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De Facto vs. De Jure Segregation

In this lesson, students will contrast and compare de facto and de jure segregation, listening to oral history examples of each from residents of Charlotte, North Carolina. Students will then brainstorm solutions to each type of segregation, and will discuss why de facto segregation can persist even after de jure segregation is eliminated.

Grades 11-12 - Social Studies

Classroom Time Needed: 2-3 50-minute class periods

Learning Outcomes
Curriculum Alignment
Materials and Resources
Additional Web Sites

Learning Outcomes

  • Students will understand the difference between de jure and de facto segregation, and know examples of each from U.S. history.
  • Students will analyze and come up with solutions for social problems.

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Curriculum Alignment

North Carolina Standard Course of Study - Grades 11-12 African American Studies

Goal 8: The learner will analyze the successes and failures of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States.

  • Objective 8.05 - Assess the extent to which the Civil Rights Movement transformed American politics and society.

North Carolina Standard Course of Study - Grades 11-12 Sociology

Goal 8: The learner will examine major social problems.

  • Objective 8.02 - Analyze causes and effects of social problems and issues.
  • Objective 8.03 - Construct possible solutions to given social problems.

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Materials and Resources


Technology Resources

  • Computer and Internet connection, if streaming oral history excerpts from this site
  • Speakers
  • CD player, if burning a CD of oral history excerpts

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Teachers should listen to the oral history excerpts and review discussion questions.

Students should have some basic background knowledge of the history of segregation in the U.S.

Activity One: Defining De Jure and De Facto

Define de jure segregation. Have students look up the phrase in their dictionaries. The American Heritage Dictionary defines de jure as "According to law", and Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary provides these definitions: “1. By right; of right; by a lawful title: 2. by law”.

Discuss with students what they think these definitions mean in relationship to segregation. Some ideas that will probably be mentioned are Jim Crow laws, such as those segregating buses, restaurants, and so on, and school segregation laws. How do the students interpret the sense of the word meaning "by right", or "of right"?

Define de facto segregation, again by having students look up the phrase in their dictionaries. According to the American Heritage Dictionary, de facto means “actual”.

Discuss the definitions with students. Based on these definitions, how could de jure segregation differ from de facto segregation?

Activity Two: Listening to the Oral Histories

Introduce the concept of an oral history, and discuss their value as we study important events. Mention that oral histories provide a chance for the "regular person" to record his or her experiences, not just the well-known or famous people often recorded in written history. Ask students to come up with more reasons we should value oral histories—such as allowing minority groups to record and publicize their experiences, making connections between generations, passing on the art of storytelling, etc.

Hand out transcripts of the oral histories, and ask students as they listen to take notes on the speakers’ experiences as they relate to de facto or de jure segregation.

Play the first oral history, from Fred Battle, a Chapel Hill man who grew up in the segregated 1950s. Possible discussion questions:

  • Is Fred Battle discussing de facto or de jure segregation?
  • What do you think Mr. Battle meant by "surrogate victory"?
  • What type of victories do you think he wanted to achieve?

Play the second oral history, from Madge Hopkins, a woman who experienced racism and segregation in her hometown of Charlotte. Possible discussion questions:

  • Are the incidents Madge Hopkins remembers examples of de facto or de jure segregation?
  • What are some things Ms. Hopkins could not do because of this segregation?

Play the third oral history excerpt, from Jeff Black, a student who graduated from West Charlotte High School in the late 1990s. Possible discussion questions:

  • Is Jeff Black citing an example of de facto or de jure segregation?
  • What reason does he offer for the segregation that takes place in the cafeteria?
  • What solution did the race relations committee come up with to address the issue?

Ask students to cite more examples of de jure and de facto segregation as a class. These examples can be drawn from history, things students have read, incidents students have observed inside or outside of school, or their own experiences. Create a 2-column chart on the board or overhead, one column for de facto and one for de jure, and record students’ ideas. What type of segregation do they feel is more common today?

Activity Three: Solutions to Segregation

As a group, brainstorm possible solutions to de jure segregation. Some examples might be protesting segregation laws, using litigation to change the laws, letter-writing or publicity campaigns to have the laws changed, etc. You may want to record the responses on the board or overhead.

Now brainstorm possible solutions to de facto segregation. Students may have more trouble coming up with these solutions. Discuss as a group why it could be more difficult to end de facto segregation than de jure segregation. For example, you may discuss the difficulty in changing people’s attitudes rather than simply changing the law.

Complete the list of solutions to segregation, either as a group or as an individual task.

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Teachers should assess students by their participation in the discussions and brainstorming. Students should generate ideas about segregation and solutions to the problem, including completing a list of solutions to end segregation.

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Additional Web Sites

Complete Oral Histories

Fred Battle oral history

Madge Hopkins oral history

Jeff Black oral history

Documenting the American South - More oral histories about desegregation and civil rights across North Carolina

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