Teaching the Saga of the Black Migration with Video
GOIN' TO CHICAGO
A Facilitator's Guide
Goin’ to Chicago chronicles for the first time the
post-War migration of millions of African Americans from the rural south
to the urban north that transformed America. This guide will help teachers
integrate this vital - but often neglected - chapter of U.S. history
into their classes and make visible the triumphs and tribulations of
an entire generation of African Americans.
Students will learn about the migration experience, its impact on
the migrants themselves, the social transformation of northern and western
cities, the origins of the northern civil rights movement, and the roots
of current urban decay. They will situate this experience within the
larger contours of U.S. history and apply their insights to problems
of contemporary urban life. Exercises include essays and discussion
questions, mapping, short story writing, oral histories, demographic
and census research, even a city council simulation.
The migration is family history for well over half of all African
American students and this study guide will enable teachers to treat
the historical background of their African American students as a valuable
I. Prior to Viewing
- A. Goin’ to [Your Town]: Tracing the Migratory
Routes of Your Class’s Ancestors (mapping genealogical research)
- B. Introduction to Goin’ to Chicago
- C. Unfamiliar Terms
II. Screening Goin’ to Chicago
III. After Viewing
- A. Writing Interior Monologues
- B. Topic Summaries and Questions for Discussion
or Short Essays
IV. Applying Insights: Follow-up Projects
- A. Sharecropping Family Discussion: Should
We Move North? (dialogue writing)
- B. Comparative Immigrant Experiences (oral
- C. Economic Opportunity Then and Now (an essay)
- D. The Impact of the Migration (an essay)
- E. Mapping Your Town’s Demographic Changes
- F. Your City Council Debates Public Housing
VI. Handouts #1 - 5
I. PRIOR TO VIEWING
A. Goin' to [Your Town]: Tracing the Migratory
Routes of Your Class's Ancestor's (mapping, genealogical research)
* To trace the migratory paths students’ ancestors took to your town.
* Learn how to map genealogical data and analyze it for pattern.
* Copies of Handout #1: the Genealogical Chart; copies of a large
* scale map (11" x 8 1/2" minimum) of the U.S; colored pencils.
Step 1: Ask students to trace the path taken by one line of their
family to your town. Begin with the descendent who migrated to town
and then work backward, to the extent possible, three or four generations.
Identify the hardships which pushed each ancestor to leave home (e.g.
racial or religious discrimination, famine, kidnapping by slave traders,
lack of jobs, a scrape with the law...) and those opportunities or
advantages which might have pulled him or her to the new home (e.g.
jobs, family, adventure, love...). Pass out Handout #1, the genealogical
charts. (Tell students it’s all right if they’re unable to trace their
family line back more than a few generations).
Step 2: Divide students into groups of five or six. Give each group
a large-scale map of the United States and colored pencils. Ask each
group to transfer the information on their charts to their map, tracking
from city to city all the routes taken by their ancestors prior to
reaching your city or town. Next to each path traced, indicate the
ancestor (e.g. Stella’s father ) and the year the ancestor moved (e.g.
1971 ). Color code the paths by racial or ethnic background.
Hang the maps on the wall. Discuss any patterns you notice as you
collate the genealogical statistics, e.g. Did people of similar racial
or ethnic groups tend to follow similar routes? To what extent do
students think the class’s origins are representative of the town
as a whole?
B. Introduction to Goin' To Chicago
Objective: To provide students a sense of the scale and historical
importance of the events chronicled in the video they are about to
Have students read the paragraph below or paraphrase it yourself:
Today, when we think urban we often think black. But according
to author Nicholas Lemann, as recently as 1940, 77% of African Americans
still lived in the South - 49% in the rural South. Between 1910 and
1970, six and a half million black Americans moved out of the South
in two great waves, five million of them after 1940. The mechanization
of agriculture, especially cotton picking, along with discrimination
drove African Americans off the land and out of the South. At the
same time, the post-WWII economic boom created millions of jobs in
northern and western manufacturing centers like New York, Pittsburgh,
Baltimore, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Gary, St. Louis, Los Angeles,
Seattle and Chicago. By 1970, when the migration ended, black America
was only half Southern and less than a quarter rural; ‘urban’ had
become a contemporary euphemism for ‘black.’ The black migration was
one of the largest and most rapid mass internal movements of people
in history...In sheer numbers it outranks the migration of any other
ethnic group - Italians or Irish or Jews or Poles - to this country.
