Lesson Plans

Early Twentieth Century

Harlem Renaissance

Author: Alice Arnold, Elizabeth Burgstaller, and Danylle Kavanagh

School: Belmont Ridge Middle

Grade Level: 7th

Time Estimated: 2-3 days

Historical Background

In 1910, seven million out of the eight million African Americans living in the United States resided in the South. But over the next fifteen years, more than one-tenth of the country's black population would voluntarily move north.

African Americans migrated to escape widespread racism in the South, to seek better employment opportunities in industrial cities, to get a better education for their children, and to pursue what was perceived as a better life in the north. This spurred a massive increase in African American communities in northern cities. For example, in the decade between 1910 and 1920, New York’s black population rose by 66 percent. This widespread migration is historically known as the Great Migration. This period marks the transition for many African Americans from lifestyles as rural farmers to urban industrial workers.

The 1920’s also saw the emergence of the New Negro Movement, later called the Harlem Renaissance, as it was centered around the Harlem district of New York City. African Americans explored new opportunities for intellectual and social freedom which allowed them to pursue various forms of artistic expression. The Harlem Renaissance was the emergence of African-American-centered art which was expressed through paintings, music, dance, theater, and literature. These artists took some of their inspiration from the lives and struggles of the newcomers that had left their lives in the South to migrate to the North.

Artists such as Jacob Lawrence captured African American life during the 1920’s in his series of paintings entitled The Great Migration. Famous musicians of the era including Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, and Bessie Smith were experimenting with a new form of music known as Jazz. Authors such as Langston Hughes created an impressive body of new literature dealing with the African American experience and perspective.

The Harlem Renaissance served to solidify and enhance the African American intellectual community’s own identity. It also began to bring expressions of the African American experience and viewpoint into the larger culture. In Harlem, black artists began to feel that their work was valuable and their voices were heard.


Objectives

It is essential for students to understand that the Great Migration and the Harlem Renaissance were critical events in the lives of African Americans. Through an interactive storytelling visual discovery and an in-depth analysis of primary source paintings and poems, students will know the hardships that African Americans faced, the reasons for the Great Migration, the vision and accomplishments of the Harlem Renaissance. The interactive lecture uses a combination of a "storybook" of Jacob Lawrence paintings depicting the Great Migration. During the “story,” students will analyze the paintings and discover what life was like for African Americans in the early twentieth century. They will be able to reflect on these understandings by reading poetry by Langston Hughes and listening to music by Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Bessie Smith. Finally, they will analyze primary source paintings, music, and poetry from the Harlem Renaissance in order to understand the vision and accomplishment of the movement.

Students will understand:

  1. African Americans experienced discrimination, violence, and hardship during the early twentieth century, but continued to draw upon their unique heritage and culture for strength, unity, and hope for a better life.

Students will know:

  1. Key terms and figures: Great Migration, Harlem Renaissance, Jacob Lawrence, Langston Hughes, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Bessie Smith.

Students will be able to:

  1. Recall what they learned about Immigration and why immigrants came to America and compare these reasons to the Great Migration and the reasons why African Americans chose to leave the South in hopes for new opportunities and a better life in the North (Push/Pull)
  2. Analyze data on the movement of people north
  3. Understand the experiences of African Americans moving to the north through the analysis of paintings
  4. Analyze music and poems from the Harlem Renaissance, reflecting on how they exemplify the vision and purpose of the Harlem Renaissance

SOL Skills

USII.1a: Analyze and interpret primary sources to increase understanding of events and life in U.S. history from 1877-present

USII.1d: Interpret ideas and events from different historical perspectives

SOL Content

USII.5b: The student will demonstrate knowledge of the social, economic, and technological changes of the early twentieth century by describing the social changes that took place including the Great Migration.

USII.5c: The student will demonstrate knowledge of the social, economic, and technological changes of the early twentieth century by examining art, literature, and music from the 1920's and 1930's, emphasizing Jacob Lawrence, Langston Hughes, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, and Bessie Smith and including the Harlem Renaissance.


Materials

Day 1

Day 2 (may need Day 3 for students to work in stations)

    Primary Sources: Create 5 stations in the classroom with the following items

  • Station 1 will need:
    CD player with ear phones for the students
    CD with the song “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)” by Duke Ellington
  • Station 2 will need:
    CD player with ear phones for the students
    CD with the song “Heebie Jeebies” by Louis Armstrong
  • Station 3 will need:
    CD player with ear phones for the students
    CD with the song “Nobody Knows You when You’re Down and Out” by Bessie Smith
  • Station 4 will need:
    Copies of the poem entitled, "I, too, Sing America" by Langston Hughes
  • Station 5 will need:
    Copies of the poem entitled, "Democracy" by Langston Hughes


Procedures

Day 1

Today’s Essential Question: Why did African Americans migrate to northern cities?

