Jerryelyn Leonard Jones
Migration, as viewed by the migrant, was a chance to share as a black people the perquisites of American citizenship. Despite race riots and a severe depression during the winter of 1920-21, most migrants retained their faith in the "promised land," as evidenced by few returning to the South except for an occasional visit.
Connection with the Curriculum
Materials for Each Student
A copy of the narrative portion of this article
Objectives for Each Student
Assess the role of the Chicago Defender in the mass migration of black southerners to northern cities.
Analyze the Great Migration as a network held together by social institutions, leaders, and individual initiatives.
Examine restrictions placed upon the black southerner by the white southerner to prevent migration.
Trace the path of the Illinois Central Railroad from Chicago through the South, and explain the impact of the railroad upon migration.
Determine the ways in which black southerners adapted to life in northern cities.
Explain how the process of transferring families and communities northward ensured continuity and familiarity in the lives of the migrants.
Opening the Lesson
Developing the Lesson
Allow time for students to complete each activity.
Plan discussion and feedback for each activity. Students working in groups may want to present their answers orally before the entire class.
The first activity using the map of the Illinois Central Railroad system focuses on Chicago's easy access via the Illinois Central Railroad. The tracks of the Illinois Central stretched southward from Chicago into rural Tennessee, Mississippi, and Louisiana, with easy access from adjoining states as well.
The second activity, using the Chicago Defender shipping list, will give the students an understanding of the impact that the newspaper had on prospective migrants based upon sheer circulation numbers. This newspaper gave the black southerner a glimpse of an exciting city with a vibrant and assertive black community.
The third activity, using news articles from the Chicago Defender, will provide students with some primary sources to help them gain an understanding of the Great Migration from the migrants' point of view.
Concluding the Lesson
Review and summarize the different responses for each activity.
Students can also be asked to evaluate whether or not the North was a promised land for the black southerner.
Extending the Lesson
Have students plan a bulletin board entitled the "Great Migration." On their board they can include some of the following: research reports on Robert S. Abbott; maps of the Illinois Central Railroad tracing the path of migration; letters written by black southerners to the Chicago Defender seeing help or advice; and, finally, editorials from the Chicago Defender on topics such as race relations or opportunities in the North for the black southerner.
Visit the Chicago Daily Defender and tour their operations at 2400 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago, Illinois, 60616; phone (312)225-2400. Compare the present-day focus of the paper with what you have learned about the paper in the 1920s.
Show the video "Goin' To Chicago."
This new documentary, underwritten
by the National Endowment for the
Humanities, chronicles the migration
of more than four million African-Americans from the rural South to the
urban North after World War II.
Another useful video about the
migration of African-Americans to the
industrial cities of the North between
the 1940s and the 1970s is "The
Assessing Student Learning
An alternative means of evaluation would be to have students write an essay from the migrants' point of view expressing why they left their home in the South to come to the North, and, upon arrival, their hopes and dreams for the future.
You are a black migrant boarding a train for Chicago. Using the map of the Illinois Central Railroad system, do the following. (Additional research will be needed for question 5.)
Cartography by Alex G. Papdopoulos and Jane Benson
The University of Chicago
Illinois Central Railroad Train
Using the map of the Chicago Defender shipping list and your knowledge of the article, do the following:
The following are questions based upon news articles taken from the Chicago Defender. Please read the articles on the following page and answer the questions below.
CHICAGO DEFENDER NEWS SERVICE
THE NEGRO IN CHICAGO
Other headlines read: "Thousands Leave Memphis"; "Still Planning to Come North"; "Northbound Their Cry." These articles are especially interesting for the impelling power of the suggestion of a great mass movement.
Denunciation of the South.The idea that the South is a bad place, unfit for the habitation of Negroes, was "played up" and emphasized by the Defender. Conditions most distasteful to Negroes were given first prominence. In this it had a clear field, for the local southern Negro papers dared not make such unrestrained utterances. Articles of this type appeared:
NEGRO WOMAN FROZEN TO DEATH MONDAY
Harriet Tolbert, an aged Negro woman, was frozen to death in her home at 18 Garibaldi Street early Monday morning during the severe cold [Atlanta (Ga.) Constitution, dated Feb. 6).
If you can freeze to death in the North and be free, why freeze to death in the South and be a slave, where your mother, sister, and daughter are raped and burned at stake, where your father, brother and son are treated with contempt and hung to a pole, riddled with bullets at the least mention that he does not like the way he has been treated?
Come North then, all of you folks, both good and bad. If you don't behave yourself up here, the jails will certainly make you wish you had. For the hard working man there is plenty of workif you really want it. The Defender says come.
News articles in the Defender kept alive the enthusiasm and fervor of the exodus:
LEAVING FOR THE NORTH
Tampa, Fla., Jan. 19.J. T. King, supposed to be a race leader, is using his wits to get on the good side of the white people by calling a meeting to urge our people not to migrate North. King has been termed a " good nigger " by his pernicious activity on the emigration question. Reports have been received here that all who have gone North are at work and pleased with the splendid conditions in the North. It is known here that in the North there is a scarcity of labor, mills and factories are open to them. People are not paying any attention to King and are packing and ready to travel North to the "promised land."
DETERMINED TO GO NORTH
Jackson, Miss., March 23.Although the white police and sheriff and others are using every effort to intimidate the citizens from going North, even Dr. Redmond's speech was circulated around, this has not deterred our people from leaving. Many have walked miles to take the train for the North. There is a determination to leave and there is no hand save death to keep them from it.
NEW SCHEME TO KEEP RACE MEN IN DIXIE LAND
A piece of-poetry which received widespread popularity appeared in the Defender under the title "Bound for the Promise Land." Other published poems expressing the same sentiment were: " Farewell, We're Good and Gone''; "Northward Bound"; "The Land of Hope."
Five young men were arraigned before Judge E. Schwartz for reading poetry. The police claim they were inciting riot in the city and over Georgia. Two of the men were sent to Brown farm for thirty days, a place not fit for human beings. Tom Amaca was arrested for having "Bound for the Promise Land," a poem published in the Defender several months ago. J. N. Chislom and A. A. Walker were arrested because they were said to be the instigators of the movement of the race to the North, where work is plentiful and better treatment is given.
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