Lesson Plan: Overview

Traveling Southern Style: A lesson on the Jim Crow Laws

Grade Level: 3rd

Academic Standards

Standard 3-5: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the major developments in South Carolina in the late nineteenth century and the twentieth century.

Indicator 3-5.2 Summarize the effects of the state and local laws that are commonly known as Jim Crow laws on African Americans in particular and on South Carolinians as a whole.
Social Studies Literacy Elements
A. Distinguish between past, present, and the future time
E. Explain change and continuity over time
G. Make and record observations about the physical and human characteristics of places
H. Construct maps, graphs, tables, and diagrams to display social studies information
K. Use texts, photographs, and documents to observe and interpret social studies trends and relationships
L. Interpret calendars, time lines, maps, charts, tables, graphs, flow charts, diagrams, photographs, paintings, cartoons, architectural drawings, documents, letters, censuses, and other artifacts
O. Consider multiple perspectives of documents and stories.
P. Locate, gather, and process information from a variety of primary and secondary sources including maps.
Essential Question
How did the Jim Crow Laws make travel different for African Americans?

Historical Background Notes

Jim Crow has been known as a name to describe and enforce segregation during the nineteenth and twentieth century. The origin of the term dates back to 1828. Thomas “Daddy” Rice, a white minstrel, imitated the dancing and singing of black men in a demeanor manner. Rice had previously seen this dancing and singing act performed by a crippled and elderly black stableman belonging to a Mr. Crow in Louisville. (Litwack1998, xiv)

Minstrelsy was one of the most popular forms of entertainment for white audiences by the 1830’s. Thomas Rice helped “Jim Crow” to become a household word despite the fact that it mocked black life with distorted images. Rice wore ill-fitting, tattered garments like a beggar, a broad grin and used burned cork to blacken his face. He would sing to amuse the audience.

“Weel about and turn about

And do jis so

Eb’ry time I weel about

I jump Jim Crow”

Ironically, a white man’s imitation of dancing and singing black stableman gave the name to a system of segregation in the south.

From 1915 to 1930 America experienced The Great Migration. This was a time when over a million African Americans who lived primarily in fifteen southern states moved to the Midwest but mostly to northern cities such as Chicago and Philadelphia. (Cooper 1995, 3) This fifteen-year period was like “a second migration”, a time when African Americans longed for a better life in the north and escape the harsh discrimination of the south. While over a million left the south most left family behind.

Traveling during The Jim Crow Era exposed African Americans to both risk and humiliation. Crossing the Mason-Dixon Line or the Ohio River meant entering a different world with different laws. While traveling basic necessities are needed such as food, gas, water, restrooms and maybe an overnight hotel stay. Stopping for these necessities could bring danger in southern states due to the segregation created through the Jim Crow laws. While traveling by train the conductor was sure to let passengers know which sections were for “whites” and “colored”. The train stations also had separate entrances, ticket offices, restrooms and waiting rooms. “Whites Only” signs appeared throughout the south. George Dawson who could not read while traveling with a baseball team during the 1920’s knew what the signs meant even though he could not read. George and his teammates would often take a risk after a game when they were hungry. One team member would go in to see if they served colored people. Most of the time the answer was no. Sometimes the restaurants would make sandwiches for them to eat on the bus. The team was charged the same price but not allowed to eat in the restaurant. (Dawson and Glaubman 2000, 79)

The Negro Travelers’ Green Book began publication in 1936. The book offered “Assured Protection for the Negro Traveler”. The publisher-owner Victor Green began the idea from personal experiences while traveling. His encounters and those of his friends were often described as painful embarrassments, which ruined the vacation or business trip. (Green 1956, 5) White travelers had no problems getting a room or food but people of color had to often depended on word of mouth.

While traveling south African Americans needed to be aware of the Jim Crow Laws. This law also let them know which public parks, water fountains and pools to use. The law applied to hospitals if someone should become ill or hurt. Most movie theatres had a separate section. These balconies became known as “buzzard roost” and “nigger haven”. Most stores practiced segregation by making people of color wait until the white people were served first. They were forbidden to try on hats, clothes or shoes in the store. Public libraries were closed to African Americans in the south.