  1. Anticipatory Set: What does migration mean? Why do people migrate?
      Continue to ask questions such as:
      Why would your family migrate?
      What would happen if your family had to migrate?
  2. Before the lesson: Assess students' prior knowledge. Set the stage for students to review what was happening in the south as well as the north. Review facts such as:
    • Reconstruction Amendments (13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments)
    • Jim Crow – segregation and voting restrictions
    • Push/Pull factors. This could also be used as a way to review immigration. Connect immigration into our country with migration within our country.
    • People leave for the same reasons
    • Industrialization was creating jobs in the north which was attracting people there
    • World War I causing factories to hire people they had not hired before
  3. Direct instruction:
    • Read and discuss Handout: The Great Migration. This gives students a brief definition of the Great Migration.
    • The notes include two migrant stories that should be read and discussed. Ask questions such as:
      • According to the quotes, what are the push factors being described? Why is this migrant leaving?
      • According to the quotes, what are the pull factors being described? Why is this migrant going to the north?
    • Explain the positive and negative signs associated with the statistics on the chart. Then, ask students to make a analytical statement about the information on the chart. They should tell you that all the southern states are losing population and all the northern states are gaining population.
  4. Guided Practice: Have students complete Handout 2: The Great Migration questions. Circulate to provide formative feedback while students are working.
  5. Independent Practice: Students should work on Handout 3 and Handout 4. Students are to complete the map work and answer the questions independently. This can be done for homework.
  6. Primary source activity: Visual discovery read-aloud
    • Proceed through the Jacob Lawrence Great Migration series, using the following website - http://www.columbia.edu/itc/history/odonnell/w1010/edit/migration/migration.html or the book.
    • Have the students tell the story of the Great Migration as you proceed through his series of paintings. Encourage students to include ideas such as push/pull factors when they see them. This is another way of assessing their knowledge of what they already know.
    • Discuss art as a type of primary source. Ask such questions as: point of view, audience, message, and people’s reactions to the paintings. How was Lawrence's work influenced by the Harlem Renaissance?
  7. Assessment: Exit Ticket
    • Have students write a paragraph to answer the following question: Explain why African Americans migrated to northern cities. Be sure to include push/pull factors. Include other details, such as population statistics, to add clarity to your response.

Day 2

Today's Essential Question: How did the Harlem Renaissance influence American life?

  1. Anticipatory Set: Play a recording of Duke Ellington’s “Take The A Train” by Billy Strayhorn for the Duke Ellington Orchestra. (Lyrics available in the Harlem Renaissance Powerpoint). This song is about how something is going on in Harlem, how people want to get to Sugar Hill, a wealthy residential area of Harlem and how they need to take the train there quickly. Don’t give away too much at this point! Ask questions such as:
    • What is the tone or mood of this recording?
    • Why do you think the original recording was made and for what audience?
    • List two things in this sound recording that tell you about life in the United States at the time.
  2. Direct Instruction:
    • Proceed through the Harlem Renaissance Powerpoint explaining facts about what the Harlem Renaissance was, where Harlem is located, how the Harlem Renaissance connects to the Great Migration, and how it impacted history.
    • Now that students have more background information, play “Take The A Train” again to see if their analysis has developed in any way. Students should recognize some of the items mentioned above, but may also discuss the presence of mass transportation, among others.
    • Continue through the powerpoint introducing students to the key SOL people of the Harlem Renaissance. Students should take notes on Handout 5: The Harlem Renaissance Notes. Slides in powerpoint correspond to graphically organized notes. This presentation also includes a review of Jacob Lawrence from the previous day.
  3. Primary source activity: 5 stations
    • Refer to materials list for room set-up prior to beginning the lesson.
    • Distribute students in five groups.
    • Explain what students will be doing at each station (you may want to include a folder with specific directions at each station). Students will either be listening to songs or reading poetry. Set a timer for the amount of time you want students to have at each station.
    • Students should complete Handout 6: Harlem Renaissance Activity Notes for each station. Analysis questions are similar to those asked in the anticipatory sets. Help students draw out key ideas by encouraging them to listen to the lyrics and really trying to get a sense of the mood of each piece. Also encourage students to read the poetry individually and then together.
    • Rotate around the classroom till all five stations have been completed.
    • After students have completed the stations, discuss their responses as a whole group. How did different groups interpret pieces differently? Were all groups in agreement? Assess what students have learned by this point about the Harlem Renaissance. What do all the works have in common? If students have not already mentioned this, reinforce the idea that artists of the Harlem Renaissance were creating art by reflecting on what it was really like to be black in America at this time (realistic portrayals).
  4. Assessment: Exit Ticket
    • Have students write answers to the questions on the last slide of the Harlem Renaissance Powerpoint which features the painting entitled “Ascent from Ethiopia” by Louis Mailou Jones.

Assessment

Day 1: Exit Ticket

Have students write a paragraph to answer the following question:
Explain why African Americans migrated to northern cities. Be sure to include push/pull factors. Include other details, such as population statistics, to add clarity to your response.

Day 2: Exit Ticket

Have students write answers to the questions on the last slide of the Harlem Renaissance Powerpoint which features the painting entitled “Ascent from Ethiopia” by Louis Mailou Jones.


References: Web

The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture
http://www.inmotionaame.org

    This website is an incredible source of both primary and secondary information. The site is very well organized and user friendly. Other historical information about the time period as well as details about Lawrence and Hughes themselves were found on this site. This is also where the photographs for the PowerPoint were found.

The Poetry Archive
http://www.poetryarchive.org

    More poetry than one can imagine! It provides not only the poem, a recording, as well as an analysis of the poems. This website was used for the Langston Hughes poetry.

References: Books & Media

Lawrence, Jacob. The Great Migration. New York: Harper Collins Children’s Books, 1993.

    Although the website of his collection was used in this lesson, the book is a simple picture book with great background information and descriptions of each pictures. The book could be used as the visual with the class. Even older students enjoy "story time."

Foner, Eric and John A. Garrety, editors. The Reader's Companion to American History. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1991.

    This is a reference book used to give general background information on the Great Migration and the Harlem Renaissance.

The American Journey. New York: Glencoe McGraw-Hill, 2003.

    This is a textbook used to give general background information on the Great Migration and the Harlem Renaissance.