Social History for Every Classroom


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Create a Migrant's Scrapbook from the First Great Migration

In this activity students examine documents from the period of the First Great Migration of African Americans to the North. As they look at the documents, they take notes to build a character of a migrant. Then they create a scrapbook that shows their characters' personal journeys and experiences during the Great Migration. This activity can be part of a unit that includes the film Up South: African-American Migration in the Era of the Great War.  Students will need art supplies such as construction paper, tape or glue, scissors, and markers to make the scrapbooks.


  • Students will  determine why so many African Americans "voted with their feet" and moved north between 1910 and 1920.  (Cause and Effect)

  • Students will be able to describe how the Great Migration changed individual lives and the broader experiences of African Americans.  


Step 1:  Pass out the worksheet and project the map of the routes travelled by migrants during the Great Migration.  Tell students that today they will be learning about the experiences of the men, women and children who left the South for better economic, political and social opportunities in the North between 1910 and 1920.  They will be creating a character, a typical migrant, and a scrapbook for that character as they look through primary sources.  Working individually or in pairs, students should fill out Part I of the worksheet.  They should look at the map to determine where their characters are from and where their characters are headed.  Students should make sure their characters' routes reflect historical reality (i.e., characters from Florida do not end up in Chicago).  Discuss with students that migrants tended to follow routes set by railroads that connected urban areas.  

Step 2: Hand out a pack of the documents to each student/pair.  Project each of the documents and discuss them with students. For some documents, ask students to read aloud portions of the text.  As they read and view the documents, students should make notes in the graphic organizer about how evidence from the documents reflects the experiences of their characters.  

Step 3: (Optional) Before creating their scrapbooks, have students answer the questions in Part III of the worksheet.  

Step 4: Distribute art supplies.  Tell students to create a scrapbook about their characters' experiences during the Great Migration.  

  • Scrapbooks must be at least 4 pages in length

  • Scrapbooks must include images and words that address why the person left the South and what happened to him or her in the North

  • Scrapbooks must include words and images that show what kind of work the person did in both places, what kind of community experiences he/she had in both places and how he/she was or was not able to exercise the rights of citizenship

Note: After analyzing documents in class, the teacher may assign the scrapbook-making activity as homework.  

Step 5: (Optional) Ask students to trade their scrapbooks with another student/pair and discuss the differences between them. Ask students to present their scrapbooks to the entire class.  

Historical Context

The years between 1910 and 1920 marked the beginning of a major shift of the African-American population within the United States.  The nation's African-American population was transformed from a predominantly rural and agricultural people to a largely urban and industrial people.  It has been estimated that nearly 500,000 to one million African-American men, women and children left the South before, during and shortly after World War I to settle in areas such as New York, Chicago, Detroit, Pittsburgh and other areas in the North and Midwest.  

Historians contend that this mass movement of sharecroppers and wage workers commonly referred to as "The Great Migration" was spurred on by economic and social factors.  These factors include the decline of cotton production, an increase in lynchings and other forms of racial violence and discrimination, recruitment of African Americans by northern industries and the influence of African-American newspapers in the North.

The movement "up South" created a large African-American population in northern cities, who faced new social, economic and political dilemmas.  These dilemmas inspired the creation of new social and political movements within the African-American population to confront the new structures of institutionalized racism in the North.

Source | American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning, 2010.
Creator | American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning
Rights | Copyright American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Item Type | Teaching Activity
Cite This document | American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning, “Create a Migrant's Scrapbook from the First Great Migration,” SHEC: Resources for Teachers, accessed October 3, 2023,

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