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The Northern Migration
The Northern Migration Lesson Plan
This lesson is designed for students to use with the narrative The Northern 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 pros and cons for participation in this migration. They will assume the role of a Nineteenth Century African American who is contemplating participating in this migration, and will write a letter to a loved one explaining the reasons for their decision.
Grade Levels:Middle and high school, grades 9-12
For use with:The Northern 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

  • 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.
  • Elements of slavery in both the North and South during the Antebellum period; similarities and differences between African-American and white abolitionists; defense of certain slaveholders; growing hostility toward free blacks in the North; how African Americans led the fight for equal rights.
Time required
Anywhere from two traditional class periods to two weeks, depending on depth and breadth of students' research
Materials needed
Anticipatory Set

  1. Ask students to write a journal entry about a time in which they were contemplating doing something that involved some level of risk. This could be as simple as trying out for a school play or sport, or something as adventuresome as rock climbing. Preface this assignment with the notion that the word risky does not necessarily mean dangerous. In fact, instances of dangerous activities aren't acceptable for this assignment.
  2. Tell students to write what they were thinking when they decided whether or not to participate in the risky activity. Walk around as students write and ask a couple of students who have acceptable answers if they would like to share their ideas with the class to encourage discussion. Inform students that sometimes just sharing ideas with others can feel risky.

  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 event or circumstance ended this migration?
    9. What is the legacy today of this migration in both the points of origin and destination?
    10. 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. For further study, have students imagine themselves as freed slaves in the South during the time of the northern migration. Students then will make a Venn diagram of the pros and cons for migrating to the North. (In this case, the Venn diagram could consist of two overlapping circles, with one side being labeled as "pros" and the other as "cons."

    The shared space could be for those items that are labeled as both a pro and a con depending on how it is perceived. For example, leaving your hometown could be a con because you would miss it, but it could also be a pro because of the racial climate at the time. (For those items in the shared space, make sure students adequately explain why they are there.) Tell students they also need to include at least five items in each of the pros and cons sections and at least two items in the shared space.
  6. As students have learned from the narrative, much communication was present between African Americans in different parts of the country during the Nineteenth century. Assign students to write a letter to a friend or family member explaining why they have decided to migrate or not to migrate to the North. The person to whom the letter is addressed could be in another part of the country or just down the street, depending on the scenario the student decides on. Students will have to decide what they would do if they were in that situation. Their pros from their Venn diagram will help justify their reasoning. The cons should be worked into the letter as things about which they are concerned. Students could use one of the names listed in the narrative or use their own name.

  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

  • Social Studies (Government/Political Science): Many immigrants choose to become citizens of the United States. If possible, obtain a sample page of the citizenship test and ask students to take it and see how well they can do. Ask students to find out the current requirements for citizenship and the steps immigrants must go through to become naturalized citizens. If the administration and school board are willing to coordinate with the federal immigration judge, it may be possible to hold a naturalization ceremony in a non-courthouse venue, such as at a school.
  • Culinary Studies/Home Economics/Music: Coordinate with a cooking instructor and students who may wish to prepare a reception for new citizens following a naturalization ceremony. The students will prepare refreshments and arrange entertainment for their guests. The teacher or students may inquire if the phone company is willing to donate some international calling cards so the new citizens can call their friends or families in their native lands.
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