Ma Rainey and The Great Migration

Ma Rainey and her band in 1923

Ma Rainey and The Great Migration

August Wilson’s play Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is set in 1927 and focuses on the experiences of Ma Rainey, a Southern Black singer who has moved North during the Great Migration. This Netflix short video, produced as a companion to the 2020 film adaptation of the play, weaves Rainey’s story within the larger history of the Great Migration. This short focuses on the impact of the Great Migration on Black culture in the North and West as well as the reception, that Black migrants received when they remade their homes outside of the South.

Teaching Ideas

We would use this film as background information for students on the way the Great Migration shaped Black life in the United States. It would be a terrific piece to assign as homework or for independent viewing before a class discussion.

You might frame the film with these questions from our learning arc:

What are the conditions in the new land?
● How might the environment in the new land help or hinder newcomers’ inclusion?
● How do newcomers come to understand the new land and their place in it over time?
● How might newcomers and the receiving community balance their identities, cultural values, and world views as they interact with one another?

Consider coupling this film with images from Jacob Lawrence’s The Great Migration series, The Isabel Wilkerson TED talk “The Great Migration and the Power of a Single Decision” or other sources on this important history.