Social History for Every Classroom


Social History for Every Classroom

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What Was Jim Crow?

This activity introduces students to the term Jim Crow and the concept of legally mandated racial segregation.


Students will learn about legally mandated segregation, known as Jim Crow, during the early part of the twentieth century


Step One: Create a version of the photos (Black Students Crowd into Jim Crow School in Georgia and “Studying insects in a classroom at the school”) that eliminates the title and description, so that students will look at the photos only, with no information. Project or hand out the photos.

Conduct a whole class discussion where students identify details in the photos. Once they have thoroughly explored what they see, ask them to think about what it means, and what they think the photos are of. 

Explain that both of these photos were taken of schools in Green County, Georgia, in 1941. Discuss:

  • Why do you think there were separate schools for white and black students in the South in 1941?

Step Two: Hand out Examples of U.S. Laws Requiring Racial Segregation (There are two versions of this document, one is shorter and has text supports.) 

Ask students to circle the laws that go with the photos.


  • Where did laws requiring segregated schools exist? 

  • What do you think the effects of these laws were?

Explain that this entire system of racial separation enforced by state and local laws was known as Jim Crow. 


  • What other activities and places were there laws about?   

  • Did any of the laws surprise you? 


Historical Context

Between 1890 and 1915, states in the South and Southwest passed a series of Jim Crow laws that required people of different races to be kept separate in public. “Jim Crow” was a character from white theater companies, called minstrel shows, that ridiculed African-American behavior. The new laws that denied African Americans their civil rights, took away the vote, and established a formal system of segregation in public places (schools, trains, bathrooms, restaurants, movie theaters, etc.) were named after this racist character.

Source | American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning, 2011
Creator | American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning
Rights | American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Item Type | Teaching Activity
Cite This document | American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning, “What Was Jim Crow?,” SHEC: Resources for Teachers, accessed September 27, 2023,

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