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Jazz in America Student Handout–-Lesson Plan 5-–American History Essay 1

The Great Migration

The great migration of African Americans out of the South into the northern states began slowly after the Civil War but increased dramatically in the early 1900s. Between 1910 and 1940, approximately 1.75 million black Americans migrated north. A number of “push” factors caused them to leave, and various “pull” factors attracted them to northern cities. With the great migration came many new opportunities–and many old problems–for African Americans in cities like Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, and New York. [Link: African-American Mosaic, “Migrations,” www.loc.gov/exhibits/african/afam008.html and “Chicago: Destination for the Great Migration,” www.loc.gov/exhibits/african/afam011.html]

Why did black Americans leave the South and migrate north? As black southerners struggled to survive as farmers on small plots of land they rented from white landowners, a series of agricultural disasters hit them hard in the 1910s: the boll weevil wasted cotton crops across the South, and powerful floods hit farm areas in Alabama and Mississippi. [Link: American Experience, “Fatal Flood,” www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/flood/index.html] Between 1906 and 1921, white mobs attacked black neighborhoods in southern cities and rural areas. Economic hardship and violence convinced many black Americans that they had no future in the segregated South.

Heading north to improve their lives, African Americans flowed out of the South in three great streams between 1910 and 1940. Most blacks who left the South were born after slavery’s end in 1865, and had no personal experience of slavery except what they had heard from parents or grandparents. Blacks from the Carolinas and the upper South headed into Philadelphia and New York, while those from Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi often ended up in Detroit and Cleveland. Others from Louisiana, Arkansas, and parts of Mississippi rode the Illinois Central Railroad to Chicago. Black newspapers in the North encouraged African Americans to move from the South, and railroad car porters aided the new arrivals by exchanging news and information. Because World War I caused labor shortages in northern factories, meat packing plants, and stockyards, black southerners were able to find jobs though competition for them was fierce.

Large numbers of migrants created distinctive black communities throughout the North, where black-owned businesses, medical clinics, banks, insurance companies, social clubs, and churches catered to people’s material and spiritual needs. To help African Americans from rural areas of the South adjust to life in northern cities, organizations like the Urban League helped new arrivals find housing, jobs, medical care, and legal assistance.

Black Americans brought their culture north as well, including the newly flourishing New Orleans music: jazz. Jazz musicians “came north for the same reasons that other people did: failing crops and discrimination in the South.” [Link: Chicago Jazz Archive, “Research Resources on Chicago and the Great Migration,” www.lib.uchicago.edu/e/su/cja/greatmigration.html]

When they began to migrate to Chicago, black southerners were one more minority among many. Chicago’s location as a major railroad hub drew many people, especially ethnic minorities like the Polish, Germans, and Irish who came in search of work. As the number of black Chicagoans swelled, racial tensions increased. A citywide housing shortage forced African Americans to crowd even more densely into an eight square mile area that soon became a segregated black neighborhood. In July 1919, a race riot broke out in Chicago, after black workers were used to replace striking white workers. The governor called out the Illinois National Guard to restore order, but 23 blacks were killed, along with 15 whites. [Link: Britannica, The Chicago Race Riot of 1919 http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/110488/Chicago-Race-Riot-of-1919]

By 1920, more than 75,000 black Americans had moved to New York City’s upper Manhattan area, making Harlem the “Negro Capital of the World.” It was here, more than any other place in America, that African American culture flowered most fully. In numbers large enough to form a black metropolis, African Americans created the Harlem Renaissance through poetry, works of art, stage and theater productions, jazz clubs, and wonderful varieties of music. Shuffle Along, an all-black show written by jazz musicians Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake, opened on Broadway. The first all-black musical to have mainstream success, the show combined jazz music with jazz dancing and launched the careers of such jazz singers as Florence Mills and Josephine Baker. [Link: Jazz Roots, “Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake,” www.jass.com/sissle.html]

Africans in America, even under the severe limitations of slavery, had always created a distinctive culture of their own. But given the freedom and opportunities of northern black communities, African Americans began to fully unleash their creative potential.

