School Integration-Just a Southern Problem?

Christine Adrian

Summer Fellowship, 2007



In this unit, students are provided with a rich variety of primary sources in the form of pictures, newspaper articles, official documents, oral histories and documentaries in order to study school integration/desegregation in the United States.  As a group, the question of racism will be studied through a regional lens in order to test the traditional historical schemas that integration was more an issue in the South than the North. Students will examine school integration issues across the country during the Civil Rights Movement in order to postulate integration trends across the country.  They will test their predictions against a case study of school integration and its progress in the Unit 4 School District in Champaign, Illinois.  Though surrounded by a rural community, Champaign is strongly grounded in an academic history through the University of Illinois.  For this reason, at first glance, the community would seem cosmopolitan and therefore exposed to many different cultures.  One might first assume that Champaign is a very open and tolerant community.  Through historical research and questioning, students will explore the racially complex issues of this community to serve as a case study typical of integration issues in the Northern United States as well as the Southern United States from the Civil Rights movement to today.


A highly recommended book for teachers to read before starting this unit is Sundown Towns by James Loewen.  This highly researched book uncovers rampant segregation throughout the Northern United States; some of which still exists to this day.


Essential questions/enduring understandings:



Students will be assessed using classroom discussion as well as the graphic organizers, worksheets and final project of this unit.


Setting the Purpose: 

Students will gain an understanding of the complexity of the school integration issue (as well as other integration issues) during the Civil Rights era into today.  In addition, students will explore why our historical perceptions sometimes do not match up exactly with historical realities.  Finally, students will synthesize historical lessons into a modern day social action plan.


Duration:  6-16 class periods, depending on lessons used.



The Unit is divided into 4 lesson topics:


Introductory Lesson:  Defining Segregation

Lesson 2:  Student Reactions to Integration

Lesson 3:  Case Study School Integration

Lesson 4:  Thinking through an Integration Plan


Analysis of local primary sources:

A number of graphic organizers and NARA document analysis sheets are used throughout the unit.  In addition students will analyze documents through class discussions based on the unit essential questions.


Ties to National primary source or sources:

A number of school segregation pictures from the Library of Congress American Memory collection will be analyzed, as well as background information on Jim Crow Laws and the Brown v. Board decision and its effects across the country.


Annotated list of Materials and Resources




Ties to Illinois State Learning Standards