Browse By Migrations Geography Timeline Source Materials Education Materials Search
Return Migration to the South
Return South Migration Lesson Plan
This lesson is designed for students to use with the narrative Return South Migration. Students also will use the site's maps and image resources in studying this migration. Appropriate for middle school and high school students, the lesson's goal is to facilitate students' understanding of the reasons so many immigrants returned to the South following the Civil Rights Movement.
Grade Levels:Middle and high school, grades 9-12
For use with:Return South Migration
Concentration Area:History: U.S. Government
National Curriculum Standards met by this lesson
The standards for this lesson conform to those set by the Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McRel).
Students will understand

  • Influences on urban life in the early and late 19th century (e.g., how rapid urbanization, immigration, and industrialization affected the social fabric of cities; individuals who contributed to the development of free black communities in the cities; the rise of racial hostility).
  • The social and cultural influence of former slaves in cities of the North (e.g., of African-American communities, how they advanced the rights and interests of African Americans).
  • How recent immigration and migration patterns impacted social and political issues that affect immigrants and resulting conflicts; changes in the size and composition of the traditional American family; demographic and residential mobility since 1970.
Time required
Anywhere from two traditional class periods to two weeks, depending on depth and breadth of students' research
Materials needed
Anticipatory Set

  1. Have students imagine themselves in the following scenario:

    You are living in Detroit in the late 1960's. You have just lost your job at an automobile factory. There aren't any new prospects for jobs because of the masses of people out of work. The city is becoming more and more dangerous. The riots are over, but the aftermath is depressing. Your future in Detroit doesn't seem very bright. You then receive a letter from your brother in Atlanta. He writes that Atlanta is a wonderful place to live. Changes made after the Civil Rights Movement and the improving southern economy have made life very comfortable for him.
  2. Ask students what they would do in this situation:

    1. Would you move to Atlanta?
    2. Would you stay in Detroit to see if conditions will improve?
    3. How would you justify the decision you make?
  3. Then, have students write their responses to these questions in a journal entry.

  1. Have the map of the migration on the overhead projector or on students' computer screens. (link to map of this migration)
  2. Hand out copies of the narrative; or, if students are online, they can read it on their screens. If the reading level of the class is low, you may opt to read and stop at intervals to check for understanding.
  3. Once the students have read through the narrative, have them start filling in any information that they can based on the following series of springboard questions:

    1. What dates, from beginning to end, frame this migration? Where is the point (or where are the points) of origin of the people?
    2. What was their existing circumstance in that location? How did conditions differ from the city to country plantations and estates?
    3. Why did they leave? Why did some choose not to leave?
    4. How many left?
    5. Where did they go?
    6. What economic hardships did they endure in their new destinations?
    7. How did they choose their destination(s)? Were the destinations chosen before they embarked upon their journeys, or were they arbitrary in nature?
    8. What is the legacy today of this migration in both the points of origin and destination?
    9. How does this migration fit in with the other migrations (can only be done if studying a group of migrations)? Are there any connections between migrations?
  4. For any unanswered questions, direct students to other resources, such as the gateway, other areas of the site, and library resources.
  5. Assign students to write a letter to a friend or family member explaining why they have decided to move or not to move to the South. Students could pretend to be one of the people listed above if they would choose to return to the South. If they decide not to return to the South, students could use their own name. Students should address the person the letter is addressed to should be from a city in the South.
  6. Be sure to tell students they will have to make a decision about what they would do if they were in that situation. They also should include the justification for their choice—such as improved social and economic advantages in the South or the familiarity of the status quo in the North—in the letter.

  1. Grade students based on the traits of the Six-Trait Writing Model using correct conventions, word choice, organization, voice, sentence fluency, and ideas and content. More information about how to use the Six-Trait Writing Rubric can be found at the following link:
  2. Also, grade students on the validity of the facts related to the narrative. You can evaluate students on the same scale as the content of their writing from the Six-Trait Writing Rubric.
Interdisciplinary Links

  • Language Arts: If the community is one in which there are many migrants and immigrants, students may wish to conduct an oral history interview with these participants in history and compile the transcriptions or narrative summations in a collection. The Schomburg Center has suggested oral history interview "Do's and Don'ts" at: The Foxfire series is an excellent model for a student publication based on community resources. Sample articles may be viewed at
  • Sociology: Students may wish to expand the scope of the initial project to a third generation or beyond, visiting senior centers and/or nursing homes to conduct the interviews and collect data. They should examine whether migration patterns are substantially different from one generation to the next and evaluate what historical, economic, or societal events are contributing to each generation's mobility profile.
Home About Glossary The New York Public Library
Privacy Policy | Rules & Regulations | Using the Internet | Website Terms & Conditions

© The New York Public Library, 2005.