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The Second Great Migration
Movement of African Americans in the United States During the Twentieth Century Lesson Plan
During the Twentieth century, many push/pull factors caused African Americans to migrate from region to region. In the narrative The Second Great Migration, these factors are discussed. In this lesson, students will examine data and maps to create migration maps of African-American movement in the Twentieth century. Students then will analyze the patterns in the migration.
Grade Levels:Middle and high school
For use with:The Second Great Migration
Concentration Area:Geography
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

  • Understand how the United States changed between the post-World War I years and the eve of the Great Depression.
  • Understand the economic boom and social transformation of post-World War II United States.
  • Understand the patterns of human settlement and their causes.
  • Use reading skills and strategies to understand and interpret a variety of informational texts.
  • Effectively use mental processes that are based on identifying similarities and differences.
Time required
Four-five 45-minute class periods
Materials needed
Anticipatory Set

  1. Ask students if they have ever moved to a new town or city. Using a blank U.S. political map on the overhead, show the movement by drawing arrows from where they lived to the place where they moved. (If they moved from overseas, you can draw an arrow into the United States from that area.)
  2. Ask students why their families moved (new job, closer to relatives, etc.). State that people move for many reasons. By tracking data over time, we can find patterns in peoples' movement. These patterns are an important piece to understanding what is happening in society and projecting future issues (overpopulation, strain on regional resources, or urban planning).

  • As a class, read the introduction and " "The Numbers" " section of the Schomburg narrative The Second Great Migration.
  • Ask students to reread the sections, highlighting the main information.
  • Go over the main points:

  • 1.5 million black Americans left the South for northern cities between 1910–1940.
  • 1.5 million black Americans left the South between 1940–1950.
  • Patterns continued through the 1970s.
  • Western states, especially California, had large growth in black populations.
  • California migrants mainly came from Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas.
  • South Atlantic states had many migrants from southern states.
  • By the end of World War II, the number of blacks in cities was greater than in rural areas.
  • By 1970, blacks were more urbanized than whites.
  • On the U.S. political map overhead, visually represent the written notes to show students the patterns. Draw conclusions from the data.
  • Break the students into four groups. Have students use the jigsaw technique to learn the information in the Schomburg narrative. Each group will read and specialize in parts of the narrative and then teach the information to members of the other groups. Groups are as follows:

  • Causes of the Migration – Pushes
  • Causes of the Migration – Pulls
  • African-American Women and the Migration & Impact on Destination Communities
  • Migration and the Image of Black Americans, Enduring Consequences of the Migration, and Reverse Migration
  • With larger classes, break into smaller groups with less of the narrative to read. Each group needs to highlight and take notes on their section, just as the class did for " "The Numbers" " section. Have students complete this for homework, if needed.
  • Split students into groups. Place one student from each of the groups (see Step Five above) together.
  • Have each student present the information from his/her section of the narrative to the other students in their group. Each student should have a set of notes from the entire narrative at the end of this jigsaw activity.
  • Next, instruct students to work on the map activity. They will either need copies of maps 9 and 11 or access to the Internet. In this activity, students will learn about the Movement Theme of geography by analyzing population movement in the United States.
  • Instruct students to use " "Principal States of Origin of the Migrants 1910–1930" " to analyze the movement of African Americans during that period. Before looking at the map, have them discuss the reasons—cited in the narrative and outlined below—for the migration of African Americans from the rural South to urban areas in the North:

  • Collapse of southern agricultural employment.

  • Great declines in the prices of agricultural products such as cotton, sugar, and tobacco.
  • Cut in agricultural production.
  • Direct government subsidies sent to farm owners, excluding many tenant farmers and sharecroppers from the subsidies.
  • Mechanization of the labor process, reducing the number of laborers needed to farm.
  • Increased competition in cotton production by other countries, such as India, Egypt, and Brazil.
  • Racism in the South.
  • Break students into groups of two. Using colored pencils and one set of the blank U.S. political maps, have students chart the migration of African Americans shown on, " "Principal States of Origin of the migrants from 1910–1930." "
  • Tell students they should label their blank map with the map key title. To label their maps, students will use colored pencils that match the colors on the map.
  • Then, have students label and lightly shade in, using a very light yellow, these states: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, California, Pennsylvania, and New York. They are the states that greatly increased their African-American population during 1910–1930.
  • Also, have students label the migrants' principal states of origin. Students should color in those states using the colors that represent the principal states of origin of the migrants, as shown in the map key below:

