Mapping the Great Migration 1916-1930: African American Movement from the South to the North

byStephanie R. Wicks


Why study the Great Migration of 1916- 1930? Philadelphia is a city that is more than fifty-percent African American. Many of the people that live in the city today have origins in other parts of the country and the world. As a city located close to slave states Philadelphia has had along history of being a home for free African Americans. Throughout history, people have migrated to and emigrated from places. Migration is nothing new but the time period of 1916-1930 brought about a movement of African Americans from the South that has not been duplicated since. As a mandated part of the Philadelphia High School curriculum, African American history is a vital part of the education that my students receive. Students today do not seem to inquire about the social, economic and political aspects of society. This curriculum unit will give them an historical perspective about one group of people in American society. I hope that students learn to be inquisitive about their own past as well as that of others. In doing so, I want my students to gain the analysis and inquiry skills needed to be successful in today's educational climate and society as a whole. In this curriculum unit I will utilize the geographic themes of location, place, human- environment interactions, movement and regions. I will also turn to the social studies themes of culture; time, continuity and change; people, places and environments; individual development and identity; individuals, groups and institutions; power, governance and authority; production, distribution and consumption; science, technology and society; and global interactions. I will use these themes to examine and explore migration. My purpose in using the themes of geography is to help students understand the absolute and relative position of a place on Earth's surface, how physical and human characteristics define and distinguish a place, how humans modify and adapt to natural settings, how people, ideas and material move between and among locations, and how an area displays unity in terms of physical and human characteristics. These social studies themes will provide the framework for the standards that will be addressed in this unit. Having studied maps and map making from an artistic, historical and practical perspective, I endeavor to have students gain not only a historical perspective of "The Great Migration" and also a practical understanding of maps and map making. I plan to do this not only through giving students the opportunity to study about geography, which is sorely lacking in the high school curriculum, but also to drive the study of geography by analyzing and examining a historical event that is relevant to our coursework, our local community and many of their cultures.

The unit will span the course of a semester as students study various topics in an African American History course designed for high school students. The grade level is primarily eleventh. The unit will consist of six lessons of history and geography.


Starting with the Class of 2009, students in the School District of Philadelphia are required to take a course in African American History before they graduate. Because Philadelphia is associated with freedom and liberty it is a reasonable train of thought that we would become the first school district in the nation that has mandated students to take African American History as a required part of their education. However, this institution has been a journey rather than a point of arrival. The narrative that explains this journey is closely tied to Philadelphia's social history and development. Philadelphia, which hosts the second oldest public education system in the United States, has not always provided an equal education for its students of various racial and ethnic backgrounds, especially African Americans. The fight for equality and equity in education could be traced to the 1800s, when the "free black" community began to create their own educational institutions. In addition to those free blacks, the Quakers, who are the religious group who primarily founded the colony, also provided for the education of free blacks in Philadelphia.

To fast forward the story to the more recent history of this struggle, on November 17, 1967, one of the largest student demonstrations in the city of Philadelphia led by David P. Richardson, took place in front of the Board of Education building when 3,500 students walked out of their classrooms in protest. The students protested the inadequate education they were receiving in Philadelphia's public schools. Protesters distributed leaflets that denounced the lack of Black History in the curriculum. In 1969, an official district policy mandated the inclusion of racial and ethnic history in all curricula materials. As a result, an Ad Hoc Committee was formed to create curricular materials in African and African American History. This subsequently resulted in the creation of an African-American Studies Department (King, 2006). Although this result was considered to be an improvement, "Black Studies" would continue to be pushed to the "back burner" and be marginalized in textbooks and minimized in the classroom.

For the past thirty-seven years, community members, educators, and local politicians have consistently fought to have the 1969 policy come to fruition. Through this process, the teaching and learning of African-American History is becoming a reality for the students in the School District of Philadelphia. (King, 2006). For additional information about this struggle see the following website for the Philadelphia Public School Notebook.

