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“Moving on Up”: The Causes and the Impact of the Great Migration on African Americans

Author: Tonya R. Oniyama


West Philadelphia High School

Year: 2015

Seminar: Roots of the American Empire

Grade Level: 9-12

Keywords: African American History, eleventh grade, inquiry-based learning, ninth grade, tenth grade, The Great Migration, world history

School Subject(s): African American History, American History, Global History, History

This curriculum unit is designed to explore the challenges, issues, and possible growth of African-Americans during the Great Migration period in the United States. As African-Americans gained more entry in the work force as a result of the post reconstruction period and America’s becoming more of an industrialized nation, they faced many challenges. This information is noteworthy, as it will allow my high school history students the opportunity to develop an understanding of this topic.  This unit is developed for history students between grades nine through twelve, who are taking World History, African-American History and/or United States History.  All three of these courses discuss the Great Migration.

Download Unit: Oniyama-Tonya-unit.pdf

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Full Unit Text

As a high school social studies teacher and department chair, I am required to teach on the topics of the Industrial Revolution, the Slave Trade, the Emancipation Proclamation and The Great Migration. In order to effectively expose my students to these historical topics, it is crucial that they be presented in a manner that will lend itself to increased knowledge of these areas.  On May 21, 2015, I asked my students how many of them had relatives who moved from the South to the North during the Migration time period and eighty percent of them responded in the affirmative. This informal poll led to a discussion, which became a teachable moment, where I was the recipient of the lesson.


Thus, students should be able to use prior knowledge as a foundation to make a connection with how their ancestors were impacted by the Great Migration. Moreover, while exposing them to relevant facts, students will acquire more skills, such as communication, critical thinking, writing, problem solving and comprehension. As they explore the topic, students will have the opportunity to make a real world connection of how the Great Migration has impacted them compared to their fore fathers.


This curriculum unit will benefit students in the Philadelphia School District, as it will give them the opportunity to relate history to their own cultural experiences. This newly created unit will fit into the School District of Philadelphia’s curriculum, as it will address the literacy components of the Keystone Standards. As mentioned above, the Keystone standards include written language, problem solving or critical thinking and communication skills.  Moreover, as a teacher at a low performing school, it is critical that students have many opportunities to enhance the above-mentioned skills.


This year, I have thirty students in my class. Fifty percent of the students have Individual Education Plans (IEPs), meaning that they receive special education services. This classroom demographic has been typical over the past four years or since my placement at the school. Considering this, it is imperative that instruction is high interest and differentiated. The addition of the “Real World Activity” and the increase in visual integration of the Jacob Lawrence collection will satisfy and encompass differentiation. Thus, my personal goal is that this unit will appeal to everyone in the class.


This unit is intended for high school students in my World History class. It can also be used for students in the African American and United States History classes.  During the year, we have a credit recovery program. In this program, a teacher will need to teach all the social studies courses as it is multi-graded based on the credits that the students need for graduation. During the regular school day, each class period is fifty-minutes and there are eight periods in each day. Many teachers have one two-period block class per day. If that is the case, than a class could be 104 minutes each day during one semester.


The objectives of this unit are as follows:


  • Students will describe the growth of population as it related to African Americans, rural to urban migration, and growth of the cities with the Industrial Revolution.
  • Students will Describe how and why people migrate and analyze consequences of the migration.
  • Students will compare the life of African Americans who migrated to the North with those that remained in the South.
  • Students will analyze primary and secondary sources relating to this topic.
  • Students will write an essay responding to a constructed response question.
  • Students will practice using unit vocabulary words in a cloze activity.


I will use the following strategies in several activities with my students to encourage learning during this unit.


Pre-teaching the organization of the text/unit organizers: Pointing out and getting

Students to discover the different parts of the text that can be used in learning: captions,

headings, etc. Also familiarizing the students with the layout of the text, glossary, etc.,



Oral sharing on a related topic:  Students share their written or prepared responses with

the class so that other students can share their answers to the prompts with the class, but have had times to prepare them.


K-W-L:  know; want to know, learned, routine. A form of self-monitoring where students are taught to list what they know already about a subject, what they want to know, and later what they learned.


Graphic organizers: visual displays to organize information into things like trees,

Flowcharts, webs, etc. They help students to consolidate information into meaningful

whole and they are used to improve comprehension of stories, organization of writing,

and understanding of difficult concepts in word problems.