(Lemann, p. 6)
Goin’ to Chicago traces some grand themes of 20th
century U.S. history and includes concepts and terms which might be
new to students. Review the terms below prior to viewing Goin’
to Chicago to get the most out of the film. The summaries
in Section III can be used to pursue topics in greater detail after
II. SCREENING GOIN' TO CHICAGO
Goin’ to Chicago is 70 minutes long. But because
it breaks into roughly three parts, consider screening it over two
or three class periods.
Ask students as they view the film to take note of some of the many
characters who appear, the situations they faced, and the decisions
they had to make since they will write about them after the screening.
(See activity III A.)
PICTURE START = 00:00
LAST SCENE = 19:30 Viethel Wills: I was expecting the Milky Way...some
Las Vegas we ain’t heard about.
Section explores the life of sharecropping in the segregated South
and the migration North after World War II.
FIRST SCENE = 19:30 Facsimile newsreel: Chicago, hog butcher to the
LAST SCENE = 55:30 Clory Bryant: No housing project should be..for
people to live until they die.
Section describes how African Americans built a life for themselves
in Chicago in the late ’40s and ’50s, the fair housing movement, and
the origins of segregated public housing projects.
FIRST SCENE = 55:30 Maxwell Street Market: A band plays Downhome Blues.
END = 71:00
Section jumps forward to the deindustrialization, job losses and urban
decay of the last 20 years.
III. AFTER VIEWING
A. Writing Interior Monologues Objective:
* To allow students an opportunity to reflect upon what they just
* Handout #2: Characters and Situations
After the film, as a class discussion, ask students to recall some
characters from the film and the situations they faced (prompt them
with examples from Handout #2; don’t expect students to remember characters’
names). Then ask each student to choose a character from the film
who faced a crisis or difficult situation and write an interior monologue
from his or her point of view. What feelings are going on in the character’s
head at that particular moment in the film? What difficulties and
challenges await this person? Is he or she hopeful, scared, frustrated,
excited, angry, determined? What should he or she do? Make certain
students write in the first person.
Give students 15 minutes or so to write. Then encourage volunteers
to read their monologue to the class. Note and discuss common themes
which emerge: Was it worth it? Where did he or she find hope and support?
What was lost and what was gained?
(Possible follow-up activity: Have students expand their monologue
into a short story on the migration featuring their character. You
might have students first read a selection from Up South (see bibliography)
as a prompt.
B. Topic Summaries and Questions for Discussion
or Short Essays
The interpretive summaries below elaborate upon the different chapters
of the film and the themes which emerge from each. Use them to review
the film with students, help place events in historical context, and
pursue topics in greater detail through classroom discussion and /
or writing assignments rooted in the questions at the end of each
1. JIM CROW AND WHITE SUPREMACY
In the years following 1890, white Southerners deprived African Americans
of the rights won during the Civil War and Reconstruction. In state
after state they passed laws which denied black people the ordinary
legal rights taken for granted by white American citizens, including
the right to vote. Rigid segregation laws dictated where black people
could live, work, go to school, worship, even be buried. The Supreme
Court upheld segregation in Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896. This elaborate
system of segregation and oppression was called Jim Crow. Anyone who
defied Jim Crow risked the sheriff - or the terror of a lynch mob.
According to an NAACP study, there were 3436 lynchings between 1889
and 1922. Jim Crow laws were not dismantled until the victories of
the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s.
QUESTION: How did white landholders, merchants and businessman stand
to benefit from Jim Crow? What about white sharecroppers and working
QUESTION: In 1954 in Brown vs. Board of Education, the Supreme Court
finally declared segregated education a violation of the equal protection
clause of the 14th Amendment. Why would this be so?