How does this rich educational history relate to my students in my school? Currently, I teach in a comprehensive neighborhood high school that is located in the Northwest section of the city, in a predominately Caucasian neighborhood. While this school has been integrated for a very long time the student population has shifted from being a predominately "white" school in a predominately "white" neighborhood to a predominately African-American school in a Caucasian neighborhood. It is important to note that this shift in population is not unique to my school and has occurred across Philadelphia as the population of city schools has become more and more African American. In the summer 2005 edition of the Philadelphia Public School Notebook article "Where have all the White kids gone?" Ron Whitestone states "As of the 2003-04 school year, fewer than fifteen percent of the students in Philadelphia public schools were white, a decline that has continued unabated since the 1960's." This is remarkable in light of the fact that although the population of Whites in Philadelphia has declined, (in the 1990's the city lost 181,444 Whites), Whites still make up forty-two percent of the city's population. Additionally, "as of 2000, over half of White children as opposed to roughly 1 of 10 African American children were enrolled in private schools." (Whitestone, 2005) In Philadelphia, many whites who cannot afford to move out of the city opt to send their children to Catholic school or charter schools. These choices by the relevant stakeholders are ultimately the cause of racial gaps in achievement and gaps in the resources provided in nonwhite schools. All of these factors contribute to the condition, quality and equity of education for Philadelphia school children.

Historical Context

The "Great Migration" is the movement of thousands of African Americans from southern states to northern states from around 1916 until 1930. There were many catalysts for this movement, one of which was the beginning of World War I. Another was the effect of the boll weevil on the cotton crops in the rural south. Additionally, many migrants were trying to escape the discrimination and danger of lynching in the south.

It is my goal for this unit to tell the story of migration through various aspects of history and culture. The first idea I would like to examine is that of why people migrated. This will be done through analyzing and examining the art of Jacob Lawrence as a sort of road map to the migration. Jacob Lawrence described his thoughts on this "Great Migration" and his life in an interview by Alan Govenar, September 3, 1998, which can be found in a book named African American Frontiers: Slave Narratives and Oral Histories and excerpted at the website Lawrence was a child of the migration. He grew up in Harlem, New York, but was born in Atlantic City, New Jersey. His mother was born in Fredericksburg, Virginia, and his father in South Carolina. His family moved up the coast and settled in various places as they migrated north. The last places he remembers living before Harlem are Easton, Pennsylvania, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His parents separated and he and his sister and brother were raised by their mother who worked as a domestic.

Lawrence ascertains that one of the reasons he created the Migration series of paintings was that he and his family were a part of the migration. He did not realize how this experience affected him as a child but as an adult he was quite aware of the movement of African Americans from south to north and its significance. Lawrence states "When I did the "Migration" series, of course, I realized it. But prior to that time, I did not know the significance of it. There was so much going on. The lynchings were at their peak in the South; people were talking about this; there were the Marcus Garvey people; there were black nationalists. There was just so much happening. There was so much going on that I couldn't analyze it. I wasn't a sociologist." (Govenar 1998 p.253).

In this interview Lawrence goes on to discuss how he became interested in art and his life as an artist in the 1930s and 1940s as a Federal Art Project artist. He began thinking about the Migration series in 1939 and completed the sixty panel series in 1941. He gained his inspiration through talking with people who came up from the south. He also explains the rationale of the series. "And it shows people, North, South, North, South, North, South, with the panels alternating like that. This was happening in the South, we moved north, happening in the South, we moved north, happening in the South, we moved north, until sixty panels were completed." (Govenar 1998 p.256). He states that the Migration series brought him attention outside of the community of Harlem.

By studying the life and art of Jacob Lawrence students will hopefully gain an appreciation for art and history while analyzing a historical event.

