Ken Burns Classroom

A Journey back to Separate but Equal Conditions

Overview: Students examine why Jackie Robinson pushed for further integration after the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education. They then explore the Robinson family’s experience with overt racism, and analyze ways some implicit attitudes of prejudice inform people’s behavior and treatment of others.

Lesson Objectives: In this lesson, students will do the following:

  • Examine the impact of the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education.
  • Assess Robinson’s efforts to push for further integration in private establishments.
  • Analyze the impact, application, and limitations of the 14th Amendment and Brown v. Board of Education.
  • Consider examples of implicit and explicit racism in America.

Lesson Procedure:

  1. Before showing the video clip, familiarize students with the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment and the Brown v. Board of Education case, and the concepts of implicit (unconscious bias or judgment of someone) and explicit (intentional) racism.
  2. Distribute the 3-2-1 Strategy Chart to all students and have them complete their charts as they watch the video clip. Watch Video Clip: Play the Jackie Robinson clip “Social Justice” (duration: 4.5 minutes) for the class. A description of the clip is below.
    • The Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education outlaws racial segregation in schools, but it does not mean total change at once. The reaction in the South is immediate and angry. As the push for social justice accelerated across the country, Robinson tried to do his part, but old customs remained entrenched in both the North and South. The attitudes and practices in the South, Rachel Robinson notes, could be fought against more concretely than the subtle racism in the North.
  3. Chart Activity: After watching the video clip, have students complete the 3-2-1 Strategy Chart. Then organize a “four squares activity” with a quarter of the class in each of four corners of the room. Have students share the facts they gathered by going to at least two people in other groups to give a fact and get a fact, and check for understanding and clarification.
  4. Bring the class together and have students ask the questions they generated in the second section of the chart. Hold a general class discussion to find answers to their questions, then have students share the most memorable moments of the video clip.

Teacher Tip: During the discussions, keep in mind several key points presented in the video clip:

  • The impact of the Supreme Court’s decision on Brown v. Board of Education
  • Jackie Robinson’s efforts to push for more equal access for himself and his African- American teammates
  • The extent and limitations of the 14th Amendment and the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision in integrating public and private facilities and institutions in the United States
  • The two types of racism (i.e., implicit and explicit, or subtle and overt) Rachel Robinson encountered

Post-Viewing Discussion/Activity:

  • Why do you think it was difficult for some people in the United States to modify their attitudes, behavior, and expectations when the Supreme Court struck down segregated schools in Brown v. Board of Education?
  • What do you think Jackie Robinson’s reasoning was when he started to push for integration in hotel lobbies, bars, and swimming pools where the team stayed?
  • Discuss the differences between implicit and explicit racism that Rachel Robinson encountered and provide some examples. Which do you think is more difficult to deal with and why?
  • Even with the power of the Brown v. Board of Education decision and the provisions of the 14th Amendment, why is it difficult to change people’s attitudes and customs?
  • How do some people use implicit forms of racism to continue to discriminate against African-Americans and other minority groups? Provide examples.
  • What are ways society and/or government can address these examples of implicit racism and better provide equal protection under the law for all people?
  • What are ways you might identify and address implicit racism?

Assessment Suggestions: At the conclusion of the activity, evaluate students on the following:

  • Active participation during discussions and activities
  • Completion of graphic organizers from the activity
  • Quality and viability of ideas to address implicit racism

Extension Activity:

Have students dive deeper into the issue of implicit and institutional racism in America. Taking the examples generated in the last two Post-Viewing Discussion questions, have students provide definitions and examples of implicit racism in written form, small skits, or graphic form. Then have them discuss ways implicit and institutional forms of racism affect victims and ways these types of racism can be addressed.

Standards: McREL

  • United States History
  • Standard 29: Understands the struggle for racial and gender equality and for the extension of civil liberties
  • Level IV (Grades 9–12)
  • Understands how various Warren Court decisions influenced society
  • Understands significant influences on the civil rights movement
  • Historical Understanding: (1) Understands and knows how to analyze chronological relationships and patterns; (2) understands the historical perspective

Common Core

  • CSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.1
    • Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.2
    • Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.3
    • Evaluate various explanations for actions or events and determine which explanation best accords with textual evidence, acknowledging where the text leaves matters uncertain.

About The Authors

Greg Timmons

Greg Timmons has been a social studies teacher for over 30 years. He has written lessons for several PBS productions including The NewsHour, FRONTLINE, and various Ken Burns’s productions including The War, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea Baseball, Prohibition and The Dust Bowl.” He resides in Montana and Washington state.

Handout: 3-2-1 Activity Chart


NAME: _________________________                        DATE:  __________________


List three things you didn’t know about the racism Jackie Robinson and his family faced.






Write two questions you have after watching all the video clip.





Describe one memorable moment you remember from the video clip and why it made an impression on you.