Note! During the week before each class I will post an essay on the blog outlining my plan for the upcoming week. This little essay is always part of the required reading and I will, barring catastrophe, have it posted on Thursday afternoon.

Also Note! A few meetings will include a music listening assignment in addition to the reading. I will post the playlists on This is a free service. You may register on the site, but need not do so if you choose not to (info here). You will be able to listen on your computer or on your iPhone, iPad or iPod (you will need to download a free app). I have not checked out the app, so have no information on it. You may hear an ad now and then (I haven’t yet). You will not be able to upload the music. For my last group I burned a ton of CDs for everyone, but this group is too big. I will do that for gospel week only because the music is so unbelievably great.

The Southern Diaspora was the largest internal migration in American history: almost 30 million participated. It changed America in ways we are only now beginning to thoroughly understand, and our text has played a part in that new understanding. Dr. Gregory considers the white and black migrants (two thirds of those who left the South were white) not simply as actors in history, but as architects of it. He has also used newly available census data to dispel some of the myths upon which earlier histories have been based. He provides an important new look at the Great Migration.

Here is a week-by-week look at what we’ll be doing in class, with links to the week’s readings included. Remember that my weekly essays and occasional class handouts will provide more detail.

September 14 – Week 1: Introduction

The Southern Diaspora, as Gregory characterizes it, lasted from about 1915-1975, and involved at least two distinct phases. We’ll look at the who, what, where and when of the migration and fill in a bit of historical background as well. We’ll look at some of the big themes we’ll need to keep in mind as the course progresses, with particular attention to those areas where Gregory’s emphases are different from those of other recent scholars. We’ll also discuss how migration narratives play a part in American history, and how the Southern Diaspora narratives fit (and don’t fit) into this framework. If we have time we’ll discuss how personal narratives of migrations (of which we’ll encounter many) might help us understand the bigger picture.


Gregory, Introduction and Chapter 1

Emmett J. Scott, Letters of Negro Migrants of 1916-1918. Journal of Negro History, Vol. 4, No. 3, (July 1919). pp. 290-340

The Scott reading is 50 pages. but almost all of it is letters from prospective Southern migrants addressed to the Chicago Defender, Urban League and sources of prospective employment. I think once you start reading them you won’t be able to stop, but if you want to stop, go ahead and stop. You’ll get the flavor of what’s going on from a generous sample.

September 21 – Week 2: Migration Narratives

At the end of week 1 we will (I hope) have had time to talk a bit about how the Southern Diaspora fits into our larger national narrative, and how personal migration narratives structure the diaspora story. Today we’ll stick with the narrative topic, but change the perspective.

Each phase of the migration had its own narrative, as did the separate, but interdependent, white and black migrations. These narratives differed depending on who was telling the story, and who was listening. We’ll consider today the respective roles of the mass media and academia as they not only documented the event, but amplified it and changed its nature.

Mass media and academia not only helped determine how migrants were seen, but influenced how they saw themselves. Governments based policy decisions on these narratives, often reinforcing them.

As we might expect, many of these narratives weren’t exactly on point. But that story has to wait for next week.

We’ll finish the session with a look at, and a discussion of, Jacob Lawrence’s wonderful 60-painting “Migration Series.”

Reading and Listening:

Gregory, Chapter 2

Louis Adamic, “The Hill-Billies Come to Detroit”. The Nation, February 13, 1935

Albert N. Votaw, “The Hillbillies Invade Chicago”. Harper’s Magazine, February 1958.

Life Magazine, July 5, 1943

NY Times Article on Jacob Lawrence

The Votaw and Adamic articles are short magazine pieces Gregory mentions in the chapter. He also references the Life Magazine I’ve linked to. This is the whole magazine, ads and all – take a look at the “Race War” article (pp.93-103) and whatever else you like. Please don’t forget to check out the multimedia section of the NY Times article on Lawrence.

The playlist has nine country songs of the sort Gregory writes about in Chapter 2: we hear from prisoners (twice) a truck driver (once) and a few country boys who find themselves further from home then they’d like. I;ll provide detailed information on the playlist in a blog post before class.

September 28 – Week 3: Success and Failure

Were the migrants, as is often supposed, ill-prepared for urban life and disadvantaged by their often-deprived southern backgrounds? Gregory takes a close look at the conventional wisdom and mostly rejects it, while acknowledging the crucial factor of race and how it made black migrants’ adjustment much more difficult than whites’. We’ll discuss this for the first hour of our meeting.