The second idea that I will examine relates to actual maps of the migration. In examining where the migrants were coming from I am hoping to help students gain a fuller perspective of the people that were involved. Often times, history is not personal to my students and although we will be examining maps, I wish to use the maps to personalize the journeys the migrants were on. Mapping in and of itself is an interesting way to relate historical events to students. Everyone came from somewhere. In this age of neighborhood rivalries and violence, students of African American History need to gain a perspective of the sacrifices that people made to gain a better lifestyle. The idea of using maps to gain historical perspective and spatial perspective can be done in a variety of ways. In this lesson we will analyze where people came from.

Most African Americans who migrated during the time period between 1910-1930 originated in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia. The primary locations that these people migrated to were California, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Pennsylvania and New York. So now the question becomes, "Why did people move to all of these places?" The primary reason that many migrated can be attributed to the desire to "better their condition." This could take the form of looking for employment, social and political equity, following family or friends. There is really no single motive for moving. Many rural southerners were impacted by the incursion of the boll weevil. No longer having the cotton crop as a viable means of income, southern farmers opted to move to urban areas in the south and beyond.

Analysis skills are important for students in a world of standardized testing. Although Social Studies is not a tested subject area in Pennsylvania and most states, social studies teachers can support English teachers by teaching skill based lessons that are content rich. Using maps as a part of this lesson is designed to do that. Students will gain analysis skills through identifying the various parts of a map, creating their own maps and relating the information they have learned to additional readings on the topic.

The third idea is that of the economic impact of the migration on the South and the North.

Many southerners who migrated to the north came from rural and urban areas. In 1924 the Philadelphia Housing Association conducted a policy-oriented social science survey. In this survey, the goal was to find out what new arrivals in Philadelphia, men and women, had done before they left the south and why they had decided to leave. Among the chief reasons was the lure of economic opportunities in the North. It is often thought that the migrants from the South came directly from their city or town of origin directly to their northern destination. However it is important to think of the migrations of these people as a journey, as often it was. Many rural southerners upon the destruction of their crops by the boll weevil did not immediately move north. They moved to southern cities first and after acquiring skills that would help them to adapt to life in the urban setting they then moved northward as stated in a report by United States Department of Labor, Division of Negro Economics entitled, and "Negro Migration in 1916-1917."

Economic prospects in the North seemed to be greater during this time; however, migrants found that success was not always dependent upon the skills they developed in the South. Many of those who came to Philadelphia found that they were unable to find skilled labor positions due to the discrimination in the city. Although this next topic also strongly relates to the social aspects of migration, it primarily speaks to the economic condition of migrants as well. One characteristic of rural southern migrants was that they often had larger families than their urban counterparts. This was often due to the need for help on the farm. This was not an asset in the city because it often caused these families to pay on average more for rent, to have more people living in a smaller space and not to have available space to take in boarders, which was often a means of additional income for many. Additionally, many of the rural children were lacking the education of their urban counterparts and therefore were placed far behind their age groups when in school. These factors contributed to the desire of many of the rural migrants to return to the South.

The fourth idea is that of the social impact of the migration through the churches, educational system and newspapers. Often those who chose to move did so because they wanted a better education for their children. As I previously discussed, this was not always an easy transition for rural children who were often placed years behind in school. However, this desire for improvement was still among the chief reasons to move.

The African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church and Black churches in general were a place of welcome for the southern migrants. Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church in Philadelphia drew diverse migrants. In the book "Sparks from the Anvil of Oppression: Philadelphia's African Methodists and Southern Migrants 1890-1940," Robert Gregg states, "Many of them bore characteristics likely to appeal to northern urban black churchgoers who wished to increase the size of their congregations and to welcome the newcomers at the gates of their cities." The distinction of being a member of the A.M.E. church also had some determination on where one might migrate to or where one may have migrated from. "Bethel's newcomers during the war years came predominately from three southern states: South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida." (Gregg, 1993) Gregg explains this phenomenon in great detail but the overall reasoning is that southerners from states west of Georgia tended to migrate to the Midwest. Those who came from Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina were most likely affiliated with other denominations and therefore did not make it to Bethel's rolls. The affiliation with a church was very important for the migrant because often this was the introduction to housing, jobs and a social standing.