2. SHARECROPPING AS A FORM OF PEONAGE
Jim Crow ensured that most black Southerners had few opportunities
other than the fields. Sharecropping - a form of tenant farming -
emerged after slavery and was a dominant economic institution in the
South until after World War II. In Goin’ to Chicago,
Clory Bryant calls sharecropping a form of slavery. Indeed, sharecropping
enabled the South to maintain the economic power relations of plantation
cotton production after the legal form of slavery was abolished. Here’s
how it worked:
Debt was as central to sharecropping as cotton. Each sharecropping
family rented a plot of land from the planter, or landlord, and was
loaned a monthly stipend called the furnish to buy food and other
necessary items (usually at the plantation commissary, or store) until
the crop came in. The landlord also loaned the sharecropper seed money
- often at high interest rates - for the cotton seed, tools, fuel,
fertilizer and feed (banks wouldn’t lend to sharecroppers). The cotton
was picked by hand in October and November (schools would shut until
after the harvest) and taken to the gin where the cotton was separated
from its seed, weighed by the landlord, packed into bales, and sold.
Around Christmas, the sharecropper would go to the plantation office
for the settle. There the manager would first deduct fees and debts
- including interest on the furnish and seed money - and then pay
the sharecropper his share. In Goin’ to Chicago,
Dr. Martin says he and his parents worked for a whole year and cleared
$300. Dr. Martin was lucky. After all the deductions taken by the
landlord (often calculated fraudulently), many sharecroppers discovered
at the settle that they owed the landlord money. Falling ever deeper
into debt, they were compelled to pledge the next year’s crop as payment.
Thus a system of debt peonage replaced slavery, ensuring a cheap supply
of labor to grow cotton and other crops while condemning African Americans
to grinding poverty. Some sharecroppers were white, but the great
majority were black.
QUESTION: In the film, Clory Bryant called sharecropping "a form
of slavery." Do you agree?
QUESTION: You would think that if it were nearly impossible to make
money, sharecroppers would leave. Describe the traps which tied sharecroppers
to the land. What other reasons might a sharecropper have had for
staying in the South?
3. THE IMPACT OF THE MECHANIZED COTTON PICKER
The mechanical cotton picker had a profound impact on sharecropping
and life in the South. Nicholas Lemman’s history, The Promised Land,
describes how on October 2, 1944 a crowd of 3,000 people gathered
on Howell Hopson’s plantation outside of Clarksdale, Mississippi to
witness the first public demonstration of the mechanical cotton picker.
In an hour a good field hand could pick 20 pounds of cotton; Hopson’s
mechanical picker picked 1,000 pounds. Hopson calculated that a bale
of cotton (500 pounds) cost him $39.41 to pick by hand, and $5.26
by machine. In Goin’ to Chicago, MaeBertha Carter says once the cotton
pickers came in she was told to leave the farm. The planters’ insatiable
demand for cheap labor - fed first by slavery and then by sharecropping
- had finally come to an end. The sharecropping system had become
obsolete. (Lemann, p. 17-21)
QUESTION: Can you think of other times when the introduction of
a new technology suddenly displaced massive numbers of Americans?
How might the negative impact of these economic changes be softened
and people helped to make a transition to a new job?
4. THE DECISION TO MOVE
The decision to move to a strange city is never an easy one. Although
segregation, lack of economic opportunity, poor schools, and the daily
humiliations of Jim Crow were strong incentives to leave the South,
personal considerations complicated the decision. Many African Americans
found a deep sense of security in their families, friends, and communities.
Moving, especially to a large, unfamiliar and distant city, would
mean breaking those bonds. How will you survive? Does one family member
move first, get settled, and then bring the others? Will you make
find new friends? Many African Americans remained in the South like
Unita Blackwell in Goin’ to Chicago who in the 1960s
became a leader in the civil rights movement.
QUESTION: What would be your biggest concerns if you had to move
to a strange city today?
QUESTION: How did the black migration resemble and differ from earlier
European immigrations to the U.S?
5. PATTERNS OF MIGRATION
The 20 year period between 1940 and 1960 saw a dramatic shift in the
black population. While the nation’s 12 largest cities lost 3.5 million
white people between 1950 and 1960, they gained 4.5 million non-whites
(mostly African Americans). Many of the migrants from the Mississippi
Delta headed north to Chicago. That’s where the highways and railroads
ran. They could hop on the bus or drive or hitchhike or take the train
directly north. At one point 2,200 black people were arriving in Chicago
every week. Between 1940 and 1960, the black population of Chicago
increased almost 300%, from 278,000 to 813,000.
