Chicago Defender News Literacy Curriculum Lesson 2 - The Great Migration

CNL News Lesson

Lesson Outline

Note:  Parts of this lesson may require a subscription to an online database of historial newspapers, including the Chicago Defender. Your local library, such as the Chicago Public Library may offer online access to these articles with the use of your library card number. 

Written by:  

Myiti Sengstacke, African American Studies Instructor
City Colleges of Chicago, Kennedy-King College

Michelle R. Yisrael, Reading, English & Literature
City Colleges of Chicago, Kennedy-King College



To examine The Great Migration using news literacy vocabulary and analyze the information is so powerful, who controls it, and the unimaginable lengths people take to spread it.   

Essential Question:  

What was the Chicago Defender’s role in pulling southern migrants to the northern states?  


Students will be able to…

  • analyze news articles and historical letters to determine push/pull movements of African Americans from the south to north beginning in WWI until the Great Depression.
  • evaluate push/pull forces.
  • evaluate Chicago Defender pictures and editorial cartoons.
  • analyze the lasting impact The Great Migration had on small communities and cities both in the South and the North.
  • demonstrate critical thinking and civic engagement.

News Literacy terms to be incorporated:

  • Alerts
  • Diverts
  • Connects

Introducing the Lesson:

The Great Migration is a pivotal  time in United States history.  It is a time when African Americans from the rural South migrated to the urban North, then to cities in the West.  This migration occurred between 1915 - 1960.  Blacks were pushed out of the South due to lynchings, an unfair legal system, inequality in education, and denial of suffrage. The Great Migration helped set the stage for the Civil Rights Movement.  It is one of the largest internal movements and forever changed the scope of the United States. The Defender was first published in 1910, but it flourished during the Great Migration.  Included in its pages were articles and editorials which tried to convince its oppressed southern readers to move north.  Robert Sengstacke Abbot, founder,  even printed copies of train schedules and job listings to entice southern blacks to relocate. Once the papers were transported to the south, Blacks passed them from one person to the others and read them aloud in meetings or during church and family gatherings.  Sometimes there were up to five people who got their hands on one paper.  


News articles on The Great Migration from the Chicago Defender archives:

  • Call Northern Migration a Menace - The Chicago Defender (Big Weekend Edition) (1905-1966); Jun 7, 1919; pg 4

  • NORTHERN DRIVE TO START - The Chicago Defender (Big Weekend Edition) (1905-1966); Feb 10, 1917; pg 3

  • Politics Feels Impact Of Negroes' Migration - The Chicago Defender (National edition) (1921-1967); Apr 2, 1960; pg 11

  • Wave Of Migration To Chicago Comes To End - General, Lloyd - The Chicago Defender (National edition) (1921-1967); Dec 29, 1962; pg 11

  • BAPTISTS ARE CHECKING UP ON MIGRATION: Whites of Faith Are Being Outnumbered - The Chicago Defender (National edition) (1921-1967); Nov 27, 1926; pg A1

  • THE NEGRO IN THE NORTH - The Chicago Defender (National edition) (1921-1967); Dec 13, 1930; pg 12

  • SOUTH SAYS NO, NORTH SAYS YES ABOUT MIGRATION: Whites Disagree on ... - The Chicago Defender (National edition) (1921-1967); May 26, 1923; pg 13

  • Migration Of Workers Improves Race Relations, North And South(2): ONE OF THE ADVANTAGES - BARNETT, Albert - The Chicago Defender (National edition) (1921-1967); Nov 22, 1952; pg 11

Discussion Questions:

  • What is sharecropping?
  • How did sharecropping stop African Americans from improving the conditions of their life?
  • What economic reasons led African Americans to move from the South to the North
  • How did these massive movements of people impact cities and suburbs?
  • What types (level) of jobs did African Americans have in the 1930’s?

Videos to link the lesson:



Write an Essay:

Choose one topic. Construct  a 3-part parallel thesis statement that explains the push/pull forces, then write a well‐developed 5-paragraph  essay supporting the thesis statement with specific details, examples,. and stories about the Great Migration.. Your essay should include an introduction, support paragraphs and conclusion.  In your essay discuss whether the Great Migration helped to improve the conditions for African Americans in America.

Collaboration:, & Video Presentation

Students will select groups of 3-5 students and write a short skit about the Great Migration using stories from the Chicago Defender.  Perform the skit, video tape it, and upload your group video to YouTube or Vimeo for viewing.  (Groups can decide to make the video public or private).