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Entrepreneurs and the African-American Dream Lesson Plan
The narrative The Great Migration discusses how individuals and industries forged opportunities for themselves and African-American workers outside the South. The lesson Entrepreneurs and the African-American Dream should be used as a follow-up activity to or in conjunction with the narrative in either history or economics classes. Students will make a simple graph of labor supply and labor demand in the North and South in the early twentieth century. They then will conduct research using business journals, corporate reports, and the Internet to identify top contemporary African-American entrepreneurs.
Grade Levels:Middle and high school, grades 6-12
For use with:The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture's narrative, The Great Migration
Concentration Area:History
Concentration Area:Economics
National Curriculum Standards met by this lesson
The following standards have been taken from the Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McRel) standards.
Students will understand

  • The challenges diverse people encountered in the late 19th century American society (e.g., the role of new laws and the federal judiciary in instituting racial inequality; arguments and methods by which various minority groups sought to acquire equal rights and opportunities; experiences of African American families who migrated from the South to New York City in the 1890s).
  • How racial and ethnic events influenced America during the Progressive Era.
  • The development of business in the late 19th century (e.g., types of business organizations that effected the economy; the impact of industrialization on the availability of consumer goods, living standards and redistribution of wealth; how new industries gained dominance in their field; the changing nature of business enterprise).
Time required
One 50-minute class period if students read the narrative outside of class
Materials needed
  • Schomburg Narrative, The Great Migration
  • Periodicals (financial newspapers and journals), corporate annual reports, and/or Internet access
  • Graphing Worksheet
Anticipatory Set

  1. Explain to students that they will be looking at individuals and businesses that forged opportunities for themselves and African-American workers in areas outside the South. Direct students to read the narrative, The Great Migration focusing on the segments "Networks and Media" and "A New Industrial Landscape."
  2. Ask students to read with the following questions in mind:

    1. What economic opportunities did the South offer African-American residents, both from rural areas and from cities or towns?
    2. What economic opportunities did northern urban communities offer African-American migrants, both from rural areas and from cities or towns?
    3. How did businesses and industries fuel African-American migration? How did the cities' roles as transportation hubs further attract African-American migrants?
    4. What was the impact of African-American migrants on U.S. manufacturers and their capacity to produce goods and services?
    5. What was the impact of African-American migrants on labor disputes and unions?
  3. Discuss the narrative and questions with students and then distribute the Graph Worksheet. [link from below]
  4. Direct students to think about what they have read and label one graph "Demand for Labor in the North" and the other "Demand for Labor in the South." To help them decide, students should consider the following questions:

    1. Did the demand for labor go up in the North? In the South?
    2. Did the migration of half a million African Americans in two years cause labor supply to go up or down in the North? In the South?
  5. Discuss which graph reflects the trends in the North and in the South, and why.

  1. Ask students to research a contemporary African-American entrepreneur. (Make clear that a celebrity may or may not be an entrepreneur; the key question students must ask is not whether the individual is rich; rather, students should look at whether he or she runs a business that employs others or supports the growth of other businesses—as in the case of banking. For example, Magic Johnson was a sports celebrity, but he also has become a successful entrepreneur by starting with a chain of movie theaters.)
  2. Explain that they may use periodicals such as financial newspapers or magazines, corporate annual reports (which provide photographs and biographies of the boards of directors and CEOs), and the Internet to assist them with their research. The Black Business Journal is a good place to start research about contemporary African-American entrepreneurs. Students can find it online at:
  3. Ask students to collect the following information about the individual they select:

    1. A basic biography
    2. Location of corporate headquarters
    3. Corporate income
    4. Economic impact of their business
  4. Direct students to present the information they have found on a poster. You may elect either to have students share their posters orally or to hang all the posters up and allow students time to examine the "Gallery of African-American Entrepreneurs." If there is not enough bulletin board space, you may opt to use a clothesline and hang the posters up with clothespins.

Assess posters using the 20-point rubric that follows as a basis, multiplying by 5 to weight the grade or to convert to a letter scale.

Grading ElementExcellent (10)Good (9-8)Fair (7-6)Not Satisfactory (5-1)No Work (0)

  • Locates and uses specific information and examples for all areas of study
  • Assesses the economic impact of the entrepreneur with insight
  • Contains no factual errors
  • Locates and uses general information and examples for most areas of study
  • Assesses the economic impact of the entrepreneur in a general manner
  • Contains no factual errors
  • Locates and uses general information for most areas of study
  • Weak assessment of the economic impact of the entrepreneur
  • Contains no factual errors
  • Some areas of study have little or no information
  • Little attempt to assess the economic impact of the entrepreneur
  • May contain factual errors
  • No research
    Visual Display

  • Well-balanced, thorough presentation of data
  • Visually appealing, showing originality
  • Media enhances understanding of topic
  • Captions are excellent, conform to language rules
  • Generally balanced, complete presentation of data
  • Visually appealing
  • Media generally supports topic
  • Captions are useful and generally conform to language rules
  • Presentation of data is not complete in all areas
  • Visually acceptable
  • Media may not always be appropriate to topic
  • Captions missing in some cases or not clear, errors in language usage
  • Presentation of data is largely incomplete in most areas
  • Visually unattractive due to sloppy presentation
  • Media does not tie in with topic
  • Little or no captioning, captions unclear or irrelevant, and many errors in language usage
  • No poster

    Related Works

    • The Schomburg Center has numerous images of African Americans in urban settings in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Visit the online exhibit, Harlem 1900-1940: An African-American Community, accessible at: The exhibition includes a timeline, teacher materials, and a resource list.
    • The Library of Congress' American Memory Collection features over seven million online digital documents. It is a rich resource for a wide variety of documents about the African-American experience, including the online exhibit African-American Odyssey. American Memory's homepage is: and African-American Odyssey is at:
    • The Black Business Journal is a good place to start online for research about contemporary African-American entrepreneurs. It may be found at:
    Interdisciplinary Links

    • History: As part of their studies of the American West, students may wish to conduct research on African-American entrepreneurs using, as a starting point, the narrative The Western Migration, for example the segment "To the Cities," in which Sarah Breedlove's transformation into cosmetic millionaire Madame C. J. Walker is recounted. The National Park Service's "Teaching with Historic Places" website includes a lesson plan with historical background about Madame C. J. Walker at:
    • Students may wish to look at other successful individuals from the past such as: Janet Harmon Bragg, Richard Henry Boyd, Paul Cuffee, James Forten, A. G. Gaston, Thomas L. Jennings, Elizabeth Keckley, William Leidesdorff, "Free Frank" McWorter, Marie-Thérèse Metoyer, Oscar Micheaux, Philip A. Payton, Jr., David Ruggles, Jake Simmons Jr., Ada "Bricktop" Smith, Charles Clinton Spaulding, Pierre Toussaint, Maggie Lena Walker, Granville T. Woods, and, of course, Arthur Schomburg.
    • Art/Graphic Design: Students may wish to design a full-scale cartoon for a mural that represents the African-American entrepreneurs of the past and present. The art teachers may work with the school system or community development officers to determine if there is an appropriate space where the mural could be painted, whether in a school or in the community, and to secure any material donations necessary to complete the project.
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