QUESTION: African Americans from different parts of the south often
headed to northern cities other than Chicago. Look at a map. To what
cities might the migrants from the Carolinas, Alabama, and Texas usually
QUESTION: Think of the Conestoga wagons and the myths of the 19th
century western expansion as depicted in westerns you’ve seen and
their centrality to American culture. What might explain the absence
of the black migration from movies, myths and stories, even your own
U.S. history textbook?
QUESTION: In the film, Son Thomas sings his classic song, Highway
61 Blues. The lyrics go:
- Y’know 61 Highway...the loneliest road I know,
- Y’know 61 Highway...the loneliest road I know,
- It runs from Chicago
- Down to the Gulf of Mexico.
Why do you think Highway 61 was the loneliest road? What does the
music tell you? Why do you think it was called the blues? Can you
think of other songs about highways or people leaving home?
6. POSTWAR AFRICAN AMERICAN URBAN LIFE
The characters in Goin’ to Chicago recall their amazement
upon arriving in Chicago. Clory Bryant said, I thought I had reached
the Promised Land. Koko Taylor remembers exclaiming, Good God, almighty,
this must be heaven, or...Paris.
Chicago had two big attractions for African Americans after World
War II. The first was jobs. From 1940 to 1965 the U.S. economy boomed,
particularly manufacturing. Timuel Black explains that Chicago was
a great manufacturing center and a railroad hub. Northern employers
paid African Americans higher wages and schools were better. According
to Koko Taylor, even a maid could make $5 day, and that’s a long way
from $3 a week.
The second attraction was a thriving black community on the Southside,
often called Bronzeville, home to black doctors, dentists, teachers,
and lawyers, black businesses, insurance companies and churches, nightclubs
and theaters, shoe stores, dress stores and department stores, and
two black newspapers, The Chicago Defender and the Chicago Bee. Organizations
like the Urban League assisted with housing and otherwise helped newcomers
adjust to a strange and different city. And of course in the North,
African Americans could vote and even run for office
QUESTION: Read Carl Sandburg’s poem Chicago (it can be found in
most American poetry anthologies). Compare it to Margaret Walker’s
Chicago (from Margaret Walker, This is My Century, New and
Collected Poems (University of Georgia Press, 1987). How
is the attitude expressed in both poems towards Chicago similar? How
is it different? Why?
QUESTION: Comment on the irony that the racism which segregated
most African Americans, including the middle class, behind ghetto
walls resulted in the rise of large and vibrant black communities
like Harlem and Bronzeville.
7. THE TRANSFORMATION OF SEGREGATED NORTHERN NEIGHBORHOODS
The influx of the new migrants put great pressures on the overcrowded
South Side of Chicago and other northern and western ghettos, swelling
them to the bursting point. But banks often refused black people mortgages
and white people commonly refused to sell them homes. Clauses in home
deeds called restrictive covenants prohibited home sales to non-whites.
(The Supreme Court declared restrictive covenants unenforceable in
court in Shelley v. Kraemer in 1948 but the custom persisted until
civil rights laws of the 1960s outlawed private discrimination.) Unscrupulous
landlords got rich subdividing apartments into poorly maintained one-room
units called kitchenettes which they rented at inflated prices to
black people trapped in the ghetto.
Soon sleazy real estate agents known as panic peddlers began moving
black families called blockbusters into white neighborhoods while
warning the whites they better move out before it’s too late. Fearful
white homeowners sold their homes at rock bottom prices to the speculators
who promptly cut them up into tiny kitchenettes or resold them at
a quick profit to black families. In no time a neighborhood could
change from white to black. Chicago’s Lawndale district, for example,
changed from 13% black in 1950 to 91% black in 1960.
QUESTION: Despite antidiscrimination laws now on the books, most
U.S. neighborhoods remain as segregated as ever. What obstacles to
residential integration remain today?
