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for History and Literature Teachers

The Great Migration; or Leaving My Troubles in Dixie

Date: Tuesday, July 7, 2009
Time: 6:00 p.m.–7:30 p.m. (EST)

In the first two decades of the twentieth century, large numbers of African Americans exchanged rural, southern addresses for urban, northern ones. In a phenomenon later referred to as the Great Migration, these masses swelled the populations of cities such as Chicago, Detroit, New York, and Philadelphia. Driven by racial violence and dwindling options in the South, and hoping to find better economic and educational opportunities in the North, they helped to define northern urban black culture generally and to shape the Harlem Renaissance specifically. Why and how they came to the cities and what happened to them upon their arrival inform numerous literary creations, sociological treatises, and historical studies. Concentration on the migration sheds light on African American aspiration in a defined historical moment and how that aspiration was realized — or not — in the quest to incorporate black bodies into the American body politic.

This seminar will focus on the factors that both pushed and pulled African Americans from the South. It will analyze the images of the North that prevailed among Southern blacks, the forces that shaped those images, and the prominent themes that the Migration brought to African American literature. How were the realities African Americans encountered in "the Promised Land" of the North comparable to experiences they had undergone in the South? What roles did individuals, agencies, family, and business play in the movement north? And how does an examination of westward migration and migration from rural to urban areas within the South broaden our understandings of the Great Migration?

J. Carlyle Sitterson Professor of English
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
National Humanities Center Fellow
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