The Great Migration

Years: 1870 to 1970

Driving Questions

In the early 20th century, hundreds of thousands of African Americans left their homes and went to live somewhere else.


This 5-day project examines the historic internal migration of African Americans to industrial urban centers during the early decades of the 20th century. Students will observe and consider the reasons for the changing distribution of African American population in the US by exploring an interactive database of maps, images, and documents. Specifically, they will examine the motivations of the migrants; various factors that enabled the migration; the socio-economic push and pull forces that drove this redistribution of population; and the impact of this migration on American society.


Students will...

  • Analyze primary source documents & images from the first wave of the Great Migration (ca. 1917)
  • Compare and contrast socio-economic variables for two counties using census data maps from 1900 and 1920
  • Make connections between primary source documents and census data maps
  • Gather evidence from maps, letters & images to support specific inferences about causes and effects of the Great Migration
  • Present a historical narrative account of the Great Migration


  • Students will use the interactive Map tool.
  • Students will use the online Document library of primary sources. CREATE LINK
  • Teachers can download the complete set of Teacher & Student Materials. CREATE LINK

Lessons: The Great Migration

Lesson 1: Migrants and Migration

  • Making observations from a photographic image
  • Define basic terms
  • Concept Web
  • Interpreting Primary Sources
  • HOMEWORK: Finish Primary Document Reading activity

Lesson 2: Push and Pull Factors

  • Pair-Share Primary source reading
  • Discussion: Push and Pull Factors
  • Interpreting Primary Sources: Guided Analysis
  • HOMEWORK: Finish Document Analysis Sheet C

Lesson 3: Data Collection and GIS Introduction (Computer Lab)

  • Introduction to day's activity
  • Introduction to the GIS tool
  • Guided GIS Data Analysis
  • Data Collection with gisforhistoryu.org
  • HOMEWORK: Excerpts from Causes of the Chicago Race Riot
    • Answer Comprehension Questions (due by Lesson V)

Lesson 4: Data and Document Connections (Computer Lab)

  • Tutorial: How to capture evidence
  • Class simulation: gathering evidence and making inferences
  • Capturing evidence, making inferences: student project
  • HOMEWORK: Continue Lesson 3 homework

Lesson 5: Data and Document Synthesis (Computer Lab)

  • Review yesterday's assignment/li>
  • Discussion: The Great War as enabler for migration
  • Capturing evidence, making inferences: project completion


    Great Migration letters, 1917

    A collection of letters written by African Americans hoping to leave the South, or recently having arrived in the North, during the year 1917. These letters can also be found through the GIS map, by turning on the Great Migration Letters layer, selecting one of the highlighted cities, and clicking the "LETTER LINK" in the Query History.

    Letters from southern cities to the Chicago Defender

    Letters from northern cities back home.

    Great Migration images

    A collection of photos of African Americans during the period before and during the Great Migration.

    Additional documents

    Each theme in this list is linked to a collection of primary and/or secondary source documents that help provide context for understanding the many causes and effects of the Great Migration.

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