8. THE ORIGINS OF THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT IN THE NORTH
The migrants left the South with great expectations, some of which
remained unfulfilled. While many succeeded in building a life for
themselves, poor housing, unfair employment practices and social inequities
persisted, creating an increased sense of frustration. The growing
black communities placed new pressures on public officials to respond
to the demands of African Americans. Civil rights was now no longer
just a Southern issue. Before the civil rights movement exploded in
the South, for example, a fair housing movement led by organizations
like the Congress for Racial Equality (C.O.R.E.) fought to integrate
northern neighborhoods in the late 1940s and 1950s. Whites, facing
competition for jobs, housing, and political power for the first time
since the end of World War I, resisted their efforts, often violently.
QUESTION: Why in the immediate post-War period were African Americans
in the urban North more likely than their Southern counterparts to
stand up and fight against the entrenched white power structure?
QUESTION: In the film, Timuel Black said he returned from World
War II with "a new vision of what the world ought to look like." Why
would returning black vets tend to advocate more militantly for civil
9. THE BIRTH OF THE PROJECTS
To alleviate the growing population pressures, Chicago - and other
northern cities - began to build some public housing. The original
plans called for integrated projects to be built on vacant land scattered
across Chicago. But whites violently resisted integration. Black families
moving into white neighborhoods were commonly greeted with rocks and
firebombs. When the new Fernwood Park Homes project, designated to
be 8% black, opened in a white neighborhood in 1947, 5,000 whites
rioted for two weeks. Caving in to white fears, Chicago - and other
cities - soon decided to build up rather than out, constructing massive,
hi-rise housing projects within the South Side ghetto, including Cabrini
Green and the Robert Taylor Homes (28 identical 16-story buildings,
the largest public housing project in the country), ensuring the projects
would be segregated.
Clory Bryant remembers that when she first moved into the Cabrini
Green projects, it was home to school teachers, policemen and secretaries
and she kept the door open at night. But new Housing Authority income
ceilings soon forced out anyone who made more than a minimal income
and within a few years the projects became known as warehouses for
those without jobs and education.
QUESTION: Why didn’t Chicago and other municipalities scatter public
low-cost housing throughout the city? How did the projects end up
as warehouses for the poor?
QUESTION: What, if anything, should government do to provide adequate
low-cost housing today?
10. DEINDUSTRIALIZATION AND URBAN DECAY
Thanks to the strength of labor unions and a growing economy, manufacturing
jobs enabled semi-skilled workers without much education to make decent
wages in the post-War economy. But in a cruel irony, just as African
Americans finally inched open the doors of opportunity, many Northern
mills, stockyards, and factories began to move to the South, to the
Third World, or shut down altogether. Between 1965 and 1990, Chicago
lost more than half its manufacturing jobs. Many white Chicagoans
left the city, and after the passage of the 1960s civil rights laws
made it easier to find housing, many middle class African Americans
did too. Today, opportunities for under-educated urban workers are
limited mostly to low-wage service and health jobs, such as restaurant
worker, clerk, custodian, maid, nurse’s aid, and the fastest growing
job of all, security guard.
QUESTION: Why did Chicago’s loss of manufacturing jobs so disproportionately
hurt African Americans? What kind of economic opportunities are there
for young people in the inner city today?
QUESTION: Do you think the young people at the end of the film who
wanted to leave Chicago will do better elsewhere?
11. THE CONTINUING BOND WITH THE SOUTH
Visits to the South - like the Greenville Travel Club’s trip in Goin’
to Chicago - still play a part in African American life.
Many African American kids go down home during summer vacation and
stay with relatives. Large family reunions are common. The relationships
between many urban dwelling African Americans and their relatives
who stayed behind remain strong. For many migrants, the move North
was a mixed blessing. The North offered new opportunities but also
new problems. Today, an increasing number of African Americans are
returning to the South in a reverse migration.
QUESTION: The story of the Greenville Travel Club’s annual reunion
runs as a thread throughout Goin’ to Chicago. Why
do you think the filmmaker attached so much importance to this event?
To what extent do you think black urban life is still influenced by
its southern rural roots?
QUESTION: How did their rural southern roots help and hinder African
Americans make the transition to an urban, industrialized world?
IV. APPLYING INSIGHTS: FOLLOW-UP PROJECTS
A. Sharecropping Family Discussion: "Should
We or Shouldn't We Move North?" (dialogue writing)
* To explore the decision to move.
* Handout #3, Mississippi Delta Sharecropper Profile.
