Lesson 3: With All Deliberate Speed
Rationale: The purpose of this lesson is for students to explore the ways in which school desegregation was approached in the immediate aftermath of the Brown decision and over the subsequent decades. Students analyze Justice Felix Frankfurter's 1955 Draft Decree to enforce Brown to learn about the Court's intentions with regard to school desegregation and the significance of the phrase, "with all deliberate speed." Students then examine actual school segregation photos and school integration timelines spanning several decades in order to better understand the barriers that existed and the strategies employed to fulfill Brown's mandate.
Other Materials: Justice Felix Frankfurter's Draft Decree, School Desegregation Photos, chart paper, markers, LCD or overhead projector (optional)
Time: Two class periods or 1 hour 30 minutes
Techniques and Skills: analyzing primary documents, cooperative group work, critical thinking, deductive reasoning, examining historical photographs, historical understanding, large and small group discussion, reading skills, role play
Key Words: barrier, boycott, busing, compliance, court-order, decree, de facto segregation, de jure segregation, demonstration, desegregation, equalization, forthwith, integration, interposition, lawsuit, magnet school, massive resistance, NAACP, persecution, protest, resegregation, segregation, sit-in, unconstitutional, unitary, "with all deliberate speed"
1. Write the phrase, "with all deliberate speed," on the board. Ask students if they know what these words signify, or if they can reason the connection to the Brown v. Board of Education decision. Tell students that, after the 1954 decision declaring school segregation unconstitutional, the Supreme Court heard arguments the following term about how best to end segregation. The famous words-originally from a 1911 decision by Oliver Wendell Holmes-were included in the Court's final decree.
2. Project or distribute Justice Felix Frankfurter's Draft Decree to enforce the Brown v. Board of Education decision from April 8, 1955. Give students a few minutes to read the document. Though the legalistic language and handwritten notes may be hard to decipher, ask students what words or phrases stand out, and what they can learn about the Justice's intentions with regard to integration. Highlight language such as, "must be given effect immediately" (in point 3), and note that the phrase, "may be delayed for a reasonable period not to exceed one school cycle of 12 years," has been crossed out in the same point. Point 5, which initially included the language, "with all appropriate speed," has been completely crossed out and replaced with handwritten notes at the bottom that include the phrase, "with all deliberate speed," which is part of the final language adopted by Chief Justice Earl Warren.
3. Inform students that the NAACP-the African American civil rights organization that prosecuted Brown and many other segregation cases-recommended the Court use the word "forthwith" to encourage a rapid desegregation timeline. Ask students to define forthwith (at once; immediately) and to consider why the Court may have chosen not to include that language. Tell students that the Court recognized the great challenges ahead of them and struggled to find language that would be both strong and realistic. In the end, Chief Justice Warren chose "with all deliberate speed" as the standard because of its connection to the venerated Oliver Wendell Holmes and because "there were so many blocks preventing an immediate solution of the thing in reality that the best we could look for would be a progression of action." Point out that over time, however, opponents of integration used the standard to delay compliance with Brown, and in 1964 Justice Hugo Black stated in a desegregation opinion that "the time for mere 'deliberate speed' has run out."
4. Post a sheet of chart paper divided into two columns labeled "Blocks" and "Progression of Action." Ask students to consider Chief Justice Warren's words: "There were so many blocks preventing an immediate solution of the thing in reality that the best we could look for would be a progression of action." Ask students to think about what "blocks" or barriers to school integration may have existed following the Brown decision and what "progression of action" or steps may have been taken to end school segregation. Project or distribute copies of the following School Desegregation Photos:
Allow students time to view each photo and to describe what they observe. Based on the photos and their knowledge of the era, ask students to identify some of the "blocks" and "actions" that Chief Justice Warren may have been referring to, and record their responses on the chart.
5. Tell students that they will be examining school integration timelines from various parts of the country that will provide them with a greater sense of the barriers communities faced and the steps taken to achieve desegregation. Divide the class into six groups and provide each group with one copy of the handouts, School Integration Post-Brown: Barriers and Opportunities and Glossary of School Integration Terms. In addition, provide each group with copies of one of the Timelines of School Integration. Direct each group to choose a recorder. Instruct the groups to read their timelines together and to identify examples of barriers to school integration and steps taken to implement desegregation. The recorder is responsible for taking notes on the Barriers and Opportunities handout and for transcribing this information on to the class chart initiated earlier.
Optional: If time is available and students are capable of handling sensitive information with maturity, add a theatrical component to this activity. Have one or more groups choose an event from the timelines to dramatize for the class. Encourage students to select events that capture a significant episode in school desegregation history, and use the role plays as a vehicle for discussing important concepts.
6. Conclude this activity by gathering the class and reviewing the chart of barriers and actions. Draw attention to trends that exist and highlight similarities and differences across various communities. Allow students to ask clarifying questions and to expand upon the information they have recorded. Ask students to share the most surprising facts they have learned about the history of school integration. Did they know that desegregation was not a quick or simple process that happened exclusively in the 1950s and 1960s, but rather a decades-long battle that continues today? Were they aware that integration was as contentious a battle in some Northern cities as in the South? Point out that although the process of integration has brought many positive changes, the legacy of segregation and unequal opportunity continues to impact our schools, a subject which will be explored in the next lesson.
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