Print ISBN: 978-1-63700-353-4
# of Pages: 600
# of Volumes: 2
Print List Price: $295
e-ISBN: 978-1-63700-354-1
eBook User Price: $295
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Defining Documents in American History: The Great Migration (1916-1970)

October 2022

Also known as the Great Northward Migration and the Black Migration, this movement of more than six million African Americans from American's rural southern regions to its urban northern regions occurred over more than 50 years, from 1916 to 1970. Some historians separate this great move into two periods — the first from 1916 to 1940, during which 1.6 million people moved from the rural south to the industrial north, and the second following the Great Depression, from 1940 to 1970, which saw more than 5 million people, many with urban skills, move north and west.

Two main causes for this massive migration were poor economic conditions and racial segregation and discrimination in Southern states when Jim Crow laws were upheld. The Great Migration was historic for its sheer number, called "the largest and most rapid internal movements in history." It also brought historic change to the cities the migrants moved to, where African Americans established influential communities of their own at a time when these cities were already exerting cultural, social, political, and economic influence in the country.

This set, Defining Documents in American History: The Great Migration, offers in-depth analysis of fifty-eight documents, including speeches, court rulings, legal texts, legislative acts, essays, newspaper and magazine articles, and interviews. These selections help define events concerning the migration of African Americans across the country, and how those events have helped shape history. The first volume of this set focuses on the first wave of migration with Guinn v. United States and the Chicago Race Riots, as well as the early second wave of migration in America with Morgan v. Virginia and Brown v. Board of Education. The second volume is dedicated to the latter half of the second wave of migration with Shirley Chisholm’s “The Black Woman in Contemporary America” and Loving w. Virginia, and the post-migration decades on how things have been since with the Rodney King case and Black Lives Matter.

The material is organized into three sections, each beginning with a brief introduction that examines the waves of African American migration in the United States through a variety of historical documents.

  • The First Wave of Migration in Context includes documents that track the account of The East St. Louis Riot and the Congressional Investigation, an analysis on Claude McKay’s poem “If We Must Die” and its significance, the Chicago Race Riots, and John Preston Davis’s scathing essay “A Black Inventory of the New Deal” regarding President Roosevelt’s early programs to combat the Great Depression.
  • The Second Wave of Migration in Context includes documents regarding the importance of Victor H. Green’s The Negro Motorist Green Book which provided a list of hotels and other businesses that welcomed black patrons, samplings of newspaper clips about Jackie Robinson breaking the color code in major league baseball, the court case Brown v. Board of Education, and E. Frederic Morrow’s memorandum regarding the murder of Emmett Till in Mississippi
  • Postmigration Decades begins with Shirley Chisholm’s speech “The Black Woman in Contemporary America”, then proceeds into a news story from United Press International regarding the Rodney King case, activist Angela Davis’s speech at the 2017 Women’s March on Washington, and Reverend and civil rights leader Al Sharpton’s eulogy at George Floyd’s Memorial Service in Houston, Texas.

Each Historical Document is supported by a critical essay, written by historians and teachers, that includes a Summary Overview, Defining Moment, About the Author, Document Analysis, and Essential Themes. An important feature of each essay is a close reading of the primary source that develops broader themes, such as the author’s rhetorical purpose, social or class position, point of view, and other relevant issues. Each essay also includes a Bibliography and Additional Reading section that provides suggestions for further readings and research.

Appendixes in this book include:

  • Chronological List which arranges all documents by year;
  • Web Resources, an annotated list of websites that offer valuable supplemental resources;
  • Bibliography lists of helpful articles and books for further study

About the Series

The Defining Documents series provides in-depth commentary and analysis on the most important primary source documents in the United States and the world. The Defining Documents series is perfect for students, those researching a particular era, or anyone interested in world history. Visit for more information about additional titles in this series.

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