Distribute handout #3 and ask students to transport themselves back
in time and compose a dialogue between a troubled sharecropping couple
as they debate whether to stay in Mississippi or head North.
B. Comparative Immigrant Experiences
* Explore how the African American migration resembles and differs
from other migrations.
* Learn how to interview primary sources.
* Handout #4: Possible Interview Questions
Taking oral histories might seem like a cliche lesson by now, but
in this case we are hoping to highlight the differences and similarities
between African Americans who moved North, traditional European immigrants,
and new immigrants from Asia, Africa and Latin America.
Step 1: Divide the class into groups of two or three and have each
group interview an elder who immigrated here from a foreign country
or an African American elder who moved here from the South. At least
25% of the class should be assigned to African Americans, particularly
if your school is predominantly white (in Southern schools, find African
American elders with close family who migrated North). Mix students
racially or assign them a racial or ethnic group other than their
own to research. Students should not be allowed to interview their
own family members. If students can’t find an immigrant (e.g. an Italian
who arrived here early in the century), they should locate the child
of an immigrant who can speak knowledgeably about his or her parent’s
Students should take detailed notes or tape the interview. Possible
areas of inquiry are suggested on Handout #4
Step 2: Have the students transcribe the interview or, better, adapt
it into a narrative: The Story of a First Generation [your town, e.g.
Chicagoan]. Groups should read their reports to the class. During
discussion, highlight comparisons between the different migration
experiences, especially with respect to the availability of support
networks and other aids and obstacles to success (e.g. discrimination,
jobs, education, etc.).
Step 3: After reading and discussing the various histories, ask
students to write a paper examining the similarities and differences
between the African American Post-War migrant experience and the immigrant
experience of one other ethnic group.
C. Economic Opportunity Then and Now
(an essay )
* To examine the changing economy for today’s inner-city youth.
* To explore the shifting patterns of racism.
* To consider whether ghetto culture empowers, disables, or both.
Have students write an analytical essay comparing the options available
to African American youth living in Chicago in the 1950s with the
opportunities open to young residents of the inner city today. What
has changed - for better and for worse? Be specific. Take into account
employment opportunities, education, housing, discrimination, and
the social and cultural environment. Which are the most critical factors?
D. The Impact of the Migration
Objectives: To use critical thinking skills to analyze the long-
term consequences of the migration.
Ask students to write a two-part analytical essay: How did the migrants
themselves change as a result of their move north, and how did their
move north leave its mark on the nation? Be certain to discuss culture,
the economy, and politics.
E. Mapping Your Towns Demographic Changes
(census research )
* Introduce students to demographic research and the U.S. Census.
* Learn how to analyze, collate, and map statistical data.
* Census tract maps of your city or region and your city or county’s
Census of Population and Housing for 1970 and 1990 (both usually available
in your public library, planning department, or registrar of voters;
data also available from the Census on CD ROM and on the World Wide
Web at http://www.USCensus/gov.html).
* Colored pencils; transparencies (if available); overhead projector.
Step 1: Census tract research is challenging but can be very exciting.
Tell students they are going to make color-coded maps which will provide
a snapshot of the demographic changes in their own community between
1970 and 1990. Pass out copies of local census tract maps to students.
Explain what a census and a census tract is. If possible, introduce
students to a copy of the 1990 Census. Explain how to use the critical
Table Finding Guide to track down desired demographic information
in the Census. (Note: two recommended computer programs for demographic
research are Atlas GIS for Macs and MapInfo for PCs.)
Step 2: Pair students up and assign each pair their own census category
to research and map. They must research the assigned data for both
1970 and 1990 and then find a way to translate the data onto their
census tract map. A number of categories are listed below but many
others are possible, even information like means of transportation
to work. Check the Census first.
* Population by White, Black, American Indian, Asian or Pacific
Islander, and Hispanic Origin (choose significant categories for your
* By Per Capita Family Income.
* By Percentage of Families Below the Poverty Level.
* By selected occupational categories (possibilities include the following):
- 1: Executive, administrative and managerial; professional specialty.
- 2: Protective services; services; private household services.
- 3: Construction
- 4: Manufacturing
- 5: Wholesale and retail trade
- 6: Finance, insurance and real estate.
* Educational Attainment: By percentage with bachelor degrees or higher.
