International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

This year’s International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination falls on 21 March and is a good opportunity to teach about the history of this subject.

The American Civil Rights Movement is often used by teachers to illustrate the history of racial discrimination and promote tolerance among their pupils.  Figures such as Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King and their struggles are well known and iconic in the modern classroom.

What is less known, however, is the legal side of the struggle to eliminate racial prejudice in American society in the 20th century.  This relatively uncelebrated side of the Civil Rights Movement can provide a refreshing and informative new perspective on the subject for teachers educating about racial discrimination.  

Perhaps the most significant event to teach on this subject is the 1954 United States Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka which ruled that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional.

Reading the opinion of the Court, Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren stated:

 “To separate [children] from others of similar age and qualifications solely because of their race generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone…. we conclude that, in the field of public education, the doctrine of "separate but equal" has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”

The significance of this case can hardly be understated.  It provided the legal precedent which allowed future landmark rulings to be reached, and provided legal backing to such direct action protests as the Freedom Rides and the Greensboro Sit-Ins which secured further civil rights for African Americans.

Teaching about this subject on March 21st is a good way to convey the importance of tolerance and respect to a new generation of children.

Ideas on how to teach Brown v Board of Education can be found here.

Also, showing students excerpts of the film ‘Separate But Equal’ is a good way to bring these events to life.

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