Students will read about a Kansas child involved in a famous United States Supreme Court case. They will think critically to form opinions about equality, segregation, and integration. Students will distinguish between fact and opinion.
Also includes: reading, research, vocabulary, reporting, drawing, map skills, role-playing, writing; authority, property, freedom, diversity.
One teacher copy or student photocopies of A Famous Kansas Child (4 chapters); drawing supplies; research materials; photocopies of Which Is It?
This lesson can be used by the classroom teacher alone, or by a teacher and resource person working together. A story has been written on the elementary level about Linda Brown and the Supreme Court case of Brown v. Board of Education. The story is divided into four short “chapters,” with questions or activities provided at the end of each.
If used by the teacher alone, all of the story may be covered in one day, or it may be broken by chapters into several days’ lessons. The story can be read to the children by the teacher, or it can be duplicated and used in place of a reading assignment from the basal text. Any of the questions or activities can be used to stimulate discussion and critical thinking.
The teacher might choose one of three ways to use these materials: 1) the teacher reads the story to the students and may choose only some or all of the questions and activities for student participation; 2) students receive photocopies of the story to read themselves, but questions and activities are not included in the photocopies. Teacher chooses those questions/activities students should address; or 3) students receive photocopies of story and questions/activities, thus participating in all suggestions given.
A resource person can use this lesson by reading the story to the children, interrupting the text with the discussion questions at the end of each chapter. The teacher can use the other suggestions as follow-up activities. If time does not allow covering the whole story in one day, the teacher could do the first chapter (or two chapters) and activities in advance, then the resource person can finish the story with the children and explain the Supreme Court process and its decision.
In either case, it should be pointed out to the children that the Supreme Court’s decision affected not just the students in Topeka, Kansas, but in all of the United States.
Present any necessary vocabulary words to the students before reading each chapter. Suggested vocabulary words include:
Chapter 1 – Oliver, Leola, troupers,
A Famous Child This is a true story about a little girl in Topeka, Kansas, who didn’t really know that anything special was happening in her life. And yet her name became known by people all over the United Stated. Her name, and facts about her life, introduced one of the most important cases ever to be decided by the Supreme Court.
Linda Carol Brown was seven years old. She lived with her father, Oliver, and her mother, Leola, and two younger sisters in a poor neighborhood in Topeka, Kansas. It was a very noisy neighborhood, because it was right next to a switching yard for trains. Linda and her sisters didn’t mind the noise. They liked making up games about the trains, and they made friends with many of the trainmen who ran the switches. Some of these friends gave them candy. One man played a teasing game with them. Every time he saw the three girls, he would wave and yell, “Hi boys!” The girls would laugh and call back, “Hi Mary!” The man was so jolly, he reminded Linda of Santa Claus.
The girls also liked being near the railroad yard because when the big fair came to town, the show cars were brought up on the siding, and the children who lived nearby would be the first to see them and the first to know the fair was in town. There were bright silver flatcars and troupers’ quarters, and the red and yellow cars that held the animals.
When Linda was inside her home, life was much quieter. Her father worked at a different kind of railroad job, about a half mile away. He was a welder who repaired boxcars. He was very tired when he returned home at night and often took a little nap as soon as he arrived. When he woke, everyone would come quietly to the dinner table and remain solemn until grace was said. Then Mr. Brown would joke with his family during dinner and everyone would laugh and feel happy. Friday nights were special times, and Linda’s favorite. The family would pop popcorn and then Mr. And Mrs. Brown would tell wonderful stories about when they were children.
Each night Mr. Brown would listen to the girls’ bedtime prayers. On Sundays, the family went to Sunday school and church. Mr. Brown gave much of his Sunday time, and any other time he could, to work at the church as an assistant pastor. The church was an important part of life for everyone in the Brown family.
In what ways was Linda’s life the same as yours?
In what ways was it different?
Draw a picture to illustrate one part of this story.
Linda went to Monroe School, which was a mile away from where she lived. Getting to school was not easy. She had to leave home by 7:40 each morning to walk to a bus stop that was six blocks away. She started off by walking between the train tracks that went through the switching yard. Even though this was dangerous, it was easier than trying to walk outside the tracks, because the street was crowded with warehouses and there were no sidewalks. The bus was supposed to arrive by 8:00. Sometimes it did. Sometimes it was late. When it was late, Linda would have to stand and wait – often in freezing cold weather, or rain, or snow. When the bus was on time, she could get right on, but then she would arrive at school a half-hour before it opened, so she still would have to stand outside and wait. That was the only bus that could take her to school, so there was no way that Linda could make the trip without having to stand out in the weather at one place or the other.
When Linda was ready to start third grade, her father surprised her by saying he was going to walk her to her first day of school. Then he surprised her even more by taking a different route. They went the opposite direction from the trains for about three blocks, then turned onto a pleasant tree-lined street with small, neat houses. After walking three more blocks, they came to a school. It was lighter and prettier than Monroe School, with a little tower on one end that was topped by a fancy weather vane. On the other end was a big wall sculpture of a cheerful sun beaming down on children who were running, jumping rope, rolling a hoop, and flying a kite.
