DBQ: The Great Migration: Why did they leave?

Historical Question: What was the greatest factor leading to the mass exodus of African Americans from the Post-Reconstruction south?

Introduction: The Great Migration: Why did they Leave? DBQ includes the Historical Thinking of : Comparison, Causation,Context and Evidence, and the literacy skills of writing a historical essay. This DBQ serves as a method of analyzing the first Great Migration focusing on the reasons people (specifically African Americans) left the rural south for the more industrialized northern cities.

The purpose of this DBQ is to have students analyze primary sources to formulate a hypothesis/point of view about the Great Migration. Did African Americans leave their homes to escape the conditions there or were they lured to the north with the promise of better opportunities?

Standards | Vocabulary | Context | QuestionsDoc #1 , #2, #3, #4, #5

Time Required:  Estimated time frame: three days in a 90 minute class period

Click here to download the full DBQ with attached handouts. The Great Migration: Why did they leave?, Standard 4 and Sources with Questions

South Carolina Standards (2020)

 Targeted Standard: Standard 4: Demonstrate an understanding of South Carolina’s role in and response to the dynamic economic, political, and social developments in the United States and around the world during the period 1862–1929.

8.4.P Summarize the economic changes that emerged in South Carolina and the U.S.

8.4.E Utilize a variety of primary and secondary sources to analyze multiple perspectives of the challenges and changes within South Carolina and the nation that allowed the U.S. to emerge as a global power during the time period 1862–1929.


  • lynching
  • sharecropping
  • segregation


Historical Context and Background Information: In the post Civil War period, westward expansion continued as people moved from one region to another and immigrated to the United States. After emancipation, some African Americans moved to towns in the West, for example, the Exodusters who moved to Kansas.

Guiding Questions and Sources (download the full DBQ to see a complete list of sources and graphic organizer)

Document 1: Lynching Map Across the United States


      Guiding Questions:

  1. What is the title of this map?
  2. Where did the majority of the lynchings take place?
  3. List the states with the majority of African American lynchings.
  4. What factors do you believe would lead to a larger number of lynchings in the South?
Citation: McWilliams, J. (2018, April 24). Map of Lynchings Across the United States. Retrieved July 26, 2018, from


Document 2: The Great Migration, 1900-1929

    Guiding Questions:

  1. What is the title of this map?
  2. Where did the majority of people originate from?
  3. List the major cities they migrated to.
  4. Why do you think the cities (listed in question 3) were chosen?  What did they have to offer?
Citation: Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Jean Blackwell Hutson Research and Reference Division, The New York Public Library. (2005).The Great Migration, 1900-1929. Retrieved from http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/85f0908d-8265-f747-e040-e00a18062131


Document 3: African Americans Workers at Ford Motor Company

    Guiding Questions:

  1.  List three things you notice about the photograph
  2. What was going on in the world during the time of this photograph?
  3. Refer back to document
  4. From which states did most of the Detroit migrants originate?
  5. What factors led to the growth in Detroit’s population?
Citation: Kalinski, P. (2013, February 23). African American Workers at Ford Motor Company. Retrieved July 26, 2018, from https://www.thehenryford.org/explore/blog/african-american-workers-at-ford-motor-company


Document 4: Jim Crow Laws in the South and photograph of segregation

    Guiding Questions:

  1. List three things you notice from the photograph
  2. What was the primary purpose of the Jim Crow Laws?
  3. What might the social ramifications be for these state-mandated laws?
  4. Why did people accept these laws?
  5. Imagine if laws like this were introduced today.  How would people respond? 
Citation: Photo:  Lee, Russell.  (1939, July). Negro drinking at “colored” water cooler in streetcar terminal. Oklahoma City, Oklahoma:  Library of Congress. Laws:  Jim Crow Laws. (n.d.). Retrieved July 26, 2018, from https://www.nps.gov/malu/learn/education/jim_crow_laws.htm


Document 5: Help Wanted Sign

    Guiding Questions:

  1. Where did this advertisement originate?
  2. Who is the target audience?
  3. Why would this offer encourage African Americans to move to Wisconsin?
Citation: The Chicago Defender, December 1, 1917. General Research and Reference Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library.


Digital Collections Information                    

This DBQ is based on images and/or documents from several institutions including the University of South Carolina Libraries, The National Archives, and The Library of Congress. See individual images for institution information.

To see other collections that may be helpful to your search, visit the Digital Collections homepage or visit SCDL’s collection.

DBQ Prepared by Jessica Parkman, 2018

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