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Two American Tales Lesson Plan: The Immigrants' Experiences
Overview
The narrative The Great Migration describes the experiences of migrants to the cities of the United States. Two American Tales asks students to compare and contrast the nearly contemporaneous experiences of European immigrants and African-American migrants in U.S. cities. This lesson should be used in conjunction with reading the narrative or studying the European and Asian migration to the United States. Students will read both their textbook's account and the narrative, taking notes on a Venn diagram to organize the information they retrieve into similarities and differences.
Grade Levels:Middle school, grades 6-8
For use with:The Great Migration
Concentration Area:History
Concentration Area:Social Studies
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

  • The challenges diverse people encountered in the late 19th century American society (e.g., the role of new laws and the federal judiciary in instituting racial inequality; arguments and methods by which various minority groups sought to acquire equal rights and opportunities; experiences of African American families who migrated from the South to New York City in the 1890s).
  • How racial and ethnic events influenced America during the Progressive Era.
  • Influences on urban life in America during the 1920s.
  • The background and experiences of immigrants of the late 19th century.
Time required
One 50-minute class period if students complete reading assignments outside of class
Materials needed
Anticipatory Set

  1. Locate, blank out the title, and reproduce as a photocopy or transparency of an image of African-American emigrants from the vast Schomburg database of images on this site. Do not let the students know the search words used to find the image.
  2. Ask students to look at the untitled version, to study the people, objects, and actions in the illustration, and then to hypothesize what the title of the illustration might be.
  3. Give students the search words used to find the image in the database.
  4. Then, to provide a ship-to-ship basis for comparison, have students either look at illustrations of immigrants in their textbooks or select one of the numerous illustrations and photographs listed under the search "Immigrants" at the New York Public Library Mid-Manhattan Picture Collection by going to the web site http://digital.nypl.org/mmpco/ and clicking on either:

    1. Image 800770, "Landing Immigrants at Castle Garden," or
    2. Image 801533, "A Rush Day: immigrants waiting to be admitted."
  5. Ask students what aspects of the two images are similar, and what ones are different.
Procedures

  1. Explain to students that they will be comparing and contrasting the migrant experience of African Americans to the immigrant experience of Europeans and Asians in the early twentieth century. Distribute a copy of the Venn diagram worksheet to assist students in taking notes. Direct students to read the narrative The Great Migration, in particular the segments "A New Industrial Landscape" and "Hard Life in the North," as well the relevant segment of their textbooks about the "New Immigrants," their travel, immigration service processing, and life in American cities.
  2. Discuss the two readings in class and raise the following questions:

    1. What economic opportunities did urban communities offer African-American migrants and immigrants from outside of the United States?
    2. What personal liberties or safety did African-American migrants and immigrant minorities, such as the Russian Jews, seek in the cities?
    3. What was the role of recruitment by agents in the experiences of African-American migrants and immigrants from outside of the United States? What was the role of "word of mouth," especially letters written by those who moved to those who remained behind?
    4. What conditions did African-American migrants and immigrants from outside of the United States face in cities in the early twentieth century? Consider housing, health services, and working conditions.
    5. Did African Americans and migrants share a tendency to congregate with people from the same geographic origins (such as Sicilians from Salerno or African Americans from Mississippi)? How did this contribute to the concept of a "ghetto?"
    6. What individuals or groups, such as churches, people like Jane Addams and her Hull House project, and the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA), provided aid to African-American migrants and immigrants from outside the United States?
    7. What was the role of unions in the lives of African-American migrants and immigrants from outside of the United States? Did they tend to unite the migrants and immigrants or divide them? Did they tend to unite or divide the new arrivals to the city from those who had lived there for a long time?
    8. What role did discrimination (based on race, religion, and/or ethnic origin) play in the lives of both African-American migrants and immigrants from outside of the United States? (The Chinese and Japanese experiences on the west coast need to be referenced if they have not appeared in the text.)
    9. How did migrants' and immigrants' residential patterns contribute to empowering them politically?
    10. What in their shared experiences might have brought the migrant and immigrant groups together? What might have wedged them apart? Which forces seem to have prevailed, the forces driving the groups apart or the forces pulling them together? Why do you think that is so?
Assessment

