Kelly O’Brien teaches African American History at The Milton Hersey School in Hershey, Pennsylvania. This year, her class once again studied the Great Migration and used the Phillips’s Jacob Lawrence: The Migration Series website as a resource, including imagining what Panel 61 of the series would look like. Explore their artworks and read about how Ms. O’Brien’s class learned from Lawrence’s artwork.
As in recent years, we spent time in a unit in our African American history class on “Migration and Identity” examining the impact of era after Reconstruction where people of color fled the South in search of lives elsewhere. In this particular lesson, we study Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series and the story that the panels tell about the causes and effects of the migration, the hardships, and the resiliency of those who travelled. After our lesson, students are prompted to create the #Panel61 as described on the Phillips’s website. They are given prompts to push them to consider the effects of the Migration including:
• How has the Great Migration had a lasting effect on Americans today?
• How has the Great Migration affected American communities in the present?
• What has been the impact of the Great Migration on race relations in the United States?
• What were/are the positive or negative impacts of the migration on African Americans from the South?
It’s always fascinating to see the various student interpretations of these questions. Some take a more historical standpoint, exhibiting the factors from which migrants fled and the positives effects of their Northern move. Some look more into the modern day. Still even with this standpoint, students have both negative and positive views of what this movement has meant for people of color. For example, some of the Panel61s exhibit ideas of modern politics, some about socioeconomic standing, some regard culture or self-identity. All of the students’ views are valid because these are the experience of people of color across America. All have resulted because of a mass migration that occurred in our recent past. We must always acknowledge how our past shapes our present and the students are keen to do that in their work.