“Let my people in”: Unwritten Covenants and Housing Segregation in the 1950s

Lesson Focus and Instructional Purpose

Cross Disciplinary Themes Addressed

A team of high school teachers developed a series of lessons that are connected by theme and skills through math, English, and History. The themes include segregation, symbolism, and the making of valid claims based on interpretations of data.

A note about our planning process: we created lessons that would impact students' understanding and performance in an existing 9th grade History assessment.  This History assessment is a document based question (also known as a DBQ) that all 9th grade students complete at our school.  In other words, if we imagine the assessment as the center of a wheel, the lessons we created are the spokes of that wheel. 

Unifying Essential Question(s)

How can understanding systemic discrimination through literary, historical, and mathematical analyses help us understand issues of discrimination today in our communities?

Subject Area Question(s)

Subject Supporting Questions
English What does the motif of the house mean to the main character in the book Devil in a Blue Dress?
History What are restrictive covenants? How does housing segregation affect our communities?
Math How can we use data representations to make valid convincing claims and predictions?

Collaborative Learning Objective(s)

Students understand literary and historical themes of disparate prosperity.
Students can make a claim supported by evidence.

Subject Area Learning Objectives

Subject Learning Objective
English Students can analyze the motif and significance of home through the perspective of the character, Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins in the fictional novel, Devil in a Blue Dress, by Walter Mosley.
History Student can define restrictive covenant. Student can explain the effects of restrictive covenants on residential segregation.
AlgebraStudents will be able to learn about the different types of existing data representations.

Students will be able to interpolate, extrapolate and isolate trends from data sets.

Students will be able to break down any statistical representation according to a comprehensive protocol.

Students will be be able to distinguish between mathematical analysis statements and social science analysis statements made about given graphs.

Standards Addressed

 Mathematics  ELA/Literacy  Social Studies
 CCSS.MATH.PRACTICE.MP3  CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.1  CCSS.Reading Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies.RH1-2

Close Reading Text Set

Anchor Text

“The Negro in the North” by Alan Paton (October 29, 1954)

Supporting Texts

Subject Title of Supporting Text URL of Supporting Text

Organized Text Set

Text Title Learning Objective

Student Activities and Tasks

Text-Dependent Questions

This History lesson on housing segregation will ask students to consider background knowledge on segregation, a primary source, and personal experience to answer the focus questions of: What are restrictive covenants? How does housing segregation affect our communities?

Text Dependent Questions:

  1. Who is Alan Paton? What is his purpose in writing this account?
  2. In Paton’s account, what happens when an African American “purchases a home” in an area that is in the “white section”?
  3.  According to Paton, what is the restrictive covenant? (Make sure you discuss both, the one he says is upheld by the courts, and the other which is an unwritten one.)
  4. Who is Mr. Valentine and what did he do that broke an unwritten law?
  5. Why is Mr. Valentine unwilling to discuss his actions?
  6. What does Mr. Paton mean when he says, “If I had California property to sell, I know where I would go”?
  7. Who is Mr. Henry George Gordon and what is his view on restrictive covenants?
  8. Why do you think Mr. Paton interviewed both Mr. Valentine and Mr. Gordon?
  9. What do you think Mr. Paton means when he wrote “the great weapon of the segregator has always been the restrictive covenant”?

Formative Assessment Strategies and Tasks

In this History lesson on housing segregation, students will respond to a series of text-dependent questions based on the primary source they read. Their written responses will inform their completion of an contextualization exercise. Their understanding of the focus question will be assessed based on their written responses, their completion of the exercise, and student discussion.

Culminating Assessment

Having studied literature, primary and secondary sources, graphs, and statistics related to the disparity in prosperity in our communities, students will complete a Document Based Question assessment that answers the writing prompt of: Was the postwar transformation of the Bay Area ultimately beneficial or harmful? In this formal written assessment, students will do the following:
1. State a claim that is supported by reasons and evidence
2. Interpret at least one data set and use this interpretation in support of the claim
3. Explain the harmful effects of segregation particularly in the area of housing

Background Knowledge and Prerequisite Skills

Pre-requisite Learning

In this History lesson, students should:

  1. Be familiar and somewhat skilled in identifying a primary source for its author, date, and purpose, and interpreting this information for author's bias and perspective.
  2. Be skilled in identifying historical context both on a macro and micro level. (For an example of one approach to teaching contextualization that inspired me, see this video from the Teaching Channel).
  3. Have a basic understanding of segregation in the United States.

Pre-assessment of Readiness for Learning

In this lesson, students will be expected to connect personal experience with historical patterns and a primary source. The lesson is divided into steps so that the teacher can check students' ability to connect from personal experience to the historical pattern, from the pattern to a primary source, and from the primary source to our world today. The teacher can determine the pace and to what level student tasks are guided or independent based on her assessment of student understanding at each step.

Organization of Instructional Activities

  1. Warm-up: Students respond to the following prompts - Think of an example of unfair treatment. What happened? How did it make you or the person feel? What did you or the person do? Describe. [5 minutes]
  2. Transition from the warmup to the lesson activities by sharing the lesson focus questions in the context of the 1950s.
  3. Access prior background knowledge on the 1950s by having students brainstorm and share historical events they recall from this time period. Record on the contextualization worksheet. [10 minutes]
  4. Transition from the background knowledge to the primary source by introducing the author and the excerpt, Alan Paton's "The Negro in the North" from 1954.
  5. In pairs, or any other grouping that the teacher determines to be appropriate, have students read the primary source and respond to the reading questions at the end. [30-40 minutes]
  6. As a class, return to the contextualization worksheet and add the key ideas and facts from the primary source to the inner circle. [10 minutes]
  7. In pairs, or in any other grouping that the teacher determine to be appropriate, discuss the following questions:
    - Do you agree with Mr. Paton’s assertion that “the great weapon of the segregator has always been the restrictive covenant”?
    - Why is housing an issue of equal opportunity and access?
    - How does housing segregation affect our communities?

Download: ContextualizingRestrictiveCovenants_1.pdf

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