Separate is Never Equal

Separate is Never Equal
Written and Illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh

Publisher’s Summary:
Almost 10 years before Brown vs. Board of Education, Sylvia Mendez and her parents helped end school segregation in California. An American citizen of Mexican and Puerto Rican heritage who spoke and wrote perfect English, Mendez was denied enrollment to a “Whites only” school. Her parents took action by organizing the Hispanic community and filing a lawsuit in federal district court. Their success eventually brought an end to the era of segregated education in California.

Primary Source Pairing:
In 1896, the Supreme Court ruled in Plussy v Ferguson that certain groups of people can be denied access if an equal alternative is offered. But as we know, separate is never equal. Sylvia and her family struggled for equal rights for all students in schools. Sylvia quotes her parents as teaching her:

“That we are all individuals; that we are all human beings; that we are all connected together; and that we all have the same rights, the same freedom.”

The work that Sylvia and her parents did paved the way for the next court case Brown v Board of Education that ruled against school segregation.

For this primary source pairing, invite students to read and analyze a newspaper article published in the New York Times on May 17, 1954, when the ruling in Brown v Board of Education stated that separate is not equal and put an end to school segregation. Use the full-text features on the NYT website to read the article.

Questions for Discussion:

  • Describe what you see.
  • What do you notice first?
  • What text do you notice first?
  • What do you see other than news articles?
  • How is the text and other information arranged on the page?
  • What details indicate when this was published?
  • What details suggest where this was published?
  • What can you tell about the point of view of the people who produced this?
  • How would this be different if produced today?
  • How would this be the same?

Book Cover and Summary: Follett
Newspaper Article: New York Times
For more information on the Mendez v Westminster court case visit United States Courts.