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Return Migration to the South
Heaven, Hell, and Baltimore Lesson Plan
In the narrative Return South Migration, Dwayne Walls, in Chickenbone Special, recounts an old quote about the African-American residents of a rural community in North Carolina, "These people know only three places to go: Heaven, Hell, and Baltimore." What is special about this quote? Students will analyze the quote within the context of the migration back to the South.
Grade Levels:High school, grades 9-12
For use with:Return South 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 the Industrial Revolution, increasing immigration, the rapid expansion of slavery, and the westward movement changed American lives and led to Regional territories.
  • How slavery shaped social and economic life in the South after 1800 (e.g., how the cotton gin and the opening of new lands in the South and West led to increased demands for slaves; differences in the lives of plantation owners, poor free black and white families, and slaves; methods of passive and active resistance to slavery; escaped slaves and the Underground Railroad).
  • Different economic, cultural, and social characteristics of slavery after 1800 (e.g., the influence of the Haitian Revolution and the ending of the Atlantic slave trade, how slaves forged their own culture in the face of oppression, the role of the plantation system in shaping slaveholders and the enslaved, the experiences of escaped slaves).
  • How slavery influenced economic and social elements of southern society (e.g., how slavery hindered the emergence of capitalist institutions and values, the influence of slavery on the development of the middle class, the influence of slave revolts on the lives of slaves and freed slaves).
  • The social and cultural influence of former slaves in cities of the North (e.g., their leadership of African-American communities, how they advanced the rights and interests of African Americans).
  • Slavery prior to the Civil War (e.g., the importance of slavery as a principal cause of the Civil War, the growing influence of abolitionists, children's roles and family life under slavery).
Time required
Two class periods
Materials needed
Anticipatory Set

  1. After they have read the Return South Migration narrative, ask students why the writer of the narrative would include this quote.
  2. Then, ask students why they think the author felt it was important enough to include. Why would there be only three places for an African American to go? Lead students to realize that Baltimore is the only physical place listed.

  1. Allow students to write what they think the quote means: a half page should suffice. Students should try to explain the importance of all three locations, although expect the bulk to be about Baltimore. Also, have students consider what it tells them that these people felt they only had three choices?
  2. To explore the role Baltimore played in African-American history, have students research the background of the city and what made it unique compared to other northern points of migration, such as Chicago or Boston.

    Note: To extend the activity, students can create a Venn diagram comparing Baltimore to one of the other major points of migration before entering in class discussion.
  3. Have the class discuss what they thought, and if necessary, further research what made Baltimore special (for example, its location on the Atlantic seaboard; the most southerly "northern" city, etc.).
  4. Have students discuss the following question: How does the quote signify the limited choices southern African Americans felt they had?
  5. Assign students to write a paper on the above question using the information they have found in their research and classroom discussions. Students also should compare their understanding now to what they had written in their free write. Had their opinions changed?

Evaluate students' "Heaven, Hell and Baltimore" papers according to the rubric below:

0= not evident

1= minimal evidence of mastery

2=adequate evidence of mastery

3=strong evidence of mastery

4=outstanding evidence of mastery

  1. __________ Exhibits proof of research and integrates points brought out in class discussion.
  2. __________ Actively participates in class discussion.
  3. __________ Shows understanding of the metaphor implied in the quote: "These people know only three places to go Heaven, Hell, and Baltimore."
  4. __________ Demonstrates a strong sense of organization and structure, including an introduction and conclusion.
  5. __________ Follows appropriate rules of grammar, punctuation, and spelling.

    __________ (Total points x 5 = final score: _____________)
Related Works

  • The Schomburg Center's Digital exhibit The African Presence in the Americas 1492-1992 includes the image and text for the Migration Map 1450-1990 at: This exhibit also examines historical migrations, including the Kansas Exodusters and the Great Migration.

    Additional information on the Great Migration, in relationship to Harlem, can be found at a second online exhibit, Harlem 1900-1940: An African-American Community, at:
  • The Library of Congress' American Memory Collection features over seven million online digital documents. The African-American Mosaic online exhibit includes historical migration information Special links include Chicago during the Great Migration, Western Migration and Homesteading, and a close-up of Nicodemus, Kansas.
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