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The Second Great Migration
From Hope to Despair Lesson Plan: Changes in African-American Expression from the Harlem Renaissance to the Present
The Second Great Migration highlights the shift in tone in the media and visual and literary images of the African American's migrant experience from novelty, excitement, and creativity to deterioration, lament, loss, and despair. From Hope to Despair is a lesson plan that may be used with or as a follow-up to this narrative, either in a language arts, performing arts, or visual arts classes, or as a collaboration across the curriculum including social studies. Students will select and pair examples of music, poetry, literary prose, drama, film, visual arts, or other expressive media. One example should be from the era of the Harlem Renaissance and the second example should be a contemporary work. Students will analyze both samples, looking at composition, tone (through color and line or literary devices), theme, setting, and/or characterization to evaluate whether their examples support the thesis of the narrative's author.
Grade Levels:Middle and high school, grades 6-12
For use with:The Second Great Migration
Concentration Area:History
Concentration Area:Language Arts
Concentration Area:Performing Arts
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

  • The struggle for racial and gender equality and for the extension of civil liberties.
  • Influences on African-American culture during the 1920s (e.g., the Harlem Renaissance).
  • The economic boom and social transformation of post-World War II United States.
Time required
Two to three 50-minute class periods if students read the narrative outside of class
Materials needed
Anticipatory Set

  1. Show students the photograph of Duke Ellington (either photocopied or as a transparency) and ask them what kind of music they think the Duke Ellington Band performed.
  2. Either play a sample of Duke Ellington's music or provide students with a copy of the lyrics to "Drop Me Off in Harlem." Lyrics can be found at
  3. Ask students to characterize the tone or mood of the samples of Duke Ellington's music that they examined. Is the tone more one of "novelty, excitement, and creativity" or "deterioration, lament, loss, and despair?" What about the music and lyrics makes the tone clear to them?

  1. Ask students to read the narrative The Second Great Migration
  2. Explain that they will be testing the author's statement that, "The novelty, excitement, and creativity of black urban life that figured so prominently in the literature and art of the Harlem Renaissance, for example, gave way to themes of deterioration. The visual and literary images were now accented in emotional tones of lament, loss, and despair." Have each student select two works by African-American artists in the same genre (prose, poetry, drama, painting, sculpture, or other visual arts; instrumental music; vocal music; dance; or film), one from the Harlem Renaissance and the other contemporary.
  3. Have each student study both works, analyzing each for tone, comparing and contrasting the tones of the two works, and evaluating the author's thesis based on the sample pair they analyzed.
  4. Ask students to share their findings in a five-minute oral presentation in which the student:

    1. Shows both samples, either in their entirety or as illustrative segments that total no more than one minute.
    2. Analyzes the tone of both samples, explaining how the artists conveyed the tone.
    3. Determines whether the two samples have similar or differing tones on the whole.
    4. Evaluates, in respect to the pair of works analyzed, the accuracy of the thesis that African-American art of the 1920s conveyed the feeling of the Renaissance (rebirth, creativity, excitement), whereas African-American art of the late twentieth century or contemporary era conveyed the feeling of deterioration (lament, loss, despair).
  5. At the conclusion of the presentations, ask students whether, based on the overall class analysis, the thesis was supported or not.

Classroom presentations may be evaluated on a 20-point scale (which may be multiplied by 5 to convert to a 100-point scale or to letter grades) using the following rubric:

Grading Element/Total Points Excellent (10) Good (9-8) Fair (7-6) Not Satisfactory (5-1) No Work (0)
Research (10) Locates two examples

  • Analyzes, compares, and contrasts tone of two examples
  • Assesses the thesis of Renaissance vs. Deterioration effectively
  • Contains no factual errors
  • Locates two examples
  • Analyzes both examples
  • Shows some weakness in comparison and contrast
  • May have weak assessment of thesis against examples
  • Contains no factual errors
  • Locates two examples
  • Analyzes both examples
  • Little or no comparison or contrast
  • Provides little linkage between examples and assessment of thesis
  • Contains no factual errors
  • Locates only one example
  • Analyzes only one example
  • Provides no comparison
  • Shows no effort to assess the thesis
  • May contain factual errors
  • No research
    Project Presentation (10)

  • Well-balanced, thorough presentation of topic information
  • Appealing project that shows originality
  • Media enhances understanding of topic
  • Presentation is audible, clear, and energetic
  • Generally balanced, complete presentation of topic information
  • Appealing project
  • Media generally supports topic
  • Presentation is audible and clear; may be read in part
  • Presentation of information is not complete for the topic
  • Appealing project
  • Media may not always be appropriate to topic
  • Presentation is so soft, rapid, or mumbled that listening to it is difficult
  • Presentation of data is incomplete or missing in some aspects of topic; or is very vague
  • Project is sloppy or disorganized
  • Media does not tie in with topic
  • Presentation is so inaudible that it is almost impossible to understand
  • No project

    Related Works

    • The Schomburg Center's Digital exhibit Harlem 1900-1940: An African-American Community provides not only images and text, but also an illustrated timeline, teacher materials, and links to other websites at:
    • The Duke Ellington Society's website provides music and audio files of the legendary musician's works and commentary by artists who performed his music at:
    • The Library of Congress' American Memory Collection features over seven million online digital documents. Its "Journeys and Crossings" research site provides links, audio files, and bibliographies about the poetry of Langston Hughes, as well as links to many other art and literature websites for the Harlem Renaissance at:
    Interdisciplinary Links

  • History: The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., published a series of sermons in a collection called Strength to Love. Ask students to read at least three of the 13 sermons and then analyze the tone of Dr. King's sermons. Finally, ask students to compare and contrast the sermons with works from African-American authors (prose, poetry, lyrics, drama) of the Harlem Renaissance and contemporary African-American authors. Students may write a paragraph assessing whether Dr. King's sermons were more in the spirit of Renaissance or Deterioration, and whether they provide a bridge for the essay's assertion that "black urban communities across the country became centers of political and cultural activity in the postwar era."
  • Sociology: The community of Harlem has a long and varied history. Ask students to trace the changes in the community from its earliest days to the present, examining the impact of transportation, urbanization, and new racial and ethnic groups over the centuries, as well the institutions in the community that provide continuity in the midst of change (cultural, religious, educational).
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