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African Americans and the Move West Lesson Plan
Freedom and opportunity were guiding principles and desires that sparked African-American migration to the West. Land, jobs, and political and economic motivations led vast numbers of African Americans to the West. The Western Migration altered the lives of those who moved west, as well as altering the region and the nation. In this lesson, students will examine the phases of the migration west and analyze the incentives for African Americans to move. Students will create a timeline of migration to the west along with charts depicting the changes in demographics of areas at selected points in time.
Grade Levels:Middle school, grades 6-8
For use with:The Western Migration
Concentration Area:History
National Curriculum Standards met by this lesson
The following standards have been taken from the Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McRel) standards.
Students will understand

  • How various reconstruction plans succeeded or failed.
  • Attempts to improve African-American lives during Reconstruction (e.g., African-American attempts to improve their economic position; their quest for land-ownership; how the Freedmen's Bureau proposed to deal with abandoned lands in the South).
  • Changes in the political and social structure in different regions during Reconstruction (e.g., changes in political and economic positions of African Americans in the North; changes in gender roles and status in the North, South, and West; contributions of African-Americans who served in state and national offices; personal challenges to Freedmen).
  • How the rise of corporations, heavy industry, and mechanized farming transformed American society.
  • Influences on the development of the American West (e.g., cross-cultural encounters and conflicts among different racial and ethnic groups; the daily life of women on the western frontier; disputes between farmers, ranchers, and miners over water rights and open ranges).
  • The causes and course of World War II, the character of the War at home and abroad, and its reshaping of the U.S. role in world affairs.
  • How minority groups were affected by World War II (e.g., how minority groups organized to gain access to wartime jobs, the discrimination they faced, and factors that led to the internment of Japanese Americans).
Time required
Two 50-minute class periods plus additional homework
Materials needed
  • Narrative, The Western Migration
  • Large chart paper, markers or colored pencils, and other materials that might be needed to construct the pictorial timeline.
Teacher Advisory
Before the lesson, select three-five quotes from the narrative The Western Migration and write each quote on an index card. Make enough copies of the index cards so that each group of students will have a set. Then, select some positive and some negative quotes. Be sure you give each group identical sets of cards with quotes.
Anticipatory Set

  1. Organize students into groups of three, then give each group a set of cards with the selected quotes from The Western Migration.
  2. Have student groups read each quote and decide if it is a positive example of migration to the West or a negative example. After students have sorted the cards, review the decision of one of the groups.
  3. As the student group reviews the decision about each quote, if there is disagreement with one of the decisions (positive example or negative example), one student in the group should say, "buzz." At that point, you should top the review and discuss the differences in opinion between the two groups.

    Note: You should refrain from identifying an answer as right or wrong. Instead, students should discuss discrepancies and provide the rationale and justification for the team's selection.
  4. After the discussion, explain to students that they will be studying the migration of African Americans to the West at different points in time.

  1. Divide the narrative The Western Migration into three sections and assign student groups the narrative to read. Using the jigsaw strategy, below, have students read the narrative and discuss the key ideas.

    1. Jigsaw Strategy:

      1. Divide the narrative into three equal segments for reading. If possible, use natural breaks in the narrative to separate the document. Number each section 1-3.
      2. Group students into groups of three and assign a number to each student. The student is responsible for reading the segment in the narrative that corresponds to the number he or she was assigned.
      3. The responsibility of the student is to become the "expert" on that segment.
      4. As students read the narrative, they should highlight the salient (key) points of each segment. Students should then convene as a large group and debrief the readings segment by segment (in numerical order).
  2. After the student groups have completed the reading and discussion, assign students the timeline activity that follows.

    1. Timeline assignment:

      Tell students they should use historical information provided in the narrative to construct a pictorial timeline reflecting the migration of African Americans to the American West. For each point on the timeline, each student should create a picture that represents the events corresponding to the timeframe. Tell students they should include in their pictorial key individuals, areas of settlement, and, if possible, quotes from the narrative reflecting that time period.
  3. After they have completed the timeline activity, assign student groups the data table and demographic chart activity below.

    1. Activity:

      Instruct students to select one of the western states that African Americans migrated to (example Kansas or Texas). Tell them they will use census data, data from the narrative, and state data to construct data tables and charts depicting the population changes by ethnicity for the selected state from the 1860s through the 1950s.

      Note: You may need to provide extra class time for student research of demographic data. Data tables and charts should be part of the students' homework.
  4. After the students have completed the data tables, charts, and timeline activity, have each group select a spokesperson to present the group's project to the class.

  1. Assign students to write an informative paper on the migration of African Americans to the West using information from the narrative, class discussions, and the group assignment. The writing assignment should include historical data and information, such as the motivation for moving to the western states; the effect of the migration on individuals, communities, states, and the nation; and the changes in demographics and population data as a result of the migration.
  2. Tell students they should include two-three of the first-hand accounts from the narrative in their informative papers.
  3. Assess the informative papers on a five-point scale, which can be multiplied by 20 to convert to letter grade, according to this rubric.
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