Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum

The Great Migration Lesson Plan
Janeal Schmidt
US History
Time Frame:
2 block classes (84 minutes each)
World War I

Grade Levels:
9, 10, 11, 12

Classroom/Homework Activity to be performed:

Students will learn about the Great Migration through discussion, analyzing primary sources in
cooperative groups, watching a TED Talk, and reading an excerpt of a secondary source.


To create awareness among students about the societal changes during World War I.

District, state, or national performance and knowledge standards/goals/skills met:

Kansas Standards for History, Government, and Social Studies
• Standard #4 Societies experience continuity and change over time.
• Standard #5 Relationships among people, places, ideas, and environments are dynamic.
Advanced Placement US History Key Concepts
7.2 Innovations in communications and technology contributed to the growth of mass culture, while
significant changes occurred in internal and international migration patterns.
Concept Outline
II. Economic pressures, global events, and political developments caused sharp variations in the
numbers, sources, and experiences of both international and internal migrants.
C. In a Great Migration during and after World War I, African Americans escaping segregation, racial
violence, and limited economic opportunity in the South moved to the North and West, where they
found new opportunities but still encountered discrimination.

Secondary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed:

Lakisha Odlum. The Great Migration. 2016. Retrieved from the Digital Public Library of America,
http://dp.la/primary-source-sets/the-great-migration/teaching-guide. (Accessed July 18, 2018.)
“The Great Migration and the Power of a Single Decision | Isabel Wilkerson.” YouTube, YouTube, 6 Apr.
2018, www.youtube.com/watch?v=n3qA8DNc2Ss.
Wilkerson, Isabel. The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration. New York:
Vintage Books, 2011.

Primary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed:

“A negro family just arrived in Chicago from the rural South,” Digital Public Library of America, http://
“During World War I there was a great migration north by southern Negroes,” Digital Public Library of
America, http://dp.la/item/202cd2eec8a07f914da3df05d75481b7.
“Letters of Negro Migrants of 1916-1918.” The Journal of Negro History, July and October 1919.

Full description of activity or assignment.

Block 1
Bell Work:
With a table partner, students will compare and contrast the Jacob Lawrence painting and a photograph
of an African-American family who just arrived in Chicago.
Questions to consider when analyzing these images:
1. How are migrants dressed in both images?
2. How does does their attire reflect their attitudes about migrating to the North?
3. Both images are framed in such a way that the people fill the entire frame, what feeling or
mood does this elicit in the viewer?
4. What are some the messages the artists convey by framing their works in such a way?
Discuss answers in class.


Teacher led discussion of the Great Migration. Teachers should emphasize the role of World War I,
which limited the supply of cheap immigrant labor; the rise of the industrial factory jobs in the North,
which depended on cheap labor to function; agricultural difficulties in the South; and the difficulties
of life in the Jim Crow South for African American families, such as discrimination, lynching, denial
of access to political equality, and the lack of educational opportunities.

3. Document Analysis Activity
“Letters of Negro Migrants of 1916-1918.” The Journal of Negro History, July and October 1919.
Students will work in groups of two to analyze the nine letters using the HIPP method. In the HIPP
method, students analyze the document for the historical context, intended audience, purpose, and pointof-

4. Watch “The Great Migration and the power of a single decision” Isabel Wilkerson TED Talk on
YouTube. (17:55) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n3qA8DNc2Ss

5. Assignment
Read the excerpt from The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration by
Isabel Wilkerson (p. 3-15) and answer the guided reading questions.

Block 2
Students will write a timed, in-class long essay (LEQ). They will have 40 minutes to write this essay.
Students will be graded based on the Advanced Placement Long Essay Question Rubric. Students will
self-grade using the rubric before turning in their essays.


Full explanation of the assessment method and/or scoring guide:

Great Migration LEQ
In your response you should do the following.
• Respond to the prompt with a historically defensible thesis or claim that establishes a line of
• Describe a broader historical context relevant to the prompt.
• Support an argument in response to the prompt using specific and relevant examples of evidence.
• Use historical reasoning (e.g., comparison, causation, continuity or change over time) to frame or
structure an argument that addresses the prompt.
• Use evidence to corroborate, qualify, or modify an argument that addresses the prompt.
Prompt: Evaluate the extent to which World War I was the primary cause of the Great Migration of
African Americans.


The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson
Guided Reading Questions
1. Account of Ida Mae Brandon Gladney
Where did she live?
When did she leave?
Summarize her "leaving" story/account in 1 paragraph.

2. Account of George Swanson Starling
Where did he live?
When did he leave?
Summarize his "leaving" story/account in 1 paragraph.


3. Account of Robert Joseph Pershing Foster
Where did he live?
When did he leave?
Summarize his "leaving" story/account in 1 paragraph.

4. Each "leaving" occurs about 8 years later than the previous one. What similarities do you see
between the accounts? What differences? (Continuity and Change Over Time)

5. When did this "silent pilgrimage" (the Great Migration) begin? When did it end?

6. How does the author describe/define the Great Migration?

7. During the Great Migration, how many people left the South?

8. Why does the author argue the Great Migration was a turning point in American History? Do you
agree or not? Explain/defend your answer.

9. Where can we see the "imprint" of the Great Migration in urban life?

10. How did the black population of Chicago change because of the Great Migration?

11. What was the ritual of arrival that just about every migrant did?

12. What omission does the book The Warmth of Other Suns address?

13. What types of evidence did historian Isabel Wilkerson use to define/piece together the events of the
Great Migration for the three accounts at the beginning of the excerpt?

14. What distortions have miscast the emigrants?

15. In the past 20 years, a different picture has emerged. Describe this new picture.

16. Why were the actions of the people in the Great Migration both "universal and distinctly


Use AP US History LEQ Essay Scoring Guide