 While traveling south during the Jim Crow Era travelers had to pass through small towns. Local people in small town knew where the whites and blacks were allowed to mix such as the post office, banks and certain stores. Small towns had their own unwritten laws and it was best to find out about segregation from the locals. Seeing “White Only”, “Colored Only”, or “No Negroes Allowed” was very common while traveling in the south. Blacks could be stopped at anytime and force to state their reason for being in a certain place at a certain time. Blacks were often warned not to let the sun go down on you in certain towns. Traveling through this time presented great danger.

The mentality and Jim Crow signs were nothing new to the south, just the legalization of it. True change could not be seen until the 1960’s during the Civil Rights Era.


Primary Sources

Dawson, George and Glaubman, Richard. Life is So Good. New York: Penguin Books, 2000.


The Negro Travelers’ Green Book.  New York: Victor H. Green and Company, 1956. Published Materials Division, South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina.


State Development Board. Tourism Promotional Brochure.
S 149013. South Carolina Department of Archives and History, Columbia, South Carolina.

South Carolina Smiles and Places. South Carolina's Official Vacation Guide. South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism.
Secondary Sources

Cooper, Michael L. Bound for the Promised Land: The Great Migration. New York: Lodester Books, 1995.


Litwack, Leon F. Trouble in Mind: Black Southerners in the Age of Jim Crow. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1998.


Taylor, Mildred. The Gold Cadillac. New York: Scholastic, 1987.

Materials Needed
The Gold Cadillac
The Negro Traveler's Green Book and Tourism Promotional Brochure
South Carolina Smiles and Places.
Manilla Folders, Crayons, Pencils, and Paper

Lesson Plans

1. Students will read aloud and discuss The Gold Cadillac by Mildred Taylor.
2. The Students will use the book for building background and prior knowledge to discuss some of the problems African Americans were faced with while traveling south during the 1950's.
3. Students will compare three travel guides (The Negro Traveler's Green Book, SC Smiles, and a Tourism Promotional Brochure).
4. Students will discuss the differences between two of the booklets.
5. Students will pretend that they will be moving from New York City to South Carolina. They will create a poster showing the route they will travel. They will include signs and stops along the way. The write up will explain and compare a trip today to one during the Jim Crow Era.

Teacher Reflections

The Teaching American History in South Carolina Institute is a great way to experience history. As a second time around participant I am so greatful for the historical knowledge and experiences. The primary sources that can be used to teach history are so plentiful. The Summer Institute makes it easy for them to be accessible and used in the classroom. This is great because teacher-planning time is limited during the school year. Having the primary sources available on compact disc is a gift of convenience.

I found The Green Book by Victor Green to be an excellent primary source for teaching segregation. The introduction is filled with so much of Green’s personal feelings. It is as if his voice speaks to you from the past. He felt compassionate enough to write this book to avoid embarrassment as well as to keep other blacks safe. He knew personally the dangers of traveling as a Negro. It was also personal because some of the addresses of the places where blacks could eat and sleep are still here in Columbia.

Comparing the “South Carolina Smiles Travel Book” to The Green Book really opened the eyes of some students. They realized how much life in South Carolina and America has changed in the last fifty years. Many of my students returned to class wanting to share stories their grandparents, great grandparents and other family members shared with them about segregation.

I feel that my lesson went well and the students enjoyed the activities and using The Green Book as a primary source. The lesson was taught the week after Dr. King Holiday. Teaching the lesson at this time helped the student understand why there was a great need for Dr. King to be a leader for Civil Rights.

I feel the strength of the lesson was the empathy felt by my students. By reading The Gold Cadillac first and viewing The Green Book the students were able to express their true feelings in their writing. I will also be able to enrich my lesson next year by allowing my students to visit “Road Trip”, an interactive website through SCETV knowitall.org that allow students to travel through the Civil Rights Era in South Carolina.

Teaching American History in South Carolina has improved my classroom teaching by giving me valuable resources and improving my knowledge of the content. This class has given me a true appreciation of history.

Student Assessments

Teacher used attached rubric.


Valentina Cochran
Pine Grove Elementary