Black History Month: Literature Connections

The Great Migration: An American Story
Why did so many African-American's migrate to the north from the south?

February is Black History Month!  This month I am going to do a weekly blog on books that you can read to your students that will help you honor and recognize the achievement of African-Americans.    I love using picture books to teach content.  Short, sweet and powerful for all ages!  Yes, even seniors in high school!    The Great Migration: An American Story  by Jacob Lawrence is on my “must read” list for this month.  The book tells the story of the exodus of African-Americans who left their homes and farms in the South around the time of World War I and traveled to the northern industrial cities in search of better lives.  Their movement resulted in one of the biggest population shifts in the history of the United States.   The author’s family was part of this Great Migration.  As a child, Jacob Lawrence kept a diary of the events surrounding his family’s migration north.  From these notes and his childhood memories, Jacob created paintings and narration to illustrate his powerful story in this book.  It’s a story that your students need to hear.   It’s a story of African-American strength and courage. 

History Content:  The migration of African-Americans from the south to the north.

Geography:  How and why people migrate (Movement)

Here is a suggested activity to reinforce and debrief:

  • Ask your students to identify who was involved, what happened and where it happened.
  • Evaluate the decisions made by those portrayed in The Great Migration by challenging students to imagine they were Jacob.  Would they have made some of the same decisions?
  • Have your students create a sensory figure of Jacob, to show what it felt like to move from the south to the north.  (Don’t know what a sensory figure is?  See image below)


Sensory Figures are just one way for students to process information.

Lawrence, Jacob. The Great Migration: An American Story. New York: Harper Trophy, 1995.