Cooperative learning: a range of team based learning approaches where students work

together to complete a task.


Individual conferencing: Listening to a student read, talking about a book, reading

every other paragraph, one-on-one during independent reading time. Time to bond with a

student gives them the opportunity to record informal assessments about a student’s progress in reading.


Peer tutoring: Having students working in pairs with one student tutoring the other student on a particular concept.

Classroom Activities

This unit will be a two-week (ten day) unit with various activities such as the following;


  • Document based questions
  • Video clip
  • Web quest
  • Essay
  • Cornell Notes
  • Make a time line
  • Constructed Response Questions
  • Quiz
  • Unit test


Day One:


Time: fifty-two minutes



  1. Students will be able to apply the meaning of the unit vocabulary words by completing a cloze activity on the topic.
  2. Students will analyze the main causes of the Great Migration.


Do Now: Students will describe the Great Migration in terms of what they know about relatives who have moved from the South up North.


Direct Instruction: Teacher will provide an overview of the unit and expectations. Unit Vocabulary words will be introduced. Teacher will model the vocabulary activity (cloze) Teacher will show brief video clip on Reconstruction and The Great Migration (five minutes in length).


Unit Vocabulary words:  Great Migration, Jim Crow, urban, invention, lynching, segregation, sharecropping, labor union, disenfranchise, push and pull factors.


Guided Practice:  Teacher will model/demonstrate vocab activity and discuss a few facts from the video clip.


Independent Practice: Students will complete vocabulary assignment and take notes from video clip.


Exit Ticket:  Students will select two major words from the unit and write two application sentences or students can choose to summarize the video clip.


Homework:  Complete any unfinished class work.


Day Two:


Time:  fifty-two minutes


Objective:  Students will use visual art to trace the main reasons for the Migration.


Do Now:  Interpret one Art piece from Jacob Lawrence Collection (This will lead into

today’s lesson).

Illustration by Jacob Lawrence.  Picture taken at Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan, New York.


Direct Instruction:  Teacher will provide overview and expectations of today’s lesson. Teacher will provide brief biographical sketch of Jacob Lawrence. Teacher will discuss and show slide show of several of Jacob Lawrence’s pictures.


Guided Practice:  Students will read brief primary source document with questions about Jacob Lawrence and his artwork.  Teacher will assist with a sample question.


Independent Practice:  Students will complete questions and interpret 3-5 pictures. (Pictures will be put on display in the classroom).


Exit Ticket: Using Jacob Lawrence’s artwork, list 3 main reasons why Afro-Americans migrated up North.


Homework:  Complete unfinished classwork.


Day 3:


Objective: Students will continue to trace the reasons for the Great Migration by creating a list based on Jacob Lawrence’s Artwork and Students will interview a family member about his or her experience during the Great Migration period.


Do Now:  Describe/identify the picture from Jacob Lawrence’s collection that best illustrates the cause of the Great Migration. (Teacher will display two pictures)


Direct Instruction: Teacher will allow a brief review of Do Now. Teacher will provide overview and expectations of developing interview questions.


Guided Practice: As a result of the Do Now activity, a brief discussion will ensue amongst students and teacher. Teacher will check for understanding of developing useful interview questions by asking questions and providing one example.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why did African Americans leave the South for the North and West between 1916 and 1940?
  2. Who were Labor Recruiters?  What problems did they face as they tried to do their job?
  3. Why did whites in the South not want Blacks to leave?
  4. What happened to American cities during the Great Migration?

Independent Practice: Students will develop interview questions that they would ask a family member or neighbor about the Great Migration.


Homework: Interview a family member with questions created in class. Be prepared to make a report during the next class.


Day 4:


Objective(s):  Students will work in pairs to discuss and gather data from the interview questions.  Pairs will seek similarities and differences.


Do Now:  Pair off into groups.


Direct Instruction: Teacher will provide instructions for group work and gathering data.


Guided Practice:  Teacher will visit each group providing assistance, as needed ensuring that all students understand the assignment.


Independent Practice: Groups will share interview data with each other. Each group will share data orally with the class.


Exit Ticket: List one common fact about the interview information.


Homework: Write a brief reaction statement about today’s interview assignment.


Day 5:



  1. Students will complete quiz on causes of the Great Migration
  2. Students will Identify and explain the effects of the Great Migration


Do Now:  Students will complete a brief five-question quiz.


