The Great Migration and the Power of a Single Decision

Between the end of World War I and 1970, six million African African Americans left the South for the North and West. In the TED talk below scholar and author Isabel Wilkerson explores the power and consequences of the decisions people made to leave what they knew. Indeed, it is hard to imagine cities like Chicago, Detroit, New York, and Oakland without the contributions of thousands of Black migrants and their children. Yet, that history, and those choices and often overlooked when we talk about American history. Wilkerson’s landmark book The Warmth of Other Suns is helping to change that.

Teaching Ideas

Wilkerson’s talk speaks to several questions in the Re-Imagining Migration learning arc including:

Why do people leave their homes?
● In what ways do societal, political, and environmental forces/challenges influence the decision to migrate?
● In what ways do the more intimate personal contexts motivate people‘s decisions to leave their homes?
● What happens to those who stay and how do they relate to those who leave?

What do people experience as they move from one place to another?
● In what ways are people’s migration journeys similar and different from one another?
● How much control do migrants have over their journey and what are the choices and dilemmas they face during their journey?
● What do these journeys reveal about human nature?

As students listen, you might consider having them jot down any insights into those questions that come from Wilkerson’s presentation.

Wilkerson’s talk is titled “The Great Migration and the Power of a Single Decision.” What does Wilkerson mean by power? What power did people leaving the South have? How has that power revealed itself over time?

Beyond any particular historical detail, Wilkerson’s presentation offers insight into the significance of the Great Migration. Ask students to share their perspectives on the significance of the Great Migration using the Project Zero Three Whys Thinking Routine which asks: Why does this matter to me? Why does this matter to my community? And, why does this matter to the world?