Teaching Guide: Exploring the Great Migration

This teaching guide helps instructors use a specific primary source set, The Great Migration, in the classroom. It offers discussion questions, classroom activities, and primary source analysis tools. It is intended to spark pedagogical creativity by giving a sample approach to the material. Please feel free to share, reuse, and adapt the resources in this guide for your teaching purposes.

Discussion questions

  1. Based on the lynching announcement, the excerpt from Douglass’s essay, and the excerpt from Page’s book, explain the “Negro Problem” at the turn of the twentieth century. How did lynching and other forms of racial violence serve as a response to the “Negro Problem”?
  2. What were the causes of the Great Migration? What was the biggest factor in the migration of African Americans from the South to the North and Midwest? What were the most popular cities to which African Americans migrated during this era? Use evidence from the items in this set to answer.
  3. According to the excerpt from The Industrial Condition of the Negro in the North and the excerpt from Chicago Race Riots, what were some of the challenges African Americans faced in the North?
  4. In what ways does Chicago Race Riots reflect the ideology of “separate but equal”?
  5. What inferences can you make from the map of the migration patterns of African Americans?

Classroom activities

  1. Teachers can group images as a starting point for analysis. Ask one group of students to compare and contrast Employment of Negroes in Agriculture and Dorothea Lange’s photograph. What is revealed about the duality of the experience of African American sharecroppers? What is revealed about the duality of the South? Consider the positions of the bodies in each image. What message is conveyed through the bodies and facial expressions of the people represented in each image? Ask another group of students to compare and contrast the Jacob Lawrence painting and the photograph of an African American family just arrived in Chicago. How are migrants dressed in both images? How does their attire reflect their attitudes about migrating to the North? Both images are framed in such a way that the people fill the entire frame; what feeling or mood does this elicit in the viewer? What are some the messages the artists convey by framing their works in such a way? After brainstorming and discussion, students should present the images and their analysis to the larger class.

  2. Ask students to choose one of the images in this set and write a short story from the point of view of the subjects in the work. Students can write their narrative from the point of view of a group or single person. Ask students to use the information they have learned from the other documents in this primary source set to help construct the narrative.

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