Direct Instruction: Teacher will provide an overview of today’s assignment. Students will be introduced to one of Lawrence’s pictures (depicting a voting scene). Then students will listen to brief video clip about The Great Migration portraying a musical clip from Louis Armstrong or Billie Holiday.


Guided Practice: Teacher and students will begin to discuss the similarities and differences of the above picture and musical clips.


Independent Practice: Students will complete teacher-made questions regarding the effects of the Great Migration.


Exit Ticket:  List two effects of the Great Migration that you learned today.


Homework:  Correct Quiz and complete any unfinished class work.


Day 6-8


Objective: Students will complete web quest on Great Migration in order to analyze text structures. (web quest)


Do Now:  Each student will follow laptop procedures in order to receive school laptop from the cart.


Direct Instruction:  Teacher will explain the assignment’s expectations and grading rubric for this web quest. Students will earn a class grade, participation grade and project grade for completing this lesson. Students will choose one of the above web quests. Students must complete the web quest in three class periods. Each student will be required to submit web quest electronically.


Guided practice: Teacher and students will briefly view both web quests so that students can make their choice of a web quest to complete.


Independent Practice: Students will use laptop and internet to address each question about the web quest. Teacher will circulate around the room checking for understanding and re teaching as needed.


Exit Ticket: List three facts you learned today.


Homework:   Begin a Unit Portfolio with completed student work samples on day 6 and 7, which will become a study guide for unit test. Day 8 homework: Constructive Response.  Students will write a brief essay responding to a question on this topic.


Day 9:


Objective: Students will complete the unit’s portfolio in order to prepare for the unit’s assessment.


Direct Instruction:  Teacher will provide a detailed explanation of all the expected deliverables pertaining to the portfolio contents. A simple rubric will follow with a description of the grading requirements. Students may work in pairs.


Guided Practice: After collecting homework, teacher and students will ask and answer needed questions pertaining to the assignment. Teacher will meet with each pair to check for understanding.


Independent Practice:  Student groups will complete the assignment.


Exit Ticket: Each group will choose and briefly summarize one aspect of their portfolio orally.


Homework: Complete written study guide to prepare for unit test.


Day 10:


Objective:       Student will complete unit test in order to evaluate the treatment of  the                              topic, The Great Migration.


Do Now:         Turn in all portfolios and study guide.


Direct Instruction:  Teacher will provide test instructions and expected outcomes for the test.


Guided Practice:  Teacher and students will review one  to two examples of the test questions.


Independent Practice:  Students will complete test.


Exit ticket: Students will answer the following question.  “In your opinion, what was the most interesting fact you learned in this unit?

Annotated Bibliography

Teacher Resources 


Black, Dan A., Seth G. Sanders, Evan J. Taylor, and Lowell J. Taylor. 2015. “The Impact        of the Great Migration on Mortality of African Americans: Evidence from the Deep South.” American Economic Review”, 105(2): 477-503.


Summary: This journal article discusses the impact of the Great Migration on Mortality of African Americans. It provides data of the amount of deaths of African Americans who migrated from the deep South to Northern cities.


Boundless. “The Great Migration and the “Promised Land”.” Boundless U.S. History. Boundless, 05 Jan. 2015. Retrieved 20 May. 2015 from


This is an online article that provides a basic overview about the first phase of the Great Migration. It tells why and when the Great Migration occurred. This source was helpful in the beginning of my research because it gave me basic information.


Cassedy, J. (n.d.). African Americans and the American Labor Movement. Federal Records and African-Americans History, Vol 2(No. 2)


This article talks about the development of the African American Labor Movement in migrant cities that resulted as more and more African Americans moved North.  African Americans were focused on gaining and maintaining adequate working conditions.


Crew, S. (1987, March 1). The Great Migration of Afro-Americans, 1915-40. Monthly Labor Review, 34-36.


In this article, Spencer talks about several factors that led to the Great Migration. These factors include, the trigger of the World War 1, the northern lure, the southern oppression, and economic gain. Spencer also explains the types of jobs that were available in the North.


Dubois, W. (1996). Introduction To The 1996 Edition by Elijah Anderson. In The Philadelphia Negro. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press.


This is a recent introduction to Philadelphia Negro by Elijah Anderson. It provides a descriptive explanation of the major contents of this masterpiece written by W.E.B. Dubois. Anderson gives the reader insight as to the purpose of the book and assists the reader in understanding Dubois research approach. The Philadelphia Negro was a comprehensive sociological study about a group of Black people who lived in the historical “Seventh Ward”.


