The Color of Law: Winners and Losers in the Job Market

This lesson is the second lesson of the series The Color of Law: The Role of Government in Shaping Racial Inequity. In this lesson, students examine how government policies helped white people access economic benefits while preventing African Americans from accessing these same benefits.
Grade Level


At the end of the lesson, students will be able to: 

  • Explain how government policies helped white people access economic benefits while preventing African Americans from accessing these same benefits.
Essential Questions
  • How did government programs help people get jobs?  
  • How did these programs prevent people from getting jobs?


American Federation of Labor (AFL) [uh-mer-i-kuhn fed-uh-rey-shuhn uhv ley-ber] (noun) a federation of trade unions organized in 1886 (from dictionary.com)

Collective bargaining rights [cull-eck-tiv bar-guh-ning rights] (noun) the rights of individual employees in a workplace to come together and to choose a representative who will then negotiate with their employer over terms and conditions of employment (from the ACLU)

De facto [dee fak-toh] (adj.) actually existing, especially when without lawful authority (distinguished from de jure) (from dictionary.com)

De jure [di joor-ee] (adj.) by right, according to law (distinguished from de facto) (from dictionary.com)

Free markets [free mahr-kits] (noun) an economic system in which prices and wages are determined by unrestricted competition between businesses, without government regulation or fear of monopolies (from dictionary.com)

Menial [mee-nee-uh¬l] (adj.) lowly and sometimes degrading (from dictionary.com)

National Labor Relations Act [nash-uh-nl ley-ber ri-ley-shuhns akt] (noun) legislation passed by Congress in 1935 that protected the rights of employees and employers, to encourage collective bargaining, or being in unions (adapted from the National Labor Relations Board)

New Deal [noo deel] (noun) the legislative and administrative program of President F. D. Roosevelt designed to promote economic recovery and social reform during the 1930s (from merriam-webster.com)

Predominate [pri-dom-uh-neyt] (verb) to have numerical advantage (adapted from dictionary.com)

Sharecropper [shair-krop-er] (noun) a tenant farmer who pays as rent a share of the crop (from dictionary.com)

Social Security [so-shuhl si-kyoor-i-tee] (noun) a U.S. government program of public provision established in 1935 for the economic security and social welfare of the individual and family (adapted from merriam-webster.com) 



1.    Prepare students for the lesson by explaining that they will explore how the supporting of white American employment and the disadvantaging of African American employment opportunities cemented segregation and wealth inequity. Ask students to discuss the essential questions using a “turn and talk” strategy. After giving students time to discuss with a peer, ask students to share their answers out loud. Record student responses on chart paper. Students will return to these responses at the end of the lesson.

2.    Using the provided vocabulary list, have students complete the Prior Knowledge and Personal Association Chart. Note: This teaching strategy also invites teachers to plan and choose their own vocabulary words for their students using the Vocabulary Selection Planner handout.

3.    Ask students to read The Color of Law Lesson 2 Book Excerpts 2.1 - 2.6 handout and answer the provided text-dependent questions. Teachers are encouraged to write their own Text-Dependent Questions to help students explore how the federal government has actively provided employment advantages to white people.

4.    Group students into teams following the What Would They Say teaching strategy. Using the following texts, Pullman Porters Grievances, Dan Parks CCC Experience, Proclamation of Striking Textile Workers and Community in Action, ask students the following theme questions:

  • How did racial identity impact economic opportunities?
  • What are common issues for workers?
  • How did workers advocate for their rights?
  • How did workers advance in their professions and economic status?

5.    After closing the What Would They Say discussion, bring students together as a whole class. Post the chart paper with the initial responses to the Essential Questions. Ask students to read and reflect on their initial ideas. Ask students what they would like to amend or expand in their responses.

6.    In a “turn and talk,” ask students to share one government policy that they learned about that still impacts people today. Ask students to share out loud how that government policy still impacts people today. Record student responses in a T chart listing the government policy and the impact it has today. This chart can be a living classroom document that students can add to throughout the year. 


Alignment to Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.9‒10.1, 4, 7, 9, 10

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11‒12.1, 4, 7, 9, 10