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Webquest About Grades 6-12

Introduction  Task  Process  Resources  Evaluation  Reflection


At the time of the Great Migration, in southern courts, blacks were not given the same legal protection as whites and they often had little access to legal defense. They were given summary trials that all too often resulted in a death sentence and execution. Many migrants cited these iniquities as a reason for their move to the North.

Violation of the rights of another. Iniquity, unfairness, an unjust act or deed.

The maintenance or administration of what is just. The impartial adjustment of conflicting claims. The assignment of merited rewards or punishments.

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In this webquest you will:
  • Examine how Jacob Lawrence portrays injustice in the southern courts in his Migration Series.

  • Use the Internet to research the case of Plessy v. Ferguson.

  • Explore how issues of (in)justice are complicated by the existence of multiple viewpoints.

  • Use your research and understanding of the Plessy v. Ferguson case to write an argument about school segregation.

  • Conduct a mock Supreme Court case using your arguments.

  • Examine a recent legal case from multiple viewpoints and critically consider the different arguments of this case.
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Among the social conditions that existed which was partly the cause of the migration was the injustice done to the Negroes in the courts.

The Migration of the Negro, panel 14, 1940-41
Casein tempera on hardboard
18 x 12 in. (45.7 x 30.5 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York; gift of Mrs. David M. Levy
© Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence, courtesy of the Jacob and Gwendolyn Lawrence Foundation
  1. Look at  Jacob Lawrence's painting, panel #14 from The Migration Series. Move your mouse over the painting and find questions to discuss with your classmates.

  2. Read the information about Jacob Lawrence's painting, panel #14 from The Migration Series.

  3. In 1896, in the case of Plessy v. Ferguson, the Supreme Court declared that "separate but equal" facilities for blacks and whites were constitutional. This court case is considered a major "injustice done to the Negroes in the courts," as Lawrence has written. Do some of your own research on the Plessy v. Ferguson case. Explore the web resources listed in the Plessy v. Ferguson resources section below.

    What are the main arguments?
    What assumptions underlie these arguments?
    What evidence do they use to support their claims?
    Which parts of these arguments do you agree or disagree with? Why?
    What does this case reveal about American society at this time?
    Have your own views of this case changed after reading these accounts? Why or why not?

  4. Imagine that you are a lawyer during the Plessy v. Ferguson trial. There are two groups: lawyers for Plessy, and lawyers for Ferguson. You have been assigned to argue for or against schools segregation. On your own, write a persuasive argument from the perspective of a lawyer for the side you've been assigned to. Interpret the arguments used in this case and think of your own arguments that would convince the Supreme Court that justice is on your side.

  5. In your group, read and discuss your arguments. Talk about what makes a convincing case and combine your written information to create one new argument that will be used in your Supreme Court case.

  6. As a class, conduct a mock Supreme Court case of Plessy v. Ferguson. The lawyers for each side can use their written arguments to persuade the court as to why school segregation is just or not. The Supreme Court could consist of teachers and administrators at your school. They will hear each side of the case.

  7. As a group of lawyers, take turns to argue your case to the mock Supreme Court justices and they will determine the outcome and explain their decision, citing your arguments.

  8. For many historical and contemporary Supreme Court cases, views differ as to what is just and unjust. Choose a contemporary controversial case to investigate. For example:

    Amadu Diallo
    Rodney King
    Timothy McVeigh
    Wrongful conviction (your choice)

  9. Use your school or local library as well as the web resources listed below to find two accounts of this case in print media (newspapers or magazines), and two accounts of the same case on the Internet. You can also look for information on television.

  10. Research and examine this case from multiple viewpoints and determine whether its outcome was just or unjust.

    Consider these questions as you read each account:

    What is the argument?
    Whose are the strong voices on each side?
    What are they saying to support their claims?
    What seems fair to some? What seems unfair to others? Why?
    What justifications do people use to reinforce their convictions about the case?
    What are the factors that sway people's perceptions of a case, or determine the legal outcome?

  11. Compare accounts of the case that you selected. Use the following questions as a guide, and take notes.

    How are these news articles presented?
    What points of view do these news articles convey?
    What are the similarities? Differences?
    How do you evaluate the truth of these versions?
    What kinds of audiences were these news articles written for?
    How can you tell?
    How accessible were these news articles?
    Was it easy or difficult to obtain them? Why?
    What are the events surrounding the case?
    What conflicts does it describe?

  12. Present and discuss your findings with the class.

    What did you discover about the legal case you selected?
    What is unjust or just about this case?
    What different viewpoints did people express about this case?
    What accounts for these differing viewpoints?
    Was justice done in this situation and if not, how could it be?
    How does the outcome of this case reflect on American society?
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Plessy v. Ferguson


Amadu Diallo

Rodney King

Timothy McVeigh




Wrongful Conviction

General Injustice and Law

News media

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You will be evaluated on two components of this web quest: Group evaluation — persuasive argument in the Plessy v. Ferguson case, and Individual evaluation — oral presentation on a contemporary case of injustice. Your teacher may choose to create rubrics for these evaluations.
  • Group Evaluation, Persuasive Argument: Is your group argument well written and persuasive? Does it show evidence of a solid, historical understanding about school segregation?

  • Is your argument convincing and does it show evidence of an understanding and an interpretation of both sides in the case? Do you have significant supporting evidence to support your claims?

  • During the process of group writing, did your group show evidence of peer editing, teamwork and collaboration, as well as time management and consensus building?

  • Individual Evaluation, Oral Presentation: You will be evaluated on your understanding of the contemporary case you have chosen.

  • Refer to the questions in the  Process section. Does your presentation include facts, opinions and multiple viewpoints about the case? Does it include your own unique perspectives about why you think the case is just or not?

  • Is there evidence of your personal bias about the case? Does your presentation include thoughtful, reflective opinions about how the outcome of the case reflects on American society?

  • Was your presentation engaging and interesting, and did you use an appropriate voice level, eye contact and pace of speech?

  •  Learning Standards Addressed
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Compare your findings about the Plessy v. Ferguson case to the recent case that you selected.

What differences did you discover? What similarities?

In your opinion, and based on what you found out, how has the concept of justice changed in the past 100 years?

How do these notions of justice reflect on American society?

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©2001 Whitney Museum of American Art