K-12 Teaching and Learning From the UNC School of Education

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  • Desegregating public schools: Integrated vs. neighborhood schools : In this lesson, students will learn about the history of the "separate but equal" U.S. school system and the 1971 Swann case which forced Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools to integrate. Students will examine the pros and cons of integration achieved through busing, and will write an argumentative essay drawing on information from oral histories.
  • A record of school desegregation: Conduct your own oral history project: In this unit, students will research the history of school desegregation and will use their knowledge to conduct oral history interviews with community members. Students will reflect on the experience through writing.
  • School desegregation pioneers: In this lesson, students will learn about the challenges faced by the first students to desegregate Southern schools. Students will hear oral histories telling the story of desegregation pioneers from Alabama and North Carolina and critically analyze images of school desegregation. They will synthesize the information by writing a narrative from the point of view of a black student desegregating a white school.

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In this lesson, students will contrast and compare de facto and de jure segregation, listening to oral history examples of each from residents of Charlotte, North Carolina. Students will then brainstorm solutions to each type of segregation, and will discuss why de facto segregation can persist even after de jure segregation is eliminated.

Learning outcomes

  • Students will understand the difference between after de jure and de facto segregation and will know examples of each from U.S. history and current society.
  • Students will analyze and brainstorm solutions for social problems.

Teacher planning

Time required for lesson

Two or three 50-minute class periods

Materials needed

  • Dictionaries
  • Oral history excerpts:
  • Transcripts of oral history excerpts for each student (available at the links above.)
  • Computer with internet connection and speakers, or a CD player if you have burned your own CD.


  • Students should have basic background knowledge of the history of segregation in the U.S.
  • Teachers should listen to the oral histories and preview the discussion questions before using them in class.

Activity one: Defining de jure and de facto

  1. Define de jure segregation. Have students look up the phrase in their dictionaries. The American Heritage Dictionary defines de jure as “According to law,” and Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary provides these definitions: “1. By right; of right; by a lawful title: 2. by law.” Discuss with students what they think these definitions mean in relationship to segregation. Some ideas that will probably be mentioned are Jim Crow laws, such as those segregating buses, restaurants, and so on, and school segregation laws. How do the students interpret the sense of the word meaning “by right,” or “of right”?
  2. Define de facto segregation, again by having students look up the phrase in their dictionaries. According to the American Heritage Dictionary, de facto means “actual.” Discuss the definitions with students. Based on these definitions, how could de jure segregation differ from de facto segregation?

Activity two: Listening to the oral histories

  1. Introduce the concept of oral histories, and discuss their value as we study important events. Mention that oral histories provide a chance for the “regular person” to record his or her experiences, not just the well-known or famous people often recorded in written history. Ask students to come up with more reasons we should value oral histories — such as allowing minority groups to record and publicize their experiences, making connections between generations, and passing on the art of storytelling. (For more about oral histories, see the LEARN NC guide, “Oral History in the Classroom.”)
  2. Hand out the transcripts of the oral history excerpts to students.
  3. Fred Battle oral history
    • Read this introduction to students:
      Fred Battle is a resident of Chapel Hill, North Carolina who experienced segregation as he came of age in the 1950s and 1960s. He participated in the sit-ins in Greensboro, N.C. in 1960 to desegregate the lunch counter at the local Woolworth’s store, and he also experienced segregation in his hometown of Chapel Hill.
    • Play the Fred Battle oral history excerpt. (2 min 10 sec)

      Please upgrade your Flash Player and/or enable JavaScript in your browser to listen to this audio file.

      Download recording (Right-click or option-click) | About the recording

      Discussion questions:

      • Is Fred Battle discussing de facto or de jure segregation?
      • What do you think Mr. Battle meant by “surrogate victory”?
      • What type of victories do you think he wanted to achieve?
  4. Madge Hopkins oral history
    • Read this introduction to students:
      Madge Hopkins is a resident of Charlotte, North Carolina who attended segregated schools and later became the vice-principal of an integrated school in the 1990s. Here, she remembers the hurt caused by segregation, which she felt even as a small child: She got in a fight with a white boy from the neighborhood, but was told by the adults around her that she couldn’t fight back because he was white.
    • Play the Madge Hopkins oral history excerpt. (1 min 59 sec)

      Please upgrade your Flash Player and/or enable JavaScript in your browser to listen to this audio file.

      Download recording (Right-click or option-click) | About the recording

      Discussion questions:

      • Are the incidents Madge Hopkins remembers examples of de facto or de jure segregation?
      • What are some things Ms. Hopkins could not do because of segregation?
  5. Jeff Black oral history
    • Read this introduction to students:
      Jeff Black is a resident of Charlotte who attended its desegregated schools in the 1990s. Here, he talks about the school segregation that he sees outside the classroom.
    • Play the Jeff Black oral history excerpt. (1 min 15 sec)

      Please upgrade your Flash Player and/or enable JavaScript in your browser to listen to this audio file.

      Download recording (Right-click or option-click) | About the recording

      Discussion questions:

      • Is Jeff Black citing an example of de facto or de jure segregation?
      • What reason does he offer for the segregation that takes place in the cafeteria?
      • What solution did the race relations committee come up with to address the issue?
  6. Ask students to cite more examples of de jure and de facto segregation as a class. These examples can be drawn from history, things students have read, incidents students have observed inside or outside of school, or their own experiences. Create a 2-column chart on the board or overhead projector, one column for de facto and one for de jure, and record students’ ideas. What type of segregation do they think is more common today?

Activity three: Solutions to segregation

  1. As a group, brainstorm possible solutions to de jure segregation. Some examples might be protesting segregation laws, using litigation to change the laws, or letter-writing or publicity campaigns to have the laws changed. You may want to record the responses on the board or overhead.
  2. Now brainstorm possible solutions to de facto segregation, such as the student council’s idea of a day where students sit with someone of a difference race at lunch. Students may have more trouble coming up with these solutions. Discuss as a group why it could be more difficult to end de facto segregation than de jure segregation. For example, you may discuss the difficulty in changing people’s attitudes rather than simply changing the law.
  3. Complete the list of solutions to segregation, either as a group or as an individual task.


Assess students by their participation in the discussions and brainstorming. Students should generate ideas about segregation and solutions to the problem, including completing a list of solutions to end segregation.

Supplemental information

  • North Carolina Essential Standards
    • Social Studies (2010)
      • Twentieth Century Civil Liberties and Civil Rights

        • 12.H.1 Apply historical inquiry and methods to understand the American struggle for freedom and equality. 12.H.1.1 Evaluate historical interpretations and narratives on freedom and equality in terms of perspective, logic, use of evidence, and possible bias....
        • 12.H.3 Understand the influences, development and protests of various 20th Century civil rights groups on behalf of greater freedom and equality. 12.H.3.1 Explain the influence of late 19th and early 20th century reformers, such as Populists, Progressives...
      • United States History II

        • USH.H.8 Analyze the relationship between progress, crisis and the “American Dream” within the United States. USH.H.8.1 Analyze the relationship between innovation, economic development, progress and various perceptions of the “American Dream” since...

North Carolina curriculum alignment

Social Studies (2003)

Grade 11–12 — African American History

  • Goal 8: The learner will analyze the successes and failures of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States.
    • Objective 8.05: Assess the extent to which the Civil Rights Movement transformed American politics and society.

Grade 11–12 — Sociology

  • Goal 8: The learner will examine major social problems.
    • Objective 8.02: Analyze causes and effects of social problems and issues.
    • Objective 8.03: Construct possible solutions to given social problems.