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The Second Great Migration
The Second Great Migration
This lesson is designed for students to use with the narrative The Second Great 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 causes of this migration and the impact it had on its destination communities.
Grade Levels:Middle and high school, grades 9-12
For use with:The Second Great 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).
  • Influences on the American economy after World War II (e.g., the impact of increased defense spending, the U.S. economy in relation to European and Asian economies).
  • How the New Deal influenced the civil and political rights of diverse groups; the involvement of women and minorities in the New Deal and its impact upon them.
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 brainstorm any significant historical events that happened during and following World War II. This will help you judge students' prior knowledge of the period before discussing this migration.
  2. Write students' ideas on the board or overhead. Some may include coming out of the Great Depression and the New Deal, increases in production of machinery, and decreases in the demand for agricultural labors and prevalence of continued racism and discrimination. This discussion will help set the tone for the narrative students will read.
  3. Ask students to predict how they think this cultural and economic climate impacted blacks living in the South. Have students write this prediction in their journals.

  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 write a summary of the catalysts of The Second Great Migration and the impact it had on their destination communities. Tell students their essays should begin by explaining the economic circumstances after World War II (coming out of The Great Depression and The New Deal, increases in production of machinery and decreases in the demand for agricultural labors, and that continued racism and discrimination were prevalent). Students should conclude with the impact the migration had on specific communities to which they moved. The two sections should be divided by appropriate titles.

  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.
Related Works

  • The Schomburg Center's Digital exhibit The African Presence in the Americas 1492-1992 includes the segment "Cotton is King" with information on sharecropping and an early photographic view of workers in the cotton fields at: It also depicts a Depression-era sharecropper at:
  • The Library of Congress' American Memory Collection features over seven million online digital documents. It is a rich resource for a wide variety of documents about the Great Depression. In the Works Progress Administration (WPA) segment of the "African-American Mosaic" exhibit at,, visitors can see a "Books are Weapons" poster for the Schomburg Center. Additional valuable resources follow:

    • The Farm Security Administration's photograph collection at:
    • Manuscripts from the Federal Writer's Project, including interviews with sharecroppers such as Mose Sutton in "He Never Wanted Land Till Now," at: Tom Bird's interview from this collection contains offensive language but also a candid assessment that the New Deal programs are empowering African Americans. It might be useful as background information for a teacher or used in an extracted form.
  • The New Deal Network at: also provides many links to New Deal resources. One featured online exhibit is "African Americans in the Civilian Conservation Corps" at:
Interdisciplinary Links

  • Language Arts/Drama: The Works Progress Administration's (WPA's) Federal Theatre Project helped sustain struggling writers during the Depression. Examples of their works may be found at: Students will collaborate with language arts teachers to research and write a skit based on the experiences of sharecroppers during the Depression. Then, students either will present the resulting drama in class or on stage, or they will record the performance.
  • Government/Political Science: Students may conduct additional research on the impact of government programs on African-American life (including migration) during the Twentieth century. They may wish to find out about the following:
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