Smithsonian

Step One: A Discussion

Equality

Display the following quote from the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal.

Ask the class: What does “created equal” mean? People are obviously very different, so exactly what do we mean by “equality”? Does equality mean equal treatment under the law? Does equality mean equal treatment for those in similar situations? Does equality mean equality in opportunity?

Creating Change

Tell students that throughout history, people have worked for change in many different ways. Some possible examples to give are civil rights laws, labor laws, and health and safety laws. Ask students to write another example on an index card. The examples might come from experiences they have had, or books they’ve read, or television shows or movies they’ve seen. Ask students to share the ideas with the class and place the index card on a chart titled "Working for Change."

Segregation

Introduce the terms segregate and segregation. Explain that in 1896, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that states could legally segregate schools (Plessy v. Ferguson. The Court said that segregated schools, if they were "equal," were not discriminatory. In the decades following this decision, many people worked to eliminate segregation in schools. Tell students that five decades ago (May 17, 1954) the Supreme Court decided that segregated schools are not equal or legal.