Great Migration: What Caused the Great Migrations? (2000). In R. J. Allison (Ed.), History in Dispute (Vol. 3, pp. 70-77). Detroit: St. James Press. Retrieved from


This journal article discusses the causes of the Great Migration. This source provides a basic explanation of the reasons why the Great Migration began when it began.


Great Migration. (2010). Retrieved April 24, 2015, from


This article provides useful data about the causes and/or social economic factors that led to the Great Migration.


Hahn, S. (2003). A nation under our feet: Black political struggles in the rural South, from slavery to the great migration. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.


The author, Steven Hahn provides the reader with a comprehensive view of the political challenges of Blacks in the rural south from slavery to the Great Migration periods. Hahn explains how the Black race has evolved politically over six decades of struggles. Hahn’s portrayal of the political transformation of Blacks is informative and insightful about the American democratic process.


Harrison, A. (1991). Black Exodus: The great migration from the American South. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi.


The Black Exodus is a collection of essays, written by various authors and edited by Alferdteen Harrison. These essays discuss various aspect of the Great Migration.  For example, The Introduction discusses the causes of the Great Migration. The next essay, “Toward a Socio-Historical and Demographic Portrait of Twentieth Century African-Americans” provides useful data about Fertility, death and migration rates of African-Americans during the time period. The section entitled, “Rethinking the Role of Racial Violence in the Great Migration” addresses the violence that Blacks endured in the South prior to migrating and post migration.



History, Art & Archives, U.S. House of Representatives, Office of the Historian, Black Americans in Congress, 1870–2007. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2008. “World War I And The Great Migration,” (March 24, 2015)


This is an article that discusses the impact of World War 1 on the Great Migration. It provides useful information about how the workforce decreased as a result of many men going off to fight in the war. This led to a shortage in the labor force, which catapulted the need for more workers. As a result, this allowed many Black males the ability to work in the large cities.


Tolnay, S. (2003). The African American “Great Migration” and Beyond. Annual Review Of Sociology, 29, 209-232.


This is one of several articles that Tolnay has written on the topic of the Great migration. Here, he provides a brief overview about the causes and the effects of the Great Migration.


Zieger, R. (2014). 3 Great war, Great Migration. In For Jobs and Freedom. University Press of Kentucky.


This journal article discussed World War 1 as it relates to the Great Migration. We discover that the World War 1 had a huge impact on the Great Migration as it made way for many Black males to take on labor jobs that were once held by Caucasian males.



Student Resources  


Arnesen, Eric. Black Protest and the Great Migration: A Brief History with Documents. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2003.


This source is a collection of articles from several newspapers, articles and books. The authors come from a diverse group of Black and White backgrounds. They explore the Migration and focus of the economic, social and political conditions of the Jim Crow South.


Grossman, James. The Land of Hope: Chicago, Black Southerners, and the Great Migration. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1989.


In this article, the author James Grossman explores the citizenship of the African-American prior to migration. It explains how the Blacks knew what their roles should be in society. This knowledge compelled many to migrate to the north for a better life.


Lawrence, Jacob. The Great Migration: One Way Ticket. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2015.


This is a collection of paintings by Jacob Lawrence that portrays all aspects of the Great Migration Period. This collection is resourceful as it is appealing to many individuals who may be new to the topic of the Great Migration as well as those who have a considerable amount of background information. Also, this collection can enhance the comprehension of the student with special needs as it provides a remarkable visual depiction of the Great Migration.


Resistance. (n.d.). Retrieved June 24, 2015, from


This website has an article about the devastation of lynchings during the Jim Crow South. The article is the property of the Great Blacks in Wax Museum in Baltimore, Maryland.


Wilkerson, I. (2010). The warmth of other suns: The epic story of America’s great migration. New York, NY: Random House.


Isabel Wilkerson tells an epic story about the Great Migration through the vision of three characters as they ventured north to find a better life of opportunity. This book portrays the lives of three people and their families. It tells why they left the South and the issues and opportunities they faced once they migrated to the north.


Glossary of Teaching University of Minnesota.


This list of teaching strategies and activities was developed out of a focused comprehensive research. The research explains the value of each strategy in improving student achievement. The list represents strategies and activities that teachers report that they use.


History, Art & Archives, U.S. House of Representatives, Office of the Historian, Black Americans in Congress, 1870–2007. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2008. “World War I And The Great Migration,” (May 25, 2015)


The article discusses the relationship between World War 1 and the Great Migration. It shows that the Great War had an impact on the Great Migration.


