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Ask students if they know who is pictured in this photograph. After they’ve responded, ask what this man was famous for.
To the teacher: Students will often know this is Jackie Robinson, but some might say that Robinson was famous for being the first Black baseball player, rather than the first African American in the Major Leagues.
Tell students that people commonly think Jackie Robinson was the first African American baseball player, but that there were actually thousands of African American baseball players before him, many of whom played in what was called the Negro Leagues. Explain that what set Jackie apart was that he was the first Black professional baseball player to break the color barrier, leaving the Negro Leagues to join the Major Leagues, which up until then accepted only white players.
Inform students that in this lesson they’ll be learning about the Negro Leagues and the eventual desegregation of Major League Baseball.
Display the following map, Population Density of African Americans, 1900, on a screen and give all students a chance to consider its content.
Questions for Students:
- Based on the map, which region was home to the majority of African Americans in 1900?
- Why do you think so many African Americans lived in the southern part of the country around that time?
To the teacher: Since the early 17th Century, well before the founding of the United States, the slave trade forcibly brought Africans to colonial America and later to all of the 13 original colonies as laborers, largely for cotton and tobacco farming. When the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 was issued, it outlawed slavery only in Confederate states. Since Confederate states refused to follow the laws and rules of the United States, the proclamation did not bring freedom to the many African Americans living in the Confederacy until after the war. The Emancipation Proclamation also did not free enslaved Africans who lived in U.S. states such as New Jersey, Maryland, or Missouri. The 13th Amendment to the Constitution ended slavery in 1864.
Pull up the following map, African American Migration, 1915-1970, and display it on the screen.
This map represents the internal population movements known as the Great Migration, which began around 1915. What do you think was happening during the Great Migration, and why do you believe it was significant in U.S. history?
To the teacher: The Great Migration is considered to be the largest internal migration in U.S. history. It changed the racial map of the United States and provided a backdrop for the wider changes associated with the struggle for civil rights. It should be noted that the Great Migration spread the political, economic and social skills and talents of 6,000,000 African Americans to the North, Midwest and Western areas of the country.
Showing your students the map and the graph that follow, explain that during the Great Migration six million African Americans moved out of the American South to parts of the North and the West Coast, one of the largest demographic regional shifts in American history. Inform them that in 1920, when Jackie Robinson was one year old, he moved with his family from rural Georgia to the Los Angeles area in California.
To the teacher: Point to both on the map.
Questions for Students:
- Looking at the graph, can you identify the years in which the greatest population shifts took place?
- What do you think were some of the factors that prompted the Great Migration’s mass relocation?
- Where have you seen examples of Jim Crow laws and how were they communicated?
To the teacher: Encourage a general discussion of post-slavery conditions. Students may mention such driving forces as the hardships relating to Jim Crow laws, brutal violence that included lynchings and the sharecropping system.
- Has anybody heard of the Jim Crow laws before?
To the teacher: Be sure students grasp that Jim Crow laws enforced white supremacy and segregation. They were designed to harm African Americans and all non-Christian whites. They were enforced to elevate one group and suppress the rights of all other groups of people.
- Although Jim Crow laws were present nationally, they were harsher and more rigorously enforced in the South. How might this have played a factor in the Great Migration?
Have students look at examples of Jim Crow laws and the related photographs. Ask them to answer the questions that follow.
To the teacher: Inform your students that these examples of Jim Crow laws are disturbing. Establish Ground Rules for discussing this sensitive material. Ask your students what they feel are the actions and behaviors that let them know the classroom is a safe place to share their thoughts. Make sure that your students all agree on these rules before continuing with the sensitive material.
Jim Crow Laws By State:
The marriage of a person of Caucasian blood with a Negro shall be null and void. (Florida)
All persons licensed to operate a restaurant shall serve either white people exclusively or colored people exclusively and shall not sell to the two races within the same room or serve the two races anywhere under the same license. (Georgia)
White motorists have the right of way at all intersections. (Alabama)
…it shall be unlawful for any amateur colored baseball team to play baseball in any vacant lot or baseball diamond within two blocks of any playground devoted to the white race. (Georgia)
Books shall not be interchangeable between the white and colored schools, but shall continue to be used by the race first using them. (North Carolina)
Questions for Students:
- How might the Jim Crow laws have affected African American life in the South?
- In what ways do the Jim Crow laws help explain the scale and duration of the Great Migration?
- How do you think the hardships of Jim Crow experiences in the South led African Americans to harbor dreams about a better life in the Northern, Midwest and Western states?
Making Connections: Have you heard any stories from your parents or grandparents, family friends or neighbors about racism or prejudice in earlier decades? How was everyday life different for people depending on the color of their skin? What examples of prejudice or segregation do you see in the present day? Have you ever experienced segregation or prejudice in your own life?
Primary Source Activity: Have students form small groups and give them Handout #1. Ask each group to answer the questions at the end of the Handout.
Making Connections: Can you think of any present day examples of domestic or international migration involving people in search of a better life? What are the factors driving such migrations? Are things like living conditions, wages and job opportunities still factors in these modern examples? Do you think much has changed over the last century in that regard?