* Value of owner-occupied housing.
The Census provides statistics for each category by census tract.
Tell students to go to the public library or local planning commission
to use the Census (unless you have the CD-ROM or an the internet connection).
The real challenge for students will be how to slice and dice the
data and color-code it on their census tract maps so it makes sense.
For example, take the Population by white category. The Census provides
absolute numbers of white residents in each census tract. Students
will first have to translate these numbers into percentages of total
inhabitants and then decide which percentage groupings yield a meaningful
picture of the town, e.g. color green: tracts with 0-20% white population;
color blue: tracts with 21-40% white population; and so on. Each group
of students should produce two maps, one for 1970 data and one for
1990 data. If possible, have students trace their maps onto transparencies
rather than paper.
(Note: large cities contain too many census tracts to assign the
whole city; break the city into regions. Your local planning commission
may even have Census data collated by neighborhood). Similarly, there
are not enough tracts in a small town for a useful exercise; in that
case, assign the larger region.)
Step 3: Hang the completed, color-coded maps around the room. Give
students time to examine the maps and note how neighborhoods have
changed over the 20 year period. It’s exciting for students as they
suddenly begin to discern trends and patterns, particularly if the
data’s been mapped onto transparencies which can be layered to make
comparisons easier. Have each student group present their maps to
the class (use an overhead projector if possible) and discuss their
F. Your City Council Debates Public Housing
* To explore a community’s response to proposed public housing.
* To examine how competing special interests influence public policy.
* Handout #5: the Proposed Bond Issue
(Note that this is an elaborate simulation, most appropriate for
classes doing a unit on urban problems or researching their own community).
It is 1960 and your town has decided it needs more public housing
(note that public housing is not being built today; all financial
figures are in 1995 dollars). One of the City Council members has
offered a resolution quoted in Handout #5.
The City Council is holding a hearing to take testimony about the
proposed housing, debate the resolution, consider amendments, and,
finally, hold a vote. Giving testimony are five people with an interest
in the project:
* A real estate developer planning a private, upper middle class
housing development nearby the proposed project.
* A prospective tenant: A 28 year-old waitress with three kids making
$22,000 a year currently living with her parents because she can’t
afford to rent her own place on her wages.
* The president of the local Chamber of Commerce representing the
* A community activist representing an organization advocating rent
control and tenants rights.
* Chair of the local Homeowners’ Association.
Assign these roles to five students. Describe their roles and ask
them to prepare three minutes of persuasive testimony about the proposed
legislation. Their testimony should argue persuasively for or against
one or more of the following points of contention from the point of
view of their character’s immediate self- interest:
* Support or oppose the number of units (100) of low-cost apartments
to be built.
* Support the location of the development or propose alternative addresses.
* Support building the hi-rise or suggest alternatives, including
a low-rise housing development, or scattering the housing on a number
of small sites throughout the city.
* Support the conditions for accepting tenants or suggest alternative
screens, such as changing the income ceilings, instituting additional
tenant screening procedures (e.g. denying tenancy to people with arrest
records), setting aside a specific number of units for people of different
races to ensure integration, and so on.
The other students should play City Council members. One student
can be assigned the role of City Council President. The other Council
members, when recognized by the President, should question those testifying
and make comments. After all the testimony is given, Council members
should debate the proposal, offer amendments based on the testimony,
and, finally, take a vote on the motions (following Roberts Rules).
(Note: Feel free to adjust the size of the proposed housing development
up or down so it is large-scale yet reasonable for your town or city.