Ask students to write a five-paragraph composition comparing and contrasting the experiences of African-American migrants with immigrants from overseas. Tell students they should evaluate whether these experiences shared more in common than having distinct differences, or whether their experiences were more distinctly different than having things in common. You can grade the written assignments on a 20-point scale (which may be multiplied by 5 to convert to 100-point scale or to letter grades) using the following rubric:

Grading Element and Total Possible Points Excellent (10) Good (9-8) Fair (7-6) Not Satisfactory (5-1) No Work (0)
Written Assignment's Historical Comprehension (10) Demonstrates excellent:

  • Historical analysis of information from both experiences
  • Command of facts
  • Comparison and contrast of details
  • Assessment of experiences as distinct or common
  • Demonstrates good:

  • Historical analysis of information from both experiences
  • Command of facts
  • Comparison and contrast of details
  • Assessment of experiences as distinct or common
  • Shows:

  • Fair historical analysis of information from both narratives
  • Fair command of facts
  • Little relationship between items compared or contrasted
  • Incomplete assessment of experiences as distinct or common
  • Shows:

  • Little historical analysis of information, may only refer to one narrative
  • Little command of facts
  • No relationship between items to be compared and contrasted
  • No assessment of experiences as distinct or common
  • No work
    Written Assignment's Technical Writing Skills (10) Demonstrates excellent:

  • Compositional structure
  • Sentence structure and variety
  • Vocabulary use
  • Grammar, spelling, punctuation
  • Demonstrates good:

  • Compositional structure
  • Sentence structure and variety
  • Vocabulary use
  • Grammar, spelling, punctuation
  • Shows adequate:

  • Compositional structure
  • Sentence structure and variety
  • Vocabulary use
  • Grammar, spelling, punctuation
  • Shows inadequate:

  • Compositional structure
  • Sentence structure and variety
  • Vocabulary use
  • Grammar, spelling, punctuation
  • No work

    Related Works

    • The Schomburg Center has numerous images of African Americans in urban settings in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Visit the online exhibit, Harlem 1900-1940: An African-American Community, accessible at: http://www.si.umich.edu/CHICO/Harlem/index.html. The exhibition includes a timeline, teacher materials, and a resource list. Additional images of African American Women Writers of the 19th century are available at the Schomburg Center's digital library collection at: http://digital.nypl.org/schomburg/writers_aa19/.
    • Further images of urban communities may be found online at the Mid-Manhattan Library Picture Collection featuring 30,000 pre-1923 images from books, magazines, newspapers, prints, postcards, and photographs at: http://digital.nypl.org/mmpco/.
    • The Library of Congress' American Memory Collection features over seven million online digital documents. American Memory's homepage is http://memory.loc.gov/ and contains many famous images of immigrants at Ellis and Angel Islands.
    Interdisciplinary Links

    • Language Arts: The immigrant experience lends itself to creative expression in many forms. In conjunction with the English teachers, students may read some of the poetry or literature associated with the immigrant and migrant experience, from Emma Lazarus to Langston Hughes. They also may:

      Write journals or letters to those they left behind from the point of view of both a migrant and an immigrant;

      Create a front page in the manner of one of the ethnic newspapers of the time;

      Create poetry;

      Design an illustrated cartoon storyboard for African-American migration (possibly patterned after the children's cartoon An American Tail); or

      Present the experiences through other genres.
    • Music/Drama: As part of their studies of the migrant and immigrant experience, students will create a presentation incorporating music, images, dance, and literary samples into a presentation that might be shared at an elementary school. Students will need to create a script capable of being staged by the school (settings, orchestration, costuming) to serve as a framework and transition between musical or dramatic interludes. If there is a performance of the musical Ragtime, students may wish to attend it or talk with the director or other members of the theatrical group putting on the production for inspiration or guidance.
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