  • Alabama – dark pink
  • Arkansas – bright yellow
  • Florida – pink
  • Georgia – light purple
  • Kentucky – red
  • Louisiana – dark blue
  • Mississippi – light green
  • Oklahoma – orange
  • North Carolina – dark green
  • South Carolina – baby blue
  • Tennessee – brown
  • Texas – tan
  • Virginia – blue
  • Ask students to answer the following questions:

    1. What conclusions can you draw from the map as it appears now?
    2. From which region were most of the states of origin?
    3. Where were the destination states located?
  • Have students draw arrows that represent the movement from one state to another using the colors that match the states. The larger the number, the thicker the arrow should be. For example, California had approximately 36,000 African-American migrants from Texas. Students will draw an arrow from Texas to California that is medium width and then label it 36,000. Each recipient state will have five arrows pointing to it.
  • Have students complete this map for homework if necessary.
  • Today, tell students they will examine the migration of African Americans from 1940–1950. Review the reasons for the migration cited in the narrative, as follows:

  • Expansion of industrial production in the North and California during World War II.
  • The impact of radio and African-American popular music.
  • Informal networks of communication about jobs in the North.
  • Tell students to repeat the map activity using the map " "Principal States of Origin of the Migrants from 1940–1950." " Then, repeat steps 10–15, above.
  • Once students have completed both maps, discuss the impact this migration had on the destination locations, which is discussed in the narrative, as outlined below:

  • Conflicts with unions and development of housing discrimination.

  • Executive Order mandated an end to racial discrimination in defense industries and set up the agency, the Fair Employment Practices Committee (FEPC), to enforce it.
  • Federal government did too little to end housing discrimination.

  • Policies encouraged growth of suburbs and "white flight" from the cities.
  • Regional stereotype of southerners as backward and slow were applied to the African-American migrants.
  • Black urban communities became centers of political and cultural activities.
  • African Americans became political majorities in some urban areas.
  • Urban concentrations of African Americans changed marketing strategies for commercial goods and cultural products.
  • Assessment

    1. Have students compare the two migrations. Then, use the following questions as a written assessment tool.

      1. How were the migrations different? How were they the same?
      2. Which state lost the greatest number of African-American residents from 1910–1930? From 1940–1950?
      3. Which state gained the most African-American residents from 1910–1930? From 1940–1950?
      4. Approximately how many African Americans left Florida from 1910–1930? From 1940–1950?
      5. Approximately how many African-American residents moved to Pennsylvania from 1910–1930? From 1940–1950?
    2. Assess students' work as follows. Each question can be worth five points, with two-part questions worth ten points. The assessment questions are worth 50 points.

      1. If you would like to use a 100-point scale, make each question worth ten points, with two-part questions worth 20 points.
      2. You also may collect and score student maps, if you choose. You could score maps by checking whether students placed arrows are in the right place and colored the correct states.
    Related Works

    • At the Public Broadcast Services (PBS) website,, many resources on the Great Migration and the Second Migration can be found. For instance, " "Goin' to Chicago" " is based on a documentary film by George King and associates, which can be accessed at The website also provides an historical essay, including excerpts from original letters and newspaper articles. There are links for art and poetry, as well as a teacher resource page. The documentary film may also be purchased from this link.
    • This website has blank maps that may be printed and copied for classroom use by going to:
    Interdisciplinary Links

    • Art: Students can extend their movement maps by turning them into pictorial representations of the Great Migration. Pictures can be added to the states to show the push/pull factors of the Second Great Migration.
    • Math: Have students calculate the number of African Americans that left the states of origin in 1910, 1920, 1930, 1940, and 1950 using the data on maps 9 and 11. Students could also calculate the total numbers of African Americans moving into particular states.
    • Geography & History Extension: By going to Maps 16, 33, and 38, students could map and calculate African-American interstate migrations from 1955–2000. They then could compare this data to the previous migrations featured in this lesson.
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