Image African American teacher and pupils at a segregated rural school in Oklahoma, 1940

TLF ID M009008

This is a black-and-white photograph showing an African American female teacher with two students in a school in Creek County in the US state of Oklahoma. The photograph was taken by Russell Lee in February 1940. Part of the caption he wrote for the image reads, 'This year, despite the fact the white school received free books, none arrived for the Negros. The teacher was so afraid of losing her job that she would not make any inquiries about the books and the children were sharing the few books some could buy'.

Educational details

Educational value
  • This photograph and caption are valuable sources for year 10 history studies of the background to the US civil rights movement. They are also useful for years 11 or 12 modern history studies of the same topic. Together they provide a striking representation of the long-established policy of segregation in Oklahoma. In 1897, the Oklahoma Territory banned racial mixing in schools and from 1907, when Oklahoma became a state, interracial schools at all levels were illegal.
  • Segregation of education in the American South and southern mid-West was founded on deep-seated racism. It was authorised by a series of so-called 'separate-but-equal' state and federal laws and supreme court decisions in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Although 'separate', the schools were never 'equal'. African American schools were run down and poorly resourced. Desegregating white schools was a major focus of the civil rights movement from the early 1950s.
  • Russell Lee was one of a number of photographers employed by the Farm Security Administration (FSA) and its successor, the Office of War Information, from 1936 to 1943. He was responsible for many iconic images taken in Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico. At the time the photograph was taken, the FSA encouraged Lee and its other photographers to record images and evidence of segregation.
Learning area
  • English
  • History
  • Studies of society and environment

Other details

  • Contributor
  • Name: The Library of Congress
  • Organization: The Library of Congress
  • Description: content provider
  • Address: UNITED STATES
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  • Publisher
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organization: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Description: Publisher
  • Address: VIC, AUSTRALIA
  • URL:
  • Resource metadata contributed by
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organisation: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Address: AUSTRALIA
  • URL:
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  • Generic
Learning Resource Type
  • Image
  • © Commonwealth of Australia, 2011, except where indicated otherwise. You may copy, communicate and modify this material for non-commercial educational purposes provided you retain all acknowledgements associated with the material.