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Return Migration to the South
The New Promised Land Lesson Plan
In the narrative Return South Migration, students will read the line, "They saw the city [Atlanta] as a new 'promised land,' with unlimited opportunity, a great place to raise their children." This lesson will have students consider what this says about the changes in the South. Through brainstorming, students will compare southern cities such as Atlanta to characteristics that make for an ideal community, and then compare how closely they resemble each other.
Grade Levels:Middle and high school, grades 8-12
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 ( standards.
Students will understand

  • 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).
  • 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).
  • Demographic shifts and the influences on recent immigration patterns (e.g., the flow from cities to suburbs, reasons for internal migrations from the " "Rustbelt" " to the " "Sunbelt" " and its impact on politics, implications of the shifting age structure of the population).
  • How recent immigration and migration patterns impacted social and political issues (e.g., major issues that affect immigrants and resulting conflicts; changes in the size and composition of the traditional American family; demographic and residential mobility since 1970).
  • How different groups attempted to achieve their goals (e.g., the grievances of racial and ethnic minorities and their reference to the nation's charter documents to rectify past injustices, local community efforts to adapt facilities for the disabled).
Time required
One to two class periods
Materials needed
Anticipatory Set

  1. The South had been, for many generations of African Americans, a place of fear. After they have read the Return South Migration, have students discuss the following questions:

    1. Why would families wish to return to the South?
    2. What did cities like Atlanta hold for them?
    3. What does the fact that African Americans migrated back to the South reveal about the changes in the country (Not just in the South, but in the North and West, as well)?

  1. Have students construct a list of at least five if not more reasons why African Americans left the South initially. If students are to work in pairs, the list should include a minimum of seven reasons.
  2. Have students investigate the City of Atlanta, using the links provided.
  3. Using each example in their list as a question, students will use the information they find to negate each reason the African Americans left. For example: African Americans left the South for better job opportunities. "Metro Atlanta has one of the most dynamic economies in the US. Combine this economy and the growing job market...."(
  4. Tell students they should credit their answers appropriately.
  5. When they've completed the assignment, have students share their findings with the class and make a master list of all the reasons for leaving, as well as for the changes that negated them.

Use the lesson " "An Ideal Community" " from the Western Migration narrative to compare the community the class had created to the real cities of the South where African-American migration had been highest, such as Atlanta.

Assess students according to these requirements and the Rubric that follows: Students will list a minimum of five reasons that African Americans left the South. They will give at least one quoted reason from the above links that negates the original reason. (Two quotes are preferable.) At least four out of the five will have appropriate and complete answers, including proper notation.

"Reasons to Return" Class Project Rubric

0= not evident

1= minimal evidence of mastery

2=adequate evidence of mastery

3=strong evidence of mastery

4=outstanding evidence of mastery

Students will:

__________ List a minimum of five reasons that African Americans left the South.

__________ Exhibit at least four out of their five reasons will have appropriate and complete answers, including proper notation. And, at least one reason (or negation) will be quoted from the given links.

__________ Demonstrates collaboration within the group; facts are consistent between group members.

__________ Assimilate historical information from the narrative.

__________ Follow appropriate rules of grammar, punctuation and spelling.

__________ (total points x 5= final score: _____________)

Interdisciplinary Links

  • Additional resources

  • Article, "Blacks return South"
  • "California Joins Trend to Move South"
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