With the influx of African-Americans from
the South into the North during the Great
Migration (beginning early in the twentieth century and accelerating after 1930), Chicago
became the locus of a great center for realization of a dream for the Promised Landa
place where self-determination, freedom, and
economic prosperity were possible. During the
latter period of this movement, Black Chicago
was in the midst of a great cultural and literary
In the narrative portion of this article, it is
argued that while the economic promise was
realized in the form of good jobs provided by
the stockyards and factories, the promise of an
"egalitarian, non-racist" society was not. The
literary renaissance continued in spite of these
disappointments, and for many authors, this
became an omnipresent backdrop for characters and themes. Thus, a recurring theme in
the literature of the Black Chicago
Renaissance and for the many years after is
the failure to realize dreams. What happens
when dreams are deferred?
Connections with the Curriculum
This unit is appropriate for high school
students in Language Arts and Social
This is especially appropriate for students
who have some understanding of the history and literature of the period. For students in the lower levels and grades, I
would suggest using some of the activities
and materials in ILLINOIS HISTORY
TEACHER 3:2 (1996): 48-51.
Materials for Each Student
Copy of the narrative portion of the article
Copy of James Grossman, "Chicago and the
Great Migration," ILLINOIS HISTORY
TEACHER 3:2(1996): 33-38
Copy of Langston Hughes' poem "Harlem"
With the Hurt and Grossman essays, use the
film The Promised Land (three-part series,
Discovery Channel Presentations, 1995)
If unavailable through your local library
system, this video can be ordered from:
Box 52, Department C96
Madison, Wisconsin 53701
Cost: $49.95 + $5 shipping
Objectives for Each Student
Analyze and interpret a literary work.
Apply knowledge gained from literature as
a means of understanding contemporary
and historical economic, social, and political
issues and perspectives.
Interpret how changing geographical, technological, and social forces affect United States
political ideas and traditions.
TEACHING THE LESSON
Opening the Lesson
Begin the lesson by exploring what information students already have regarding the
Great Migration and the flourishing of literature
and the arts during this period known as the
Black Chicago Renaissance. Connections
should be made between the recurring theme
of the dream deferred and Langston Hughes'
poem "Harlem." Students should be given a
copy of the poem to read and discuss thoroughly. This will form the basis for students'
understanding of the meaning of this work and
the references to the poem in the essay.
Students should come to understand that, as
many African-Americans failed to realize their
dreams in the promised land of Chicago and
the North during the Great Migration, so do
many of the characters in the literature of the
period known as the Black Chicago
As suggested in a previous issue of ILLINOIS HISTORY TEACHER (3:2, 1996), K-W-L
(a reading strategy to explore prior knowledge)
is a good way to assess what information your
students already have and what information
you will need to help them fill in. The first task
is to find out what students already know.
Begin by having students contribute ideas and
information to webs of ideas about the Great
Migration and the Black Chicago Renaissance.
This collective knowledge should be shared by
grouping information and ideas on the board.
If students do not make connections with the
Harlem Renaissance and European
Renaissance from the fourteenth to the seventeenth century, this information should be introduced in a brief discussion to help place the
term in an historical context. A definition
should also be given. From this point in the
process, proceed in assessing what things students would like to know as a result of their
reading. Aside from the literary background
given in the discussion of the poem, students
will need more information about the times.
For more historical background, have students read James Grossman's essay "Chicago
and the Great Migration." Other readings are
recommended in the bibliography at the end of
this issue. Students will understand why the
exodus of blacks from the Southern states
occurred and how many African-Americans felt
about this phenomenon in both the North and
the South. Other sources are listed in the
materials list. The video presentation The
Promised Land will give the students visual
images of the times, the issues, and the people. These pieces provide ample background
for understanding the lesson. Have students
list all the ideas and images that are conjured
up when one thinks of the idea of "the
promised land." You should get many responses that relate to an idealized situation.
Use these examples to examine the expectations of the newcomers compared to what
existed in reality. Have students contrast this
idealized view of the North, and Chicago in
particular, with the reality of Chicago in the
period of the Great Migration.
Developing the Lesson
Tell students that the essay they will read
will show how important the theme of the
dream deferred is in Black Chicago literature of
the Renaissance, but that, in addition, they will
be looking for clues to what happened, in a
real sense, when the dreams of the newcomers were not realized. Tell students that some
of the authors mentioned in the essay they will
read will imply answers to this question, but
that they will use their skills, the essay, and
their own research to suggest more answers.
What the students will learn will form a basis
for writing assignments, oral presentations, or
whatever culminating assignments are chosen
Next, have students read the essay
"'Promised Land'?: The Black Chicago
Renaissance and After." During the reading,
have students list works and authors that deal
with this theme. They should also indicate or
predict what the works suggest happens when
dreams are not realized. While reading, they
should write down any questions they have
about the essay. When the reading is completed, students should organize into groups to
discuss their ideas and information collected.
Groups should report to the class and discuss
what various works conclude about what happens when dreams are not realized.
Concluding the Lesson
To conclude the lesson, give students a
choice of works from the essay to read and
later to write a paper on the theme "What
Happens to a Dream Deferred?" This will give
students a chance to study a work from the
period in detail and to explore more works by
African-American authors. In addition to writing the paper, students should present a discussion of the work and their findings orally to
Extending the Lesson
There are numerous ways to extend the
learning for students on this topic. From a
standpoint of history, students can look at
areas of African-American settlements in their
area from the period of the Great Migration.
