Effects of Segregation and “Jim Crow” laws on life in Virginia for African Americans

After a brief introduction and/or review of the Reconstruction time period, students will be given copies of photographs, drawings or political cartoons from the period of Jim Crow laws. The students will investigate how the photographs and drawings provide evidence that the Jim Crow laws had a negative effect on African Americans in the post-Civil War south. This lesson will be a part of our next unit on Reconstruction.

Historical Background

The Civil War resulted in drastic physical destruction of the south, particularly in Virginia where many battles were fought. Much of the land was burned, plantations and cities were destroyed, and roads, bridges and railroads were in ruins. Additionally, the freed slaves had no homes, jobs or skills/education, and were essentially homeless. The government attempted to help rebuild the south during this time, and assist with displaced African Americans and poor white farmers. By establishing the Freedmen’s Bureau, the government provided some food, education and medical care for these groups. At the same time, a system of farming called sharecropping became popular, which essentially kept African Americans in a position similar to slavery in that they farmed the land for white men, who paid them little or even kept them in debt. This forced the African Americans to continue working for these men “in servitude.”

During the Reconstruction era, African American men began to gain some power in politics, and with the ability to vote. As Democrats began to regain power in the southern states, laws were passed to limit the ability of blacks to vote and hold office. The laws also began to establish “separate but equal” economic, educational and social policies that would discriminate against this race for years to come.

Students will study segregation and Jim Crow laws, and the effect that they had on African Americans in Virginia after the Civil War and beyond. They will analyze several photographs and political cartoons, and answer several questions.

Lesson Objective

Students will see that while the Civil War “ended” slavery, African Americans continued to struggle with having their civil rights recognized, and being treated equally and fairly by white people. They will practice sourcing, close reading, and contextualization skills while discussing the impact of Jim Crow laws.



  1. Introduction/Hook: To engage the students in the lesson topic, begin by reading aloud the book “Back of the Bus” by Aaron Reynolds. As the story is read, stop and ask the class for any observations or connections to discrimination or unfair treatment of the African American community. I’ll also ask them: (a) Why did the author write this book? (b) Who is the intended audience? (c) How is this story – or experience – different from today?
  2. Next, review what the class has already discussed and learned about the Jim Crow time period: what the laws were, and what we know about their effect on African Americans.
  3. Present them with their task and explain that they will be broken up into groups. Each group will be given a different image (picture or cartoon). The groups will be balanced between academic levels and special education.
  4. Each group will then be given a copy of the image or images they are going to investigate. Some groups will be given the same images, so we’ll get different interpretations or perspectives from different students.
  5. Group 1 will have the Thomas Nast cartoon “Worse than Slavery”
  6. Group 2 will have the Puck cartoon “For the Sunny South”
  7. Groups 3 and 4 will have the photographs of different signs
  8. Groups 5 and 6 will have the photographs of different places
  9. The cartoons and pictures will come with a couple questions that each group needs to answer, as mentioned in the Primary Source Analysis. Questions include: (a) Why did the photographer take this picture? (b) What else was going on at the time this photograph was taken? (c) What does the other evidence tell me? Where else could I look to find out about this?
  10. After they’ve had a chance to look at the pictures and answer the questions, each group will then present their observations to the group, while the images are projected on the board so the whole class can join in the discussion. Questions from the rest of the class will be encouraged.


Students will complete an exit ticket with short answers in complete sentences. The exit ticket will demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of the standard. They should be able to state what segregation is, simply state what the Jim Crow laws were, and finally explain with greater understanding what the effect of segregation and the Jim Crow laws had on African Americans in Virginia and the South following Reconstruction.


Students will be broken into heterogeneous groups among different academic learning levels, and with consideration for my Special Education students.


Ben Shahn, (photographer), “Sign on a restaurant.” Photograph. Lancaster, Ohio, August 1938. From Library of Congress Photographs of Signs Enforcing Racial Discrimination: Documentation by Farm Administration – Office War Information Officers http://www.loc.gov/pictures/resource/fsa.8a17588/ (accessed March 30, 2013)

Erhart, (illustrator), “For the sunny South. An airship with a “Jim Crow” trailer,” (photomechanical print), Puck, February 26, 1913. From Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Online Catalog, http://lcweb2.loc.gov/service/pnp/cph/3b40000/3b48000/3b48900/3b48958r.jpg

Esther Bubley, (photographer), “A Greyhound bus trip from Louisville, Kentucky, to Memphis, Tennessee, and the terminals. Sign at bus station. Rome, Georgia,” (Photograph) Rome, Georgia, September 1943, From Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, http://www.loc.gov/pictures/resource/cph.3b22541/ (accessed March 30, 2013)

Jack Delano, (photographer), “A cafe near the tobacco market, Durham, North Carolina.” (photograph) Durham, North Carolina, May 1941, From Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, http://lcweb2.loc.gov/service/pnp/cph/3c20000/3c29000/3c29800/3c29840r.jpg (accessed March 30, 2013)

Marion Post (photographer), “Negro going in colored entrance of movie house on Saturday afternoon, Belzoni, Mississippi Delta, Mississippi,” (photograph), Mississippi Delta, Mississippi, October, 1939, From Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Online Catalog, http://lcweb2.loc.gov/service/pnp/cph/3c10000/3c15000/3c15400/3c15416r.jpg

Reynolds, Aaron. Back of the Bus. New York, NY: Philomel Books, 2010.

Thomas Nast, “The Union as it was / The Lost Cause, worse than slavery,” (Cartoon) Harper’s Weekly, v. 18, no. 930 (24 Oct 1874), p. 878. The Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-USZ62-128619, http://www.loc.gov/pictures/resource/cph.3c28619/ (accessed March 30, 2013)

Williams Lovelace, (photographer), “Separate Waiting Room,” (Photograph). Jackson, Mississippi May 1961. Original source unknown; accessed via history.co.uk,
http://www.history.co.uk/explore-history/history-of-america/american-dream/gallery/galleryImage/0/largeImage/3420465_10_360.jpg (accessed March 30, 2013).

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