The A.M.E. church required letters of transmittal from the migrant's former church to the new church. This is important because it provided an introduction of that person's character and moral standing to the new pastor. Historically this is significant because the A.M.E. church is renowned for their excellent record keeping and many of these letters still exist and are housed at Mother Bethel in their archives. This record keeping also attests to where the migrants came from, where they went and in some cases their previous occupation and social standing (Gregg, 1993).

The fifth idea is that of the political impact of the migration. Many of the migrants were coming from places where they had very little if no political power. They were especially barred from access to the franchise. Many saw moving north as a means to gain that political power that they lacked in the South. A recurring element to this movement of people north is the church. The church became the link to the political power that many sought. Additionally there was a greater ease to gaining access to the political system in the north. It should be understood that voting was not a given anywhere in the United States for African Americans but there was a greater opportunity to vote in the north.

In the South and the North the political impact of the migration could also be analyzed in terms of population and congressional districts. As migrants moved from one place to another they affected the census of those regions which ultimately affected the political power that whites had in the South.

The last idea that will be explored is specific to Philadelphia but could be adapted for any northern city or used in reverse for any southern city. In 1896 W.E.B. DuBois conducted a fifteen month study of Philadelphia's Negro population which was sponsored by the University of Pennsylvania. In this study he examined the African American population in the Seventh Ward of Philadelphia which is comprised of the area between South Seventh Street to the Schuylkill River and from Spruce Street to South Street. The primary focus of the study was the overall population and their daily life but it also looked into the migrants who came to the city; where they came from, why they came, what part of the city they lived in and their progress in Philadelphia. Currently there is a research, teaching and outreach project at the University of Pennsylvania that is called "Mapping the DuBois Philadelphia Negro" which is a part of the School of Design. The goal of this project is to recreate the survey conducted by W.E.B. DuBois, which was the basis for the 1899 book "The Philadelphia Negro". The actual book and this website are excellent resources for teachers to gain more insight into Philadelphia's African American History and African American history in general. Although "The Philadelphia Negro" does not deal with the time period during the Great Migration, it does give a great context in which the idea of migrants moving to Philadelphia can be explored. The previously mentioned "Sparks From the Anvil of Oppression" will also provide some of the historical context for the migration of southerners specifically to Philadelphia during this time period.


The objectives for this unit are for students to be able to understand migration patterns and to discuss the effects of these migrations. They will also learn about the ways in which African Americans were involved in their own forced migrations and voluntary migrations.

Students will identify regions of the United States from which the majority of African Americans migrated, whether forced or voluntarily. Over the course of various units, students will create and analyze maps, analyze historical documents and diagram patterns of movement.


In order to accomplish the goals of this unit, the teacher will use various strategies. The majority of lessons are designed for cooperative groups within a classroom. The lessons require that the students use graphic organizers, geography skills, critical thinking skills and creative and analytical writing skills. Some of the strategies that will be used include "Divided Images" in which the teacher will divide an image, (painting, photograph, print) into four parts or two parts. Students will then list everything they see in their assigned sections of the image. Another strategy is the "Column List" in which the students will divide sheet of paper into three parts and list the people objects and activities in the image. Another is "Point of View" in which the students will write about the picture from one of the people or objects in the picture. Another is "Caption Writing" in which students will write a detailed caption for the picture. Another is "Compare and Contrast" in which students will compare and contrast elements in the picture or two whole pictures. Although these strategies are not unique, they can be found in a teacher resource by Shell Educational Publishing, "Using Primary Sources in the Classroom," pages 19-44.

If you are not familiar with analyzing art the following are a list of questions from page 24 of "Using Primary Sources in the Classroom" that can be asked to help students analyze primary sources, especially painted artwork.

  1. What was the artist's purpose in painting this image?
  2. What event is taking place? Does it appear to be a real or staged event? What action is happening?
  3. Who is the artist? Is he or she famous?
  4. Who are the main figures in the painting? How are they dressed? What are they doing?
  5. What is the setting? How does the setting help tell the story in the painting? What objects do you see?
  6. What is the focal point of the painting?
  7. How did the artist use light, shadow, color and lines to get your attention?