They can, in the form of oral history, collect
studies of families of the migrants who still live
in these areas. These stories might also
include personal accounts about unfulfilled
dreams and what happened as a result. Even
settlements outside the Chicago area could
provide information about the time and the
people. As some African-Americans settled
along the migration route leading to Chicago,
this could provide students with areas for further research in their own communities. Visits
to the Bronzeville area in Chicago, the Chicago
Historical Society, and the Bronzeville website
(http://www.bronzeville.com) would provide a
rich array of detail about the people, spaces,
In terms of the literature, the possibilities
are limitless. There are many works that students can read and use to develop plays and
skits. They can also take a play such as A
Raisin in the Sun and develop it beyond the
original story line to visualize what happened
to the family's dream. For many students, this
will be another opportunity to develop interests
in reading the literature and studying the culture of African-Americans. The numerous titles
mentioned in the narrative portion of the article
provide an excellent bibliography for African-American literature of the period of the Black
Chicago Renaissance. Students can use
these resources to pursue other themes in the
literature and develop ideas about how these
themes may also be related to or be traced
back to the historical experiences of the
Assessing the Lesson
This will be a good opportunity to introduce the use of rubrics to students, if it has not
been done previously. Using rubrics developed
for the Illinois Standards Achievement Tests for
writing would give students experiences in
understanding the formats. In addition, teachers should share with students which learning
standards are involved and how students can
demonstrate their mastery of the standards.
Finally, some attempt should be made to
involve students in evaluating their own work
and that of fellow classmates using these
rubrics and others developed for assessing
various performance tasks. Cooperative
groupings could provide students with an arena
to examine and comment on the work of classmates. If outside reading is assigned, this
could be an independent project lasting for
several weeks. It is important to develop a
time-line and a framework for regular student-teacher conferences for report and evaluation.
As with any project extending over time, students need feedback. Brief assessment conferences can be effective in helping students
learn to monitor their own progress toward
producing quality work. A chart can be posted
showing where students are in the development of the project and deadlines covering
various aspects of the project, including
To assess students'
overall comprehension of
the essay, a test could be
developed. This test could
include some multiple-choice
questions as well as open-ended questions that give students a chance to explore divergent ideas
that they may feel are significant.
Using a Graphic Organizer for
Thinking and Writing about
an Historical Event
After students have read the selection and/or have viewed the video "The Promised Land," have
them use the following web to organize their ideas about what they have read. This is a simple graphic
to help students see how historical movements and events can have repercussions in a wide range of
human endeavors. It can improve higher-order thinking and help organize details for writing.
- Give students copies of the graphic organizer prior to reading the selection. Tell them that they will
use this organizer as a guide to thinking about how historical events are often caused by many factors, and in turn the effects produce a ripple toward other developments, discoveries, and events.
- The historical event, the Great Migration, is written in both of the circles that form the center of the
- Focusing on people, space, and time, have students fill in the first part of the web with causes or
factors leading to the Great Migration. They should use all the ideas and information gained from
the selection and/or the video.
- Students should then proceed to fill out the second portion of the web, which deals with the effects
of the Great Migration. In this section students should make note of consequences, or effects of
the Great Migration as it related to people, space, and time.
- After the web has been completed, students can be organized into small groups to share their
ideas, and add ideas to their web. Students in each group should determine which of the ideas are
most accurate and relevant.
- Using maps, works mentioned in the narrative portion of the article, and any other materials, groups
should give presentations to the class.
- This web could also be used as an organizer in having students prepare to write an essay. Work
with students to develop a rubric for evaluating the essay, and let them use this rubric in peer evaluations.
Describing Causes and Effects of the Great Migration:
Open-ended Questions for
Writing and Discussions on
Directions for students:
Listed below are seven questions about the selection that your are about to read. These are open-ended questions. After you have read the narrative portion of this article, answer one of the questions
in an essay. Make sure that you explain your answer thoroughly and give supporting details from the
selection, using any prior knowledge that you have of the subject. Be prepared to read your essay and
discuss your ideas with classmates.
- After reading the narrative portion of the article about the themes of African-American literature
of the Black Chicago Renaissance, explain what aspect of life in the promised land most fulfilled
the dreams of the newcomers.
- What reasons and examples can you give to best explain why the author of the narrative portion
of the article used a question mark in the title "Promised Land'?"
- Both Richard Wright and Gwendolyn Brooks deal with themes of identity and growing up in
Chicago. How do these themes play out in Native Son and Black Boy (Wright), when compared
to Maude Martha and A Street in Bronzeville (Brooks)?
- Using a recent article taken from a newspaper or magazine, describe how one of the themes
represented in literature of the Black Chicago Renaissance, for example, struggle for personal
identity, growing up, or dreams deferred, is also represented in the article.
- Using information given in the selection about A Raisin in the Sun, Native Son, and A Bronzeville
Mother Loiters in Mississippi, explain how the issue of race is important in each work.
- Describe how the music of the Black Chicago Renaissance mirrored themes in the literature
of the times.
- Select two authors from the selection. Explain how the characters depicted deal with their
dreams that have gone unrealized.
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