The second hour contains our first filmic adventure of the semester, as we watch the first half of Within Our Gates, the earliest surviving film (1920) directed by black pioneer film maker Oscar Micheaux. Micheaux’s films clearly portrayed his definition of success for blacks in their new urban setting. His film making career was in part inspired by the rousing success in 1915 of D. W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation. Griffith’s film encouraged the rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan and inflamed racial prejudices that hardly needed inflaming. Micheaux’s films presented a very different view of black society, although his films were seen only by blacks. We’ll precede Within Our Gates with a scene from Griffith’s epic.


Gregory, Chapter 3

William Attaway, Blood on the Forge (pp. 43-62)

The Sweet Trials

Attaway’s novel Blood on the Forge tells the story of three Kentucky brothers come north to work in the steel mills. It provides a contrapuntal twist to Gregory’s statistical story of migrant success. Gregory mentions Dr. Ossian Sweet in the text: he was a black doctor whose attempted move into a white neighborhood ended in a white man’s death and a murder trial. We may not get a chance to talk about this in any detail, so if you have time constraints you can probably skip this. But if you do take a look (its a website, not a reading), check out the background section and do not miss Clarence Darrow’s brilliant and emotional closing statement.

October 5 – Week 4: Micheaux and Intro to Black Metropolis

We begin week 4 with the second half of Within Our Gates. I think the film and the Bonner story will stimulate enough discussion to fill most of the rest of the hour but we might have enough time to set the scene for next week’s more detailed discussion of Chapter 4, in which Gregory revives the name of “Black Metropolis” for those newly settled, crowded, bustling, violent, vital areas that might just as easily be called ghettos.


Gregory, Chapter 4 (it will also be on next week’s list)

Marita Bonner – One True Love

Playlist: Music of the Black Metropolis

We’re not going to be able to give this chapter more than a few minutes this week, but since there’s nothing else on the list, you might as well at least give it a quick read. It will be back on next week’s list along with a couple of other related readings.

One of Micheaux’s themes, in Within Our Gates and elsewhere, was that of racial “uplift.” Blacks, he felt, could depend on no one but themselves for success; rather than wait for whites to accept them as equals, blacks needed to succeed of their own initiative and so achieve equality. Marita Bonner’s story is an ironic, even tragic look at the uplift theme, a different view from Micheaux’s. Bonner wrote mostly during the 1920s and ’30s. She wrote of Chicago but was born in Boston and attended Radcliffe.

October 12 – Week 5: The Black Metropolis

Gregory’s revival of the Black Metropolis trope allows us to see the racism that forced blacks into segregated housing arrangements as also enabling an array of accomplishments that would otherwise have been impossible. The diaspora, or scattering, of Southern blacks, was hardly a scattering once they arrived. Most lived in highly concentrated, almost totally segregated areas of a few big cities, the most important of which were the South Side of Chicago and Harlem in New York. These cities were then at the height of their power in America, and the critical mass of the new black arrivals enabled them to build or remake an unprecedented black political, intellectual, and cultural infrastructure whose power changed America. We’ll take our first looks at that infrastructure this week.


Gregory, Chapter 4 (same chapter as last week)

Chicago Defender – October 1, 1927

Roi Ottley, New World A-Coming. Chapter XIV, “Joe Louis and His People,” pp. 186-203.

This is the week for you to have the Gregory chapter nailed down. We’ll spend most of the day on it. We’ll probably listen to some of the music on the playlist I posted for last week, and maybe catch a video or two as well. The Defender link is to the entire issue of October 1, 1927. No need to read it all, it’s just here as a product of the Black Metropolis, an attempt by me to have you get an idea of what things might have been like back then.

Gregory spends a good bit of time on Ottley’s book, and it really is worth our time, too. I wrestled hard with how much of it to include, and finally ended up with this chapter and one more we’ll look at later. I will put it on reserve and encourage you all to at least give it a skim. It’s a vivid picture of Harlem at its most exciting.

October 19 – Week 6: Community Building in the White Diaspora

Southern whites had one huge advantage when they came north: they were white. This accident of fate gave them access to, among other things, better jobs and better housing. White migrants could live pretty much wherever they wanted to, and this helped determine the kinds of community building white migrants could manage. There was little solidarity or cultural identity and certainly no “White Metropolis” to compare with what we saw last week. There were class differences whose impact persisted: the “hillbilly” and “white trash” stereotypes were slow to dissipate; but the norm (with some notable exceptions) for white migrants was a gradual blending in, a slow loss of southern identity.