I find that it is extremely important to get students to make inferences about the picture and determine the artist's point of view. Students should be asked "Why is this image historically important?"

"Using Primary Sources in the Classroom" (pages 117-135) discusses the use of maps as primary sources. When analyzing maps the following general questions from page 118 of "Using Primary Sources in the Classroom" are particularly useful.

  1. What type of map is this?
  2. What is the title of the map?
  3. What is the date of the map?
  4. Who is the mapmaker (cartographer)?
  5. Why was the map created?
  6. What are the map's main features?
  7. Are there any inscriptions on the map or written descriptions?
  8. Where was it produced?
  9. Are there any inscriptions on the map or written descriptions?
  10. What is the scale if the map?
  11. Is there a legend? Describe the legend.
  12. Are there any artistic features on the map? Describe them in detail.
  13. Is this map still accurate today? Why or why not?
  14. Who would use this map?
  15. How does this map relate to the topic you are studying?

These questions can be used in their entirety or teachers can use selected questions to familiarize their students with this skill.

Unless otherwise noted, each lesson is designed for a fifty-minute class period although they can be adapted for a ninety-minute period as well.

Classroom Activities

Lesson 1: Where Are You Going? The Art of Jacob Lawrence's Migration Series

Objectives: Students will:

Distinguish between push and pull factors.

Analyze the art of Jacob Lawrence as it relates to the historical context of the Great Migration


This lesson is a cooperative lesson. Since there are sixty panels in Jacob Lawrence's series on the great Migration, it is feasible to give each student their own panel to analyze. However, if the cost of printing theses color panels is prohibitive, this activity can be done with fewer panels. Open the lesson by discussing push factors and pull factors. Give examples and have students come up with their own examples.

Have students arranged in groups of no more than five people per group. Depending on class size have six groups of five. In these groups, have each student select role cards. (Recorder, Facilitator, Timekeeper, and Reporter, see appendix for descriptions of roles) Once each student understands their role, distribute each panel of the series until all of them have been distributed. It may be helpful to have each panel labeled and numbered in the order the artist created them especially since they represent a specific movement of people from South to North. Students should view of the panels in their group. Once they have viewed the panels have them answer the following questions as a group. The recorder should write all of the answers for the group.

  1. What is depicted in each panel?
  2. Does this panel reflect a push factor or a pull factor?
After each group has answered these two questions for all of the panels they have the students attach their panels in numerical order around the classroom. Once this is done give the students the opportunities to do a gallery walk around the room to view each of the panels they did not have. This is best done by calling one group at a time to walk around. This also gives the other students the opportunity to complete any work that they may not have completed in the allotted time. After students complete the gallery walk, have each reporter stand to discuss which panels their group had and whether they reflected push factors or pull factors and why their group determined this. Ask the students to discuss what if anything stood out to them about Jacob Lawrence's depiction of the great Migration.

After students complete this activity, provide students with the interview that Jacob Lawrence did with Alan Govenar. Have students read the article in groups or individually. Once students have completed the reading have a class discussion about why Jacob Lawrence created the Migration Series and about his life. As a homework assignment, have students choose one of the panels from the migration series to write a narrative about. They should address what they think is going on in the panel, what is the motivation for the people or action taking place in the panel, and where are the people going or why are they leaving? Encourage students to be creative with their writing. Display the writings and the panels in the classroom or hallway.