  1. The following is the web address for the DBQ questions:


  1. Great Migration Quiz: Multiple Choice


  1. Great Migration Quiz: Written


  1. The following are the web addresses for the we quests:


  1. Unit Test:











Appendix A






Directions: Circle the best answer.

  1. Which of these terms means “A movement of peoples from one region to another

within the same country”?


  1. Emigration C. Internal migration
  2. Immigration D. Migration



  1. In which year were most of the letters we read from migration written?


  1. 1900 C. 1920
  2. 1917 D. 1929


  1. Which of the following was a major push factor motivating African Americans to

leave the South?


  1. Equal treatment C. Voting rights
  2. Job openings D. Discrimination & racism


  1. Which of the following statements about population growth in Cook County between

1900 and 1920 is true?


  1. African American population decreased
  2. African American population grew at the same rate as white population
  3. African American population grew at a faster rate than white population
  4. White population grew at a faster rate than African American population


  1. Which of the following was NOT a factor that enabled blacks to migrate North?


  1. Low Wages C. Railroad lines
  2. Newspapers D. The Great War


  1. What happened in Chicago in 1919 as a result of the rapid arrival of tens of thousands

of African American migrants?


  1. Economic depression C. Religious revivals
  2. Race rioting D. White flight
  3. Which major railroad line led from Louisiana and Mississippi directly to Chicago?


  1. Baltimore & Ohio RR C. Texas & Pacific RR
  2. Illinois Central RR D. Union Pacific RR










Appendix B


Name:                                                                                                  Date:

Great Migration Quiz



1.What is a migration? How is it different from immigration?




2.What was the Great Migration? When did it happen?




3.What were 2 important push factors in the Great Migration?

Where were they pushing migrants from and why?




  1. What were 2 important pull factors in the Great Migration? Where were they pulling migrants to, and why?




5.Pick two of the following and describe how they affected the Great Migration:


  • The railroads
  • World War I
  • African American newspapers




  1. Imagine that you were an African American migrant. Describe one thing that might

have surprised you when you arrived at your destination.










Appendix C

The Great Migration Test


Name: ________________________________                    Date: ______________

  1. African Americans left the South for the North and West between 1910 and
    1940 because _______________________________________________________________.2.  Labor Recruiters were ________________________________________________________.
    The problems they faced as they tried to do their job were ___________________.3.  Whites in the South not want Blacks to leave because _________________________.

    4.  During the Great Migration, American cities __________________________________.

    5.  Which word is defined as –  a situation in which the rights of a person or a group
    of people are ignored?________________________________
    6.  Which word is defined as – the crime of trying or threatening to hurt someone
    physically?  ____________________________


  1. Which word is defined as – a person who has the job to

find suitable people and get them to join a company, an organization, the armed forces,    etc.? ____________

  1.  ____________________________  was an African – American artist born during

the Great Migration, who painted a series of paintings telling the story of  African –
American migration from the South

  1.  Which word is defined as – the practice of keeping people of different races
    separated?  _________________________
  2. Which word is defined as – a situation in which many people leave a place at the
    same time?  __________________________
    11.  __________________________ was the time period from roughly 1910 –

1940 where African Americans left the rural south in great numbers looking for

jobs in the big cities of the North and West.
12.  Which word is defined as – not willing to allow some people to have equality,
freedom, or other social rights?  ___________________________
13.  ______________________ are the rights that every person should have

regardless  of  his or her sex, race, or religion.
14.  Places that are not highly populated and are referred to as “the country” are


The History and Social Studies Standards for the School District are aligned with the PA Common Core.


CC.8.5: Reading Informational Text: Students read, understand, and respond to informational text – with emphasis on comprehension, making connections among ideas and between texts with focus on textual evidence.


  • 8.5 9-10,A: Cite specific evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, attending to such features as the date and origin of the information.
  • 8.5 9-10,C: Analyze in detail a series of events described in a text, determine whether earlier events caused later ones or simply preceded them.
  • 8.5 9-10, D: Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including vocabulary describing political, social, or economic aspects of history/social science.
  • 8.5 9-10,G Integrate quantitative or technical analysis (e.g., charts, research data) with qualitative analysis in print or digital text.
  • 8.5 9-10, I Compare and contrast treatments of the same topic in several primary and secondary sources.