Linda wasn’t sure why they had come to this school, and she could tell her father was uneasy as he took her hand and walked up the front steps. Once inside, they were directed to the principal’s office. Linda was told to wait outside the door while her father went in to talk to the principal. He was only there a few minutes, then he came out and took her hand again. As they walked home, Linda could tell that her father was very upset. Even though Sumner School was so much closer to their home than Monroe School, the principal said Linda could not go to school there. Sumner School was for white children only. Linda Brown was black.
How do you think Linda felt? Why?
How do you think Mr. Brown felt? Why?
What would you do if you were Linda?
Draw a map to represent Linda’s house, the route to Monroe School, and the route to Sumner School.
Linda went back to Monroe School. One night, not long after school had started for the year, her father took her to a meeting that was held at a church – a different church than the one they usually attended. There were lots of grown-ups at the meeting, and Linda didn’t understand what they were talking about. But after a while, she was called to the front of the room and asked to stand up on the podium. As she stood there a voice asked loudly, “Why should this child be forced to travel so far to school each day?”
Linda didn’t hear very much about the school situation after that. But the rest of the country did. There was an organization called the N-Double-A-C-P, which stood for: The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. With the help of the NAACP, Oliver Brown sued the Topeka Board of Education. According to the law, it was okay for the black and white children to be sent to separate schools, as long as those schools were considered to be equal. The school authorities said the schools were equal. Although Sumner School was a little newer and prettier, Monroe School had a larger playground and fewer cracks in the walls. Both schools had good teachers (all white teachers at Sumner; all black teachers at Monroe). The teachers all had about the same size classes, and were paid the same amount of money. Although most of the black children lived farther away from their schools than the white children did, buses were provided for them. There were no buses for any of the white children. The school authorities said the people were used to things being this way, and not everyone wanted change. They said the children should continue to be segregated, or separated.
The people who testified in court on behalf of Linda (and others like her) said that these facts did not make the schools equal. The very fact that the children were separated made the schools unequal. The people said that the separation could make the children think they were different from one another, instead of teaching them that they could learn from each other. It meant that as adults, they would not work as well together or get along in our world because they had not been taught to be together as children. They said the children should not be separated and should go to the schools closest to them.
You be the judge. If you had to decide whether to keep the children in separate schools or let them attend the school closest to their homes, which would you decide? Why?
Role-play the situation. Ask two students to pretend to be parents who still want segregation (white students and black students separated). Ask two other students to pretend to be parents who want integration (both races attending the same schools). What would these parents say? How could each try to convince the others to change their minds?
Chapter 4 The court decided that the schools should continue to be segregated. Three judges had listened to the presentations. Although not all of them felt that this was the right thing to do, they felt they had no choice. Other cases that had been decided by the Supreme Court all supported the idea that separate-but-equal was okay, and this case seemed to fit the separate-but-equal guidelines.
The lawyers for the NAACP, Mr. Brown, and people in the other states with similar cases all decided to take this case to the Supreme Court. They said this case was different. The other cases were about transportation or students in college – not elementary school students. They said that the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution guaranteed everyone equal protection under the law, and that these elementary school students were not being protected equally. The case was called Brown v. Board of Education, (“v.” stands for versus, which means against) and was argued before the Supreme Court in 1953. It was almost a year later – May 17, 1954 – when the justices made a decision.
It was one of the most important decisions made in the history of the United States, because it said that the previous cases – which may have been decided correctly in their time – were no longer correct in the 1950s. It said that separate was not equal, and that children of all races should be allowed to go to school together, in the schools in their neighborhoods.
Linda Brown never testified in court. But her father did, and so did many other people who had not even met her. Even though they were criticized by others, they worked hard for what they believed. Brown v. Board of Education is still one of the most famous cases in American history.
Below are the names of some of the other famous people who participated in this case. Choose one name and read about that person. Share what you learn with your classmates.
Thurgood Marshall John W. Davis Earl Warren
Write a paragraph about something you have learned from another student in your class. Write a second paragraph about something you have helped another student learn.
Read a book and write a report about another famous American who has helped our country live up to the words, “All men are created equal.”
Additional Follow-up Activity
Fact and Opinion: Which Is It? This is an optional follow-up activity that not only helps students learn to distinguish between fact and opinion but can also stimulate further discussion about the Brown case. Ask students to define the words fact and opinion. Give the following examples for students to distinguish as fact or opinion.
We study more than one subject each day. (fact)
Math is a more difficult subject than English. (opinion)
Reading is the most important subject we study. (opinion)
When satisfied that students understand the difference between the two terms, have them distinguish fact from opinion in the statements below. The statements can be duplicated, or the teacher can read them aloud.
Carol Roach is the author of the LIFE/LIBERTY/LAW curriculum series. As president of the Curriculum Leadership Institute (Emporia, KS), Carol writes and edits publications on current education practices, and serves as a consultant to school districts, consortia, education service agencies, and state departments of education nationwide. This article is adapted by permission from the magazine Update on Law-Related Education (Winter 1990). Portions of the strategy’s narrative were adapted from Simple Justice: The History of Brown v. Board of Education and Black America’s Struggle for Equality, by Richard Kluger (Alfred A. Knopf, New York)