Website Review

In Motion: The African-American Migration Project

In Motion: The African-American Migration Project portrays the history of 13 defining migrations that formed and transformed African Americans from the 16th century to the present. These themes include such central topics as "The Transatlantic Slave Trade" and "Colonization and Emigration" but also include migrations internal to the United States ("The Northern Migration" and "The Great Migration") and more recent (and often overlooked) movements, such as "Return South Migration" and "Haitian Immigration: 20th Century." The selection of topics itself, presents some interesting revisions to conventional notions of both the narrative of African American history and the constitution of today's African American population. While only a relatively narrow portion of the database addresses the history of children and childhood, the unique source materials available here and the excellent supporting documentation collected at the site still make it an attractive option for course adaptation.

Produced by The New York Public Library's Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, the database comprises more than 16,500 pages of texts, 8,300 illustrations, and over 60 maps. Substantial contextual information and teaching resources are available for each migration. These include a narrative, about 100 illustrations, from 20 to 40 research resources (essays, books, articles, and manuscripts), maps, and well thought-out lesson plans for teachers. Most of the latter are aimed at the high school level, but could be adapted to other levels. A bibliography and list of related web sites is also supplied for each migration, and a Glossary, located on the Educational Materials page, contains encyclopedic explanations of various key terms in African American history. The site is visually attractive and generally well organized.

Finding material relating specifically to children at this site, however, is not straight forward. The Source Materials "search" function did not work any of the times this reviewer attempted to use it. Searching for "children" using the search function from the site's home page produces a list of those subsections of the site in which the term appears. From there, users can locate "Migration References," "Images" (there are nearly 700 images), "Texts" (over 200, including both primary and secondary sources), "Educational Materials," or "Glossary Terms" involving children, (although with regard to the Texts in particular, it is not always evident where the material addressing children's history is located.) Teachers could also direct students directly to those sections treating family life in particular: "Family Matters" (Return South Migration), "Family Life and the Second Generation" (Haitian Immigration), "Family Life: Continuity and Change" (African Immigration).

Once located, viewers can access materials ranging from tables documenting the proportion of children among enslaved Africans who crossed the Atlantic, to post-Civil war era letters written by former slaves searching for children who had been taken from them, to advertisements for "The Crisis," a periodical edited by W.E. DuBois addressing African-American lives in the early 20th century. As these sources suggest, although the site purports to move the discussion of African-American history beyond an exclusive concentration on the history of slavery, the bulk of the documentation available here does deal with the legacy of the slave trade.

While it is a little challenging to locate material on children at the site, the primary sources and supporting materials sometimes allow students and teachers to see how children themselves changed the course of African American history. Children, for instance, created an important bond between different branches of African American families, northern-born children moved south to be cared for by, and later to care for, their grandparents. Instructors might use the materials available at this site to create exercises dealing with the different migrations treated here. For instance, students could locate and analyze material dealing with children's experiences in two of the different migrations: If they played transformative roles for kin networks during the Great Migration northward and in its aftermath, what was children's comparative impact during Africans' initial migration to America? What factors might explain the differences?

How to Cite This Source

"In Motion: The African-American Migration Project," in Children and Youth in History, Item #391, http://chnm.gmu.edu/cyh/items/show/391 (accessed October 25, 2014).

In Motion: The African-American Migration Project portrays the history of 13 defining migrations that formed and transformed African Americans from the 16th century to the present.