The Road to Brown v. Board of Education

The legal fight to combat segregation in public education began long before Linda Brown was denied entrance to the elementary school closest to her neighborhood based on her race. Beginning in the 1930s, Charles Hamilton Houston and many of his Howard Law School students designed a legal strategy to methodically attack the legal underpinnings of segregated education beginning with universities and graduate schools. Each case built a new legal precedent that allowed this fight to extend to all of public education, which culminated in the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision that ruled that segregation in public education violated the Fourteenth Amendment. 

Standards & Objectives

Academic standards
Explain how legal victories prior to 1954 inspired and propelled the Civil Rights Movement.
Evaluate the topic or subject in multiple diverse formats and media.
Evaluate how an author incorporates evidence and reasoning to support the argument and specific claims in a text.
Analyze what a text says explicitly and draw inferences; support an interpretation of a text by citing and synthesizing relevant textual evidence from...
Initiate and participate effectively with varied partners in a range of collaborative discussions on appropriate 11th - 12th grade topics, texts, and...
Integrate multiple sources of information presented in diverse media formats in order to make informed decisions and solve problems; evaluate the...
Conduct and write short as well as more sustained research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question) or solve a problem by...
Examine court cases in the evolution of civil rights, including Brown v. Board of Education and Regents of the University of California v. Bakke.
Alignment of this item to academic standards is based on recommendations from content creators, resource curators, and visitors to this website. It is the responsibility of each educator to verify that the materials are appropriate for your content area, aligned to current academic standards, and will be beneficial to your specific students.
Learning objectives: 

Students will:

  • Read and analyze a variety of primary sources including legal documents, oral history clips, and photographs to build their understanding;
  • Work collaboratively and analyze how the
  • Fourteenth Amendment was applied in different court cases;
  • Write a reflection on the overall significance of Brown and the related cases.
Essential and guiding questions: 

How did the legal victories leading up to Brown v. Board of Education lay a foundation to attack segregation in public education more broadly? What is the significance of Brown? 

Lesson Variations

Blooms taxonomy level: 
Extension suggestions: 
  • Have students research the history of school desegregation in their school district and create a class exhibit to share their findings.
  • Have students explore the current work of the NLDF and identify the priorities of their work. How have the priorities of the organization evolved since 1954? 

Helpful Hints


  • Case Summary Worksheet
  • Chromebooks or tablets for students (optional)