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North / South

Introduction  Task  Process  Resources  Evaluation  Reflection


During the Great Migration, southern migrants encountered tensions with African Americans in the north. Northern blacks were concerned about the impact the newcomers would have on life in the cities. In addition to health and housing issues, northern blacks worried that discrimination and physical restrictions would increase in response to the great influx of southern migrants.

Many northern blacks also felt that southern migrants would not "fit in" to urban life in the North. They often urged newcomers to exchange their rural dress and manners for more "acceptable" behavior and styles.

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In this webquest you will:
  • Look at how Jacob Lawrence depicts the North and the South in his Migration Series.

  • Read W.E.B Dubois’ description of traveling in the South and compare it to Lawrence’s images.

  • Use web resources to imagine yourself in an image of the North or South during the Great Migration. Create a visual and written description of what it would be like at this place and time.
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The Negroes who had been North for quite some time met their fellowmen with disgust and aloofness.

The Migration of the Negro, panel 53, 1940-41
Casein tempera on hardboard
18 x 12 in. (45.7 x 30.5 cm)
The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.
© Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence, courtesy of the Jacob and Gwendolyn Lawrence Foundation
  1. Look at  Jacob Lawrence's painting, panel #53 from The Migration Series. Move your mouse over the painting and find questions to discuss with your classmates.

  2. Read the information about Jacob Lawrence's painting, panel #53 from The Migration Series.

  3. Go to  http://www.jacoblawrence.org/art04.html, scroll down to the "series" box and select The Migration Series from the pull down menu. Click on SUBMIT.

    Examine how Jacob Lawrence portrayed the northern and southern environments in his Migration Series.

    How did Lawrence depict the southern landscape?
    What did Lawrence focus on in his portrayals of the North?
    What other differences do you notice between images of the North and the South?

    How did the influx of migrants affect life in the North for African Americans?
    Why did tensions occur between northern African Americans and migrants from the South?
    What did southern migrants contribute to urban communities in the North?

  4. Read W.E.B. Dubois, "Of The Black Belt," The Souls of Black Folk in the web resources below.

    What were his impressions of the South in 1903?
    How does Dubois’ description compare with Lawrence’s depictions in The Migration Series?

  5. Using the web resources below, read some oral histories about the North and South, then select one of the images of the North or the South. Imagine that you’ve traveled back in time and you’ve become part of the scene.

    You don't see a way out right away, so you decide to make the most of it, and explore your new surroundings. Look around for clues, and ask yourself the following questions:

    Who are you?
    What are you wearing?
    Is there anyone else in the picture? Who?
    What are they doing?
    How do you interact with them?
    What do you say to them?

    Where are you?
    What time period is it?

    What do you see around you?
    What is the environment like?
    What are you doing?

  6. Using your imagination, extend the scene beyond the edges of the image.

    What is on the left? On the right?
    What will happen next in this scene?

  7. Use a notebook or journal, and your observation skills to picture the scene. Think about how you responded to and experienced this image.

    Write a description of what life is like on a typical day in this place and time. Base your writing on what you see in the image and your experience of it. Include yourself in your written description.

  8. Make a sketch of the scene. Include yourself in your sketch.

  9. Present and discuss your writing and sketch with the class.
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Malaika Adero, ed. Up South: Stories, Studies and Letters of This Century's Black Migrations, New Press, 1993

St. Clair Drake and Henry Cayton, Black Metropolis: A Study of Negro Life in a Northern City, Harper & Row, 1962



W.E.B. Dubois, "Of The Black Belt," from The Souls of Black Folk.

Federal Writers Project, photos and interviews.

Southern oral history, recorded from 1973 on.


An in-depth study of the movement of African Americans from South to North.

Explore spaces of the South from the Great Migration.

Click on boat.jpg.


Go to the Image Archive. Select the medium, "Painting." Type "Harlem" in the title box. Click on SUBMIT. Click on the thumbnail picture to see a large image.


To view images of Northern city life, click on dairy.jpg, picket.jpg, eatshop.jpg, and aptbuild.jpg.

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You will be evaluated on your journal entries, as well as your written and visual representation of the scene that you create. Your teacher may also choose to create rubrics for evaluation.
  • Journal Evaluation: Do your journal entries include reflective comments about how Jacob Lawrence depicts the North and South? Do the entries include a comprehensive comparison of W.E.B. Dubois’ work and Jacob Lawrence’s depictions?

  • Scene Evaluation: Does the visual representation illustrate you and your environment and give the viewer clues about what you’re doing and how you’re interacting with the other people in the image? Does your sketch or drawing represent creativity, originality, and a personal style?

  • Is your written description relevant to your sketch or drawing? Does the description represent creativity and is it interesting to the reader (or listener)? Are ideas properly organized and did you demonstrate complex language and sentence structure? Does the language you use create visual imagery in the reader’s (or listener’s) mind?

  •  Learning Standards Addressed
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As a class, review your own written and visual descriptions of the North and the South.

How are they similar to or different from Jacob Lawrence’s depictions?

Learn more about the history of the great Migration by researching and viewing some of the films and videos listed in the "Black Migration" section on the website below. For example:

The Black Press: Soldiers Without Swords
Goin' to Chicago: The Saga of the Black Migration
One Shot: the Photographs of Black American Life
Richard Wright: Black Boy
Wild Women Don't Have the Blues: The Music, the Women, the Legacy


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©2001 Whitney Museum of American Art