Questions to consider:
  1. “Push factors” in migration explain why people leave an area. Why did African Americans, including many jazz musicians, leave the South?
  2. “Pull factors” explain why people decide to settle in another place. Identify the reasons black southerners decided to relocate to northern cities like Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, and New York.
  3. How did the “Great Migration” make life better for African Americans? What new problems did they encounter in the North?
  4. Black southerners carried their culture and their musical traditions with them when they migrated north. Without the “Great Migration” do you think jazz would have become the “nation’s music?” Why or why not?

Jazz in America Student Handout--Lesson Plan V--Jazz Biography 1

Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong, jazz trumpeter, singer, and bandleader (1901-1971)
Biography: www.pbs.org/jazz/biography/artist_id_armstrong_louis.htm

Born the grandson of slaves in 1901, Louis Armstrong grew up in the poverty of segregated New Orleans, Louisiana. But his early years were enriched by music he heard in church and overheard from nearby dance halls and saloons. As a young person, he sang in street quartets for money and learned to play the cornet during his years in an orphanage known at that time as a “colored waifs home.” By the age of 17, Armstrong was playing professionally and attracting notice. At age 21, he moved to Chicago at the invitation of his mentor trumpeter Joe “King” Oliver. In a well-known incident, one radio station refused to announce Armstrong’s name because he was African American. Despite racism he encountered, however, Armstrong was one of the first influential jazz artists to play in integrated bands and in front of integrated audiences. Since segregation continued in New Orleans well into the 1950s, Armstrong had no desire to return there. [Link: Artsedge, http://artsedge.kennedy-center.org/exploring/louis/scrapbook/bio/bio_detail.html] One of the world’s best known and most popular jazz musicians, Armstrong performed throughout the United States and Europe, appeared in films, and recorded extensively. The beloved “Satchmo” continued his live performances until shortly before his death in 1971.

Consider the following as you read the biography of Louis Armstrong:
  1. What kind of music was Louis Armstrong exposed to in his youth?
  2. Describe how his various travels influenced his musical style.
  3. Many prominent jazz musicians during the 1920s to 1940s spent at least part of their careers in Europe. Why do you think they did this?
Jazz in America Student Handout--Lesson Plan V--Jazz Biography 2

Florence Mills (originally Florence Winfrey), jazz singer and dancer (1895-1927)
Biography: http://www.florencemills.com

Florence Mills was born Florence Winfrey in 1895 near Washington, D.C. Newly freed after the Civil War, her parents had been slaves on a Virginia tobacco plantation. After appearing in a stage musical as an eight year-old child, Mills moved to New York with her mother and her two sisters. The three siblings formed a singing group known as the “Mills Trio.” Mills continued on the vaudeville stage until, at age 25, she accepted an invitation to perform in Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle’s Broadway production, Shuffle Along. An accomplished singer and inventive dancer, Mills became a popular hit. She toured in Europe and then returned to New York to star in another musical, Blackbirds. Her quick rise to fame was cut short when she died suddenly of appendicitis in November 1927. Earlier that September, Mills had told an interviewer for The Crisis: “We have been given a chance to prove our worthiness and to feel we are free.” (Quoted by Abiodun Jeyifous, “Black Critics on Black Theatre in America: An Introduction,” The Drama Review: TDR, Sep., 1974, p. 35). An estimated 150,000 people lined the streets of New York to view her funeral procession and mourn her death.

Consider the following questions as you read the biography of Florence Mills:
  1. Why do you think Mills’ mother moved her daughters to New York?
  2. How were Mills’ career opportunities limited before she and other black artists appeared in Shuffle Along?
  3. Mills said, “We have been given a chance to prove our worthiness and to feel we are free.” What does she mean by “we?” Who is she talking about? What does she mean by “free?”
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