Discrimination in the North
One of the primary reasons African Americans left the South was because of extreme discrimination; yet, when they arrived in northern cities across the United States, they were met with a new harsh reality—racism and discrimination existed everywhere. Their new homes were bombed, they did not receive equal treatment, and even members of the black community who had been in northern cities for generations rejected the migrants.
While Southern African Americans had a hard time making inroads in northern cities, there were some bright spots. Many migrants found new communities in churches and organizations, such as the YMCA and YWCA. Organizations like these offered services, including vocational training, and Panel No. 59 portrays a scene of African Americans being able to vote in the North.
Reading about segregation in the South and North, students can identify how migrants experienced discrimination everywhere and create their own artwork in response to discriminatory issues today.
In the Classroom: Langston Hughes Poetry Activity
In the late 1920s, poet Langston Hughes was visiting Paris when he was denied passage on a ship back to the United States because of the color of his skin. Reflecting on the injustice of the experience, Hughes wrote “I, Too” to express his desire to return to the US and be identified as an American regardless of race.
When he writes, “They send me to eat in the kitchen/when company comes,” he is describing a situation in which he feels the pain of separation and discrimination. Ask students to look at other panels in The Migration Series and identify situations where Jacob Lawrence depicts segregation and discrimination. How can students determine which images depict the South or the North? What do they see that gives them clues about the location?
Discrimination still exists all over the country today. Ask students to select a group of people (religious, ethnic, political, etc.) that face discrimination. Students should research that group, their experience, and their response to discrimination. Then, students will synthesize their research by creating a work of art or poem that explores the past and present situation for that group of people.