personal level. Ideally the students will associate personally with the topic that they researched and take more of an objective academic approach to the information that their classmates present.

The instructor can close the discussion with concluding comments to bring the debate to a close and conclusion.



Students will be assessed on this portion based on their participation in the debate. Some students will perform better in this setting than others, and those students who are less vocal can be provided with alternate assessment forms. The instructor can assign grades based on the performance with the addition that any student who desires to improve their grade can hand in a one page written summary of the discussion/debate.



At the close of this lesson students should have an understanding of the varied influences that existed in the desegregation process throughout the years.


Lesson Four

For this lesson the classroom should again be arranged in a circle. The students are instructed to take their own opinions, and approach each topic in the manor that the topic is presented. The instructor is strongly encouraged to customize the topics for their own class. Here are some sample topics for discussion:

  • Society has placed racial stereotypes on various sports. White basketball players are assumed to be worse than their black counterparts. Is this warranted and how does this affect the playground when teams are picked?
  • Hollywood puts out movies that appear to be either Black or White, with the recent addition of Latino. In these subdivisions the majority of the roles are taken by the specific race, is there anything that can be done to develop movies that target all races? Also should there be any effort to do this?
  • How many years are we away from a minority President?
  • Is using race as a factor in collegiate acceptance a valid practice?
  • Are racial quotas good or bad?

The instructor can again dictate the time spent on each topic.


The same assessment methods can be used as used in lesson three.


At the close of this lesson, also the close of the unit, students should have an understanding of the lasting effects of Brown v Board of Education. They should also begin to understand the level to which their own prejudices and opinions affect their worldview.



Brown v. Board of Education – Grades 10 and 11 Lesson Plan

Supreme Court Decision ruling ëSeparate but Equalí standard unconstitutional and forced public schools to desegregate.



Lesson Plan Link

In 1954 the Supreme Court ruled on the case: Brown v Board of Education. This decision led to desegregation of America’s public schools. This lesson focuses on the events and individuals that influenced this decision as well as the response in Virginia. This lesson uses interactive, guided debate, as well as instructor led lecture. Students will investigate both sides of the issue as well as address modern issues along similar topics.



Supplementary Resources



Bibliography & List of Sources

Links to Related Information:

Brown v Board of Education


Thurgood Marshall



Charles Hamilton Houston /ftrials/


Oliver Hill





Brown v Board of Education

Interactive Brown vs Board of Education website.

in depth information about case-contradictory to previous site on some issues.

complete reprint of deciding opinion from Brown v Board of Education


Thurgood Marshall



Charles Hamilton Houston

in depth biographical


Oliver Hill

biographical information


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