Select an address in a poor, industrial, or isolated section of your
town - or alternatively, in a wealthy section. It will be helpful
if you hang a large map of your town or city to which students can
refer during the hearing)
Students should be familiar with Roberts Rules of Order. Students
should also be able to define the following terms:
Real estate developer
Adero, Malaika, ed. Up South: Stories, Studies and letters
of This Century's Black Migrations (New Press, 1993)
Drake, St. Clair and Henry Cayton, Black Metropolis: A Study
of Negro Life in a Northern City (Harper & Row, 1962)
Hirsch, Arnold R., Making the Second Ghetto: Race and Housing
in Chicago 1940-1960 (Cambridge University Press, 1983)
Lemann, Nicholas, The Promised Land (Alfred A. Knopf,
Moody, Anne, Coming of Age in Mississippi (Dial Press,
Philpott, Thomas Lee, The Slum and the Ghetto: Neighborhood
Deterioration and Middle-Class Reform (Oxford University
Spear, Allan, Black Chicago: The Making of a Northern Ghetto
(University of Chicago Press, 1967)
Travis, Dempsey, Autobiography of Black Chicago (Urban
Research Institute, 1971)
Walker, Margaret, Jubilee (Houghton Mifflin, 1966)
Wright, Richard, Black Boy (Harer Perennial, 1993)
______________, Native Son (Harper & Row, 1966)
______________, 12 Million Black Voices (Viking Press,
Handout #1: Genealogical Chart
Ancestor who first settled in present area
Racial or ethnic background:
Year of arrival:
Reason for migrating
Prior Generation ancestor
Racial or ethnic background:
Reasons for migrating
Prior Generation ancestor
Racial or ethnic background:
Reasons for migrating
Prior Generation ancestor
Racial or ethnic background:
Reasons for migrating
Handout #2: Characters and Situations
Mildred Fleming - As a child, in the kitchen cooking beans for her
family’s dinner - again - after returning from school without having
eaten all day...
MaeBertha Carter or Cliff Duwell or Koko Taylor - Working in the
fields chopping cotton as kids...
Lev Wills - Upon being told he’d have to go around to the back to
Koko Taylor - Heading North on the Greyhound at age 18 with her
new husband and no money, just a box of Ritz crackers...
John Henry Davis - Hitchiking to Chicago with $2 in his pocket...
Unita Blackwell - Watching many of her friends and family leave
the Delta but deciding to stay behind...
Koko Taylor - Getting off the Greyhound upon arriving in Chicago
for the first time...
John Wiley - About to start his last day on the job after 25 years
heading off to work in the Sears Roebuck mail room from 7:30 until
3:00 and then to an 8-hour shift in the Post Office...
Timuel Black - Upon returning home to Chicago after fighting against
Hitler in World War II...
Christine Houston - Standing in her kitchen three days after moving
into a white neighborhood when a rock crashes through her window followed
by a shotgun blast...
Alvin Robertson - At age 52, with 30 years in the steel mill, when
told the company will shut the mill down...
Handout #3: Mississippi Delta Sharecropper Profile
Percy and Ruby, both twenty-five years old, are a black sharecropping
couple living outside Greenville, Mississippi in 1948. They’re married
with three kids. Tomorrow’s an important day: it’s the settle where
they will finally be given their share of the crop for the year’s
work. But they’re worried. With all the interest charges, they didn’t
even clear their debt last year. Furthermore, there’s talk that the
plantation owner is going to buy one of those new mechanical cotton
pickers. Percy and Ruby are very anxious about their future. They’re
wondering whether they should stay in Greenville where they’ve lived
their entire lives and continue to pick cotton in the hope they’ll
be able to get far enough ahead to buy their own plot of land, or
head north and take their chances in Chicago as their cousin Henry
did last year. After putting the kids to bed Percy and Ruby sit down
to consider their options, reflecting upon the advantages and disadvantages
of each choice...
Handout #4: Possible Interview Questions
* Why did you (or your parent) decide to leave home and move here?
What pushed you away from your home? What pulled you here? Was it
a difficult decision?
* Why did you choose the community to move to that you did? How
did you get there? What did you bring with you? How much money did
* What kind of hopes and expectations did you have? Did they come
* How did you feel the day you arrived? Where did you sleep your
first few nights? How did you deal with the anxiety?
* What type of neighborhood did you first settle in? Why?
* What kind of support network did you find here? Friends or relatives
from home? A church or synagogue? An ethnic bank, lending institution,
or burial society? Social services?
* Was it hard to find a job? What kind of jobs did you first get?
How did you find them? What other opportunities opened to you over
Handout #5: Proposed Bond Issue
"Resolved: Our Town shall float a $10 million bond to construct
a 12-floor building containing 100 units of below-market rate 5-room
apartments. Said building shall be located at [choose a local address].
Each unit in said building shall be reserved for tenants with family
incomes less than $20,000. Once a family's income rises above $30,000,
the family shall vacate the premises."
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