Lesson 2: Where Did You Come From? Maps of the Movement of African Americans During The Great Migration

Objectives: Students will:


Hand out copies of the Studying Maps map analysis worksheet available from Teacher Created Materials #3881 Social Studies Strategies for Active Learning p. 239-241, Shell Educational Publishing. See appendix for worksheet. This worksheet is an adaptation of one that can also be found for free at

Give students a copy of the following maps found at

Principal States of Origin of the Migrants, 1910-1930; The Great Migration, 1916-1930; Number and Percent of African Americans in the United States Living in Urban and Rural Communities, 1890-1930; Percentage of Negroes in the Total Population 1910; and Per Cent of Negroes in Total Population By States 1920; and African American Population in Selected Cities, 1900-1920. Once these maps have been distributed one of each per group, work with the students to analyze each map or chart. Analysis of the maps and charts will help students have a background for the reading in the next lesson.

Using the map Principal States of Origin of the Migrants, 1910-1930, students will work together to identify what type of map they are studying, and answer the remaining questions from the Studying Maps worksheet. After the students complete this portion of the activity have them analyze each of the maps that remain. Each student should identify the title of the map and any thing about the map that they find interesting. After the map analysis discuss each map with the students, point out important facts that they may not have identified. If you have access to a computer and projection system it will be helpful to project each map on a screen as you discuss them to keep the students attention on the map that is currently being discussed.

As a homework assignment, have students create a map of the route they take to get to school each day. They should identify regions, street names and modes of transportation. If possible provide an outline map of the city to help students place their routes on a map.

Once students create their map they should write a short essay identifying the reasons why they "migrate" to the school they attend. Note: In Philadelphia, many students travel from various parts of the city to get to school. Although I teach at a neighborhood high school, students may be from another region of the city.

Lesson 3: The Economics of Migration

Objectives: Students will:

Identify the occupations of those who migrated and analyze the primary occupations of migrants, where they moved to and what employment people found in the city of immigration. Analyze why this is important and how it impacted the places that people left and the places that people moved to.


Students will research the various jobs that migrants had when they lived in the south and the types of jobs that they gained in the north. In places like Pittsburgh, PA, steel mills were attractive to migrants. In Philadelphia, the shipyards and domestic work drew migrants.

Distribute the article "A New Industrial Landscape" to students. This is available online at under Great Migration topics. Have students create a t-chart in their notebook to be used as a double entry journal. On one side of the chart have them write the title South and on the other side of the chart have them write the title North. As they read the article have students write down things that are related to the southern experience and those that are a part of the northern experience. Students should note locations, wages and occupations mentioned in the article. After students read and create their charts, discuss their observations as a class.

Students should then choose one of the occupations mentioned in the article. They will research the wages that African Americans made working in the occupation in 1910 and in 1920. Once they have obtained that research, and working in small groups, the students will create a bar graph that compares the wages of each occupation. At the end of the class, the students will make one large bar graph that shows each occupation and the wage for that occupation. As an extension, students could also add the statistics for whites in the same occupations. The Census Bureau is a great resource for students to begin their research.

Lesson 4: The Social Impact of Migration

Objectives: Students will: Analyze the impact of newspapers on the Great Migration


Provide students with copies of "Sir I Will Thank You with All My Heart": Seven Letters from the Great Migration available online at These letters are transcribed letters, published in the Chicago Defender, a Black newspaper published in Chicago that strongly urged southern blacks to migrate North. If desired, additional letters can be found at "Letters of Negro Migrants of 1916-1918" from the Journal of Negro History vol. 4, no. 3 (July 1919).

Have students read through each of the letters. After they have read the letters have them choose one letter to respond to. In their response they should either grant or deny the writer's request or respond to the situation the writer describes.

After students have responded, have them share their responses with the class. Discuss the role of the newspaper in aiding and encouraging migration North.

Provide students with a copy of the biography of Robert S. Abbott. A short biography is available online at Have students read the biography and infer why Abbott may have created the Chicago Defender. As a homework assignment, each student should write a short essay that describes what they believe were Abbott's motivations.