We’ll take an early break today and come back for the first half of John Ford’s classic adaptation of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath.


Gregory, Chapter 5

John Steinbeck, The Harvest Gypsies

Steinbeck Article 3

Steinbeck Article 6

Steinbeck Article 7

Donald Janson, 30,000 Hill People Now Cluster in Chicago, New York Times, August 27, 1963

Willie Morris, North From Home, pp. 376-383

The Harvest Gypsies was a 7-part series Steinbeck wrote in 1936 for the San Francisco News on the plight of migrant workers in California. The research that went into these articles was the basis for The Grapes of Wrath. The unadorned prose of these articles (we’re only reading four of them) is in places as powerful as anything in the later novel. We won’t talk about this until next week, after the movie, but it might be worth reading before you see the first half.

Jansen’s article is a brief illustration of the persistence of the hillbilly stereotype: Gregory disputes at least part of his premise, but it is a vivid depiction of the other side of Gregory’s argument.

Morris was (he has since returned south) a southern exile of sorts, and wrote movingly about his southern boyhood and subsequent move north, in North From Home. I’ve included this brief excerpt in the hope that it will move you to read the whole book.

October 26 – Week 7: Henry Fonda and Jane Darwell Are Pretty Good, Aren’t They?

Today we’ll watch the second half of The Grapes of Wrath, which will take us just slightly into the second hour of our meeting. After the break we’ll have 40-45 minutes to wrap up our discussion of the film and of the related issues raised by last week’s readings.


Woody Guthrie, Bound for Glory, pp. 209-233.

A brief excerpt from Woody’s classic memoir.

November 2 – Week 8: Gospel Highways

The Diaspora shook northern religious institutions, both white and black, to their roots. Changes in the African-American church were affected by many of the same conditions that led to the development of the Black Metropolis. Most black migrants went to a few big cities, where they were crowded into relatively small, almost entirely segregated communities. This made it easier for the churches to act as gateway institutions, helping the newcomers settle into an alien environment. Storefront churches sprung up by the dozens, many preserving the old way of worship (even reuniting entire migrant communities), and just as many striking out on new doctrinal paths.

White migrants, not subject to housing segregation, were more widely dispersed among city neighborhoods and suburbs. White churches tended to be moreĀ  conservative and (for much of the period we’re covering) less politically active. While black migrants were establishing institutions of all kinds in their new urban surroundings, institutions whose unity was based on race, white migrants were likelier to be divided along class lines, and in religious matters, these class differences were related to denominational and doctrinal difference as well.

Some of the racial differences Gregory writes about are made more apparent when we listen to sermons by white and African-American preachers. We’ll listen to part of Rev. C. L. Franklin’s famous “Dry Bones” sermon, and also hear from Frank Norris, Billy Graham, and Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.

Next we’ll cover perhaps the greatest contribution the African-American church has made to American culture: gospel music. We’ll do some listening and get to watch a couple of videos as well.


Gregory, Chapter 6 (through page 226)

Robert Darden, People Get Ready, pp. 196-221

CD for listening – I will hand this out at the end of our October 26 meeting.

The Darden chapter, entitled “Three Divas,” gives us little biographies of Clara Ward, Mahalia Jackson, and Sister Rosetta Tharpe, all of whom will be represented on the CD you’ll have, and at least two of whom we’ll see on video.

November 9 – Week 9: The Religious Right and Part One of The Promised Land

In the first hour today, we’ll look at the origins of the religious right, as fundamentalism, driven to the shadows by the Scopes trial, returns to public prominence and political activism. Beginning with anti-communism and expanding its reach to social issues and the culture wars, fundamentalists’ impact on American politics has continued to grow, until it has now all but captured the Republican Party. The relationship of this movement to the Diaspora is hard (for me at least) to tease out, and I hope we’ll clarify that question in our discussion.

We’ll spend the second hour watching an episode of The Promised Land, a 1995 Discovery Channel miniseries based very loosely on the Nicholas Lemann book of the same name. There are five one-hour episodes: we’ll watch the second this week and the third next week.


