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Introduction > Lecture Menu

James Grossman Lecture

In the Spring of 2002, James Grossman, Vice President of Education and Research at the Newberry Library, lectured on using primary source materials for historical research.  His lecture focused on understanding the Great Migration by examining letters of inquiry written by African American southerners searching for opportunities in northern cities during the first World War.

1. Introduction
Ken Warren, Professor of English Language and Literature at the University of Chicago, introduces Jim Grossman.
2. Classroom Resources
Grossman begins his lecture with recommendations for classroom resources for teaching the Great Migration.
3. More Classroom Resources
The work of Jacob Lawrence is also an excellent resource for exploring the Great Migration.
4. Formulating Questions
Grossman prompts the audience to ask the questions raised in their minds when reading the letters.
5. Looking for Answers
Asking questions is the always the first step of the research process.
6. Great Migration Terminology
“The Great Migration” originally referred to the Puritan Immigration in the 17th century.  What we know as “The Great Migration” was originally called “The Exodus.”
7. Dating the Beginning of the Great Migration
Historians are able to pinpoint the exact year the Great Migration began, 1916.  There are many factors that enable the dating including the beginning of World War I.
8. Industrial Expansion in America
Increased railroad activity and factory production due to World War I creates a need for more labor.
9. Race and Industry in the Early 20th Century
Until the Industrial Revolution in America, African Americans were largely excluded from the industrial labor force.
10. In Search of New Labor
A crisis for new labor opened doors for employment in the northern factories for African American men.
11. Some Causes of the Great Migration
There are a lot of reasons for the Great Migration including poor agricultural conditions in the south and new labor opportunities in the north.  Grossman explains how all of the factors affected the Great Migration.
12. Measuring the Great Migration
Historians, economists, and sociologists have attempted to quantify the factors that led to the Great Migration.
13. Analyzing the Letters
Grossman explains processes for approaching the letters for analysis.
14. Highlights of the Research Process
Grossman highlights how to use the letters and other materials to answer the questions generated by the letters.
15. Recreating the Great Migration
Grossman advises readers of the letters to create a narrative around the migration in which the writers of the letters are the characters.
16. Finding Some Answers in the Letters
Grossman leads the audience through a question and answer process to learn more about the letters by analyzing the date lines.
17. Population Data
Grossman advises resources for learning more about the numbers of people who participated in the Great Migration and the effects it had on the population of the south, including the census data.
18. Opportunity in the South
Grossman explores employment opportunities still available for African Americans in the south.
19. The Second Emancipation
Grossman explores observable differences between stories in the northern newspapers, especially The Chicago Defender, and southern newspapers.
20. Historical Perspectives
Often, society’s views of historical events change from what they were while the event took place.  This is especially true of the perspectives on opportunities available for blacks and white in the south prior to the Great Migration.
21. Voices from the Letters
Grossman explains how to identify patterns when working with letters or other primary source materials.
22. Strikebreaking, Citizenship, and Privilege
Grossman explores the politics of labor in northern cities and how the introduction of African American labor complicated matters.
23. Fictional Accounts of Migration
Grossman compares the reality of conditions in the south and north to the fictionalized accounts available in literature and how these accounts influenced expectations of participants in the migration.
24. First Impressions of Chicago
Grossman explores ways southerners heard accounts of Chicago and opportunities in the north.
25. The Role of The Chicago Defender and the Chicago Urban League
The Chicago Defender and the Urban League both influence African Americans in the south to migrate north and play an important role in their lives once they are in Chicago.
26. Influences on MIgration Patterns
The Great Migration would lead millions of African Americans to migrate from the south to the north over a period of more than 50 years.  Grossman talks about the characteristics of migration periods and what they might tell us about the Great Migration.
27. Influences on MIgration Patterns Continued
Grossman explores influences that led to shifts in migration patterns.
28. Lynching
Grossman explores the causes and effects of lynching and other race-based violence.
29. Living in Chicago
When African Americans first came to Chicago, they were faced with different societal expectations.  Richard Wright and Langston Hughes experienced these differences and wrote about them.
30. Conclusion
Grossman wraps up with an anecdote about attending a White Sox game from one of the letters.



This lecture was funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.


Letters from the Great Migration capture the experience of some African Americans before and after they migrate to Chicago.
Read the letters »

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