Lesson 5: The Politics of Migration

Objectives: Students will evaluate how migration affected U.S. politics in the 1920's


In order to provide students with background information about the political climate of the time, provide students with a handout entitled, "The Quest for Political Power" found online at This short article describes the political climate and the context in which African Americans continued their search for political equity. Once students have been given the article give them time to read this in class. After students have read, ask students to answer the following focus questions:

  1. Explain how the experiences of southern migrants affected their desire to vote.
  2. Why were black southerners loyal to the Republican Party?
  3. te: It may be necessary to explain to students that many African Americans were Republicans because this was the party of Abraham Lincoln.
  4. Why is Oscar DePriest significant in American political history? What did he accomplish?
  5. What was significant about the election of 1935?
  6. Who was Marcus Garvey? Why were his ideas attractive to migrants?

After discussing the focus questions with the students, use the website to lead students through an activity that will require them to use their inference skills. You will need access to a computer and preferably a projection system to complete this activity. If you do not have access to this technology this activity can also be done in a computer room with individual computers. is an interactive website that provides maps of presidential election results by "red and blue" states. You will be able to navigate through years from 1789 to 2008. Once you select a year the website will show you the names of each candidate, their political party, how many electoral votes the candidate won, how many popular votes the candidates won and a map of the United States that is appropriately color coded to reflect the election results. At the bottom of the page the site also provides "election facts" which provide some historical context.

Using the election maps for 1916, 1920 and 1932 analyze the results for each year. Make sure students make note of which states voted Republican and which voted Democrat. Also have students note whether a particular state has lost or gained electoral votes. (Those are noted on the map by the numbers under the state abbreviation.) Explain to students that the number of electoral votes is determined by state population. After analyzing the maps, have students write a paragraph answering the following question:

What can you infer about African American migration from 1916-1932 based on the election results from 1916, 1920 and 1932? This question can be answered for homework if there is limited class time.

Lesson Six: The Philadelphia Story

Read "Black Migration to Philadelphia: a 1924 Profile" from Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography (July 1984) by Fredric Miller as background reading for the teacher. This article can be found at This article discusses the household structure and income, southern occupation and residence, motivation and process, the Philadelphia districts and occupations, and the mobility and housing conditions of migrants. This study does make some comparisons with European immigrants although the focus is African Americans migrating from the South.


Divide students into small groups of 4-5 students. In their groups, students will research migrants from a southern state such as North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia. They must research and choose a state that had many migrants that came to Philadelphia. Students must find information about the occupations of migrants, educational levels, and religious affiliations. Student will then create a short fictional family profile describing where the family is from, the family surname, how many members of the family there are, their ages, schooling and/or occupation. They must also include the circumstances in which the family migrated to Philadelphia. Was it due to the loss of crops, seeking better opportunities etc.? This fictional family profile will be used in a short simulation activity.

In this short simulation of the Philadelphia migrant experience in the 1920's, students will be given a profile from a group other than their own. Break the class in to groups of 4-5 students. Each group will represent a family from the south. As each family migrates from their home state to Philadelphia they will have to make economic and social decisions that will impact their family. At the end of the simulation each group will report out their experiences and the class will discuss what they may have done differently if they were in this situation in real life. The teacher will provide "Decision Cards". Students will use these cards to encounter situations that will determine their fate.

Simulation Decision Cards

  1. You start your journey with $50. The cost of a train ticket north is $3.00 per person. You must decide if you leave with or without your family. If you decide to leave without your family go to the next decision. If you decide to bring your family skip to number five.
  2. You decided to leave without your family. You must find a place to live. You don't have any friends or family in your new city but you are a member of the AME church. Will you rent a room or an apartment?
  3. You decided to rent a room for $4.00 per month. You must now find a job.
  4. You find a job as a general laborer. You are paid $.90 per 12 hour workday. You send half of your earnings to you family in the South.
  5. You decide to bring your family to Philadelphia. It will cost you $3.00 per member of you family. Skip number six and seven, go to number eight.
  6. With your family with you, you find a two room apartment that you rent for $5.50 per month.
  7. You find a job earning $1.00 per 12 hour workday.
  8. You must ultimately decide if you will stay in Philadelphia or will you return to your home in the South. Do you stay or do you leave?