Gregory, Chapter 6 (227-235)

Robert Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture, pp. 236-247

Daniel K. Williams, God’s Own Party. “The Emergence of the Fundamentalist Right,” pp. 33-48

The Marsden text is the standard history of American fundamentalism. The excerpt we’ll read was added to the book in 2005 and connects the 1960s re-emergence of fundamentalism as a political force to its historical roots. It’s a perfect introduction to the Williams chapter, in which he discusses many of the same events from a political rather than a religious perspective.

November 16 – Week 10: The Promised Land and Civil Rights in the North

The Promised Land episode we’ll watch in today’s first hour tells us a lot about the conditions black migrants found when they came north. Not all the promises, they learned quickly, were going to be kept. This leads us smoothly into Gregory’s discussion of leveraging civil rights: we learn how the newly coalescing black community, concentrated in cities then at the peak of their political powers, campaigned for equal rights in housing and employment and established a foundation for the judicial and legislative victories of the 1950s and 1960s.


Gregory, Chapter 7.

Roi Ottley, New World A-Coming, pp.289-305

Executive Order 8802

A short chapter from Ottley’s book on EO8802 and the impact of World War II on the African-American fight for equal rights. Ottley’s book was published in 1943 and so gives us a contemporaneous view written by an African-American journalist (albeit for a white audience). I’ve also attached the original text of Executive Order 8802 (with a correction that seems to be in FDR’s own writing), an important first step with a fascinating back story.

November 23 – No Class Meeting! Happy Thanksgiving!

November 30 – Week 11: Refiguring Conservatism

There’s some overlap here with week 9, in which we looked at the Religious Right and its origins. Gregory’s emphasis is on what he calls “bigotry politics,” and he tries to evaluate the impact of southern migrants on the periodic manifestations of bigotry politics in the north. George Wallace’s two presidential campaigns give us a direct look at this bigotry politics before Nixon and others smoothed its rougher edges. Gregory sees the southern contribution to this process as one of providing symbols and “catalytic leadership.” Two of the readings will use country music as an example of this symbolic, catalytic role.


Gregory, Chapter 8

Dan Carter, The Politics of Rage, pp.344-351 (stop at “No one”)

Bill Malone, Don’t Get Above Your Raisin’: Country Music and the Southern Working Class. pp.238 (at “After 1958”)-252.

Peterson and DiMaggio, From Region to Class, the Changing Locus of Country Music: A Test of the Massification Hypothesis.

Carter gets right to the the heart of the Wallace phenomenon and its consequences for American politics in the short space of six pages. This is a very good book. Malone gives us a comprehensive look at the close identification of country music with right-wing politics during and after the Vietnam War. We may hear a couple of songs in class, but most of the music that Gregory cites as examples of this phenomenon are awful and I can’t stand listening to them, so I’ll keep it to a minimum. You’re welcome.

I tried to stay away from scholarly articles, but Peterson and DiMaggio, although a slog in spots, was too good to leave out. I think their conclusion might even be extended beyond the music to encompass much of the symbolic and catalytic leadership Gregory discusses.

December 7 – Week 12: Going Home

My title this week not only refers to us, but to some of the migrants, and especially their descendants, who are headed south in increasing numbers. From the beginning, white migrants tended to circulate north and south relatively freely, but such was not the case for black migrants until the 1970s. There are many reasons for this and we’ll look at it from two points of view: first using the demographic perspective of “push and pull,” then in the context of the historic African-American migration narrative. Farah Jasmine Griffin, in her excellent Who Set You Flowin’, writes of how changes in African-Americans’ attitudes toward the south affected their migration narratives, and we’ll look at two of these narratives and relate their differences to the recent change in pattern.

I hope we’ll also have time to take a look back at the course and see some of the big picture themes we might have missed along the way.


Gregory, Chapter 9

For New Life, Blacks in City Head to South, NY Times, 6/21/11

Richard Wright, Black Boy, pp. 254 to middle of 267.

Lyrics to “Tennessee” – by Arrested Development

Make sure to look at the multimedia stuff that comes with the NY Times article. The Wright excerpt describes Richard’s departure from Memphis and arrival in Chicago. There’s no looking back and not much to look forward to, either. A newer generation, represented here by the hip-hop group Arrested Development, sees possibilities for redemption in the very place Wright’s character fled. We’ll hear the song in class – the lyric sheet will help us get to the bottom of it.


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