This unit corresponds with Pennsylvania History Standards 8.1,2,3 A, 8.1, 2.3 B,

8.1,2,3 C, and 8.1,2,3 D.

The standards for 8.1 are Historical Analysis and Skills Development:

A - Chronological Thinking

B - Historical Comprehension

C - Historical Interpretation

D - Historical Research

The standards for 8.2 Pennsylvania History and 8.3 United States History:

A - Contributions of Individual Groups

B - Documents, Artifacts, and Historical Places

C - Influences of Continuity and Change

D - Conflict and Cooperation Among Groups

The complete standards are available online at:

Teacher Resources

Cooperative Group Roles

Facilitator: This student makes sure that the group stays focused on the assigned task.

Timekeeper: This student makes sure the group stays within the assigned time limits.

Recorder: This student writes all information for the group.

Reporter: This student speaks for the group and shares the assignment with the class.

See bibliography for a list of books and websites used in this unit.

Annotated Bibliography and Teacher Resources

Carson, Clayborne; Lapsansky-Werner, Emma J.; Nash, Gary B. African American Lives: The Struggle for Freedom (New York, New York Pearson Longman 2005)

This textbook is a biographical and historical analysis of the lives of African Americans. The text uses personal stories as a basis for the history of African Americans.

Clark Hine, Darlene; Harrold, Stanley; Hine, William C. African American History (New Jersey: Pearson Prentice Hall 2006)

This textbook discusses the processes Africans went through to become African Americans. The authors begin the discussion with the study of Africa and continue through modern history.

DuBois W.E.B., The Philadelphia Negro. New York: Lippincott, 1899

Gregg, Robert. Sparks From the Anvil of Oppression: Philadelphia's African Methodists and Southern Migrants 1890-1940 (Philadelphia, PA Temple University Press1993)

King, Dana "The Journey", School District of Philadelphia Office of Curriculum and Instruction: African American History Course: Lessons in Africana Studies: pp (Philadelphia, PA, Songhai Press 2006)

This article is part of a larger work by many renowned scholars in Africana Studies. This article discusses key events surrounding the formation of the African American History curriculum in Philadelphia.

Stix, Andi; Social Studies Strategies for Active Learning (Huntington Beach, CA Shell Educational Publishing 2004)

This book is an educational resource for teachers that outline teaching strategies in social studies.

Vest, Kathleen; Using Primary Sources in the Classroom (Huntington Beach, CA Shell Educational Publishing 2005)

This book is an educational resource for teachers that outline teaching strategies in social studies.

Websites This is the website of the Pennsylvania Historical Society This is the website of the In Motion exhibit at the Schomberg Center for African American Studies at the New York Public Library in Harlem. This website is especially good for studying all migrations of African peoples. The official website of the United States Census Bureau This website is a project of students and faculty at the University Of Pennsylvania School Of Design. Its overall goal is to revisit the 1896 study conducted by WEB DuBois and create and provide resources for teachers and students. Website of that contains all sixty panels of Jacob Lawrence's Great Migration Series viewable online The African American Census Historical Context: This website is useful for those interested in the study of African American History in Philadelphia and those who wish to research specific neighbor hoods in relation to race and ethnicity. This website is designed for high school and college teachers and students. It serves as a gateway to web resources and offers other useful materials for teaching U.S. History. History Matters is a project of City University of New York and the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University. This is an interactive website that provides maps of presidential election results by "red and blue" states. You will be able to navigate through years from 1789 to 2008. Provides historical census data This is an excellent websites for historic maps of Pennsylvania.

Comments (1)

    Zoelene Hill (West Philadelphia High School, Philadelphia, PA)
    Subject taught: African-American History, Grade: 10
    Using Jacob Lawrence in Black Migration Lessons
    This lesson was very helpful. I was looking for a way to add dimension to my lesson on the Great Black Migration. I did not know about Jacob Lawrence's migration series. Incorporating this into my lesson will allow my students to engage with this topic and time period through art. Thank you!

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