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Great Migrations: Past and Present

The Great Migration (1919-1970) of more than six million African Americans out of the rural South to other regions of the United States is one of the most momentous, courageous, and consequential movements in our nation’s history.  In search of true freedom, equality, and opportunity, those brave migrants – citizen-refugees in their own country fleeing racism, abuse, oppression, enforced poverty, and terror – transformed American culture, society, demographics, and politics in countless ways.  As they arrived in their destination cities – Chicago, Baltimore, New York City, Detroit, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Oakland, Houston, Minneapolis, St. Paul, and St. Louis, among others - African American migrants found themselves facing different forms of segregation, hostility, and violence, a caste system “by fact” rather than “by law.”  Nonetheless, as they traveled, they brought with them their music, dreams, foods, and cultural practices, their faith, talent, and unshakeable belief that they, too, deserved the full rights of citizenship delineated in the Constitution. The iconic actor James Earl Jones, who was a small child when his family fled the South, recently described the Great Migration in this way, “We were reaching for our gold mines, our freedom.”  

University of Houston Honors College students in Dr. Irene Guenther’s modern U.S. History classes examined in-depth the Great Migration, as it occurred as well as its long-term consequences and current manifestations. Students then created wide-ranging art, literary, film, photography, spoken poem, digital, and music projects to educate themselves and the public about this transformative, yet largely unrecognized movement.  Their deeply researched creative works inform us about the numerous reasons for, and the lasting legacies of, the Great Migration.  Usually, these artworks would have been exhibited in a university gallery or in one of the galleries in Houston in order to provoke and facilitate conversation about the important issues raised by the students’ researched projects.  However, due to the mandated Covid-related shutdown, we have translated their projects into a virtual video exhibit with the student-creators providing audio summaries of their cultural works. 

As the grief and anger fueling ongoing protests have illuminated, our nation still struggles to embrace equality and justice for all persons.  Yet, our multi-ethnic, multi-racial society serves as a touchstone of what is possible if we live by the promises articulated in the Constitution.  Those words, as well as the protests, remind us that, while there is still so much work to be done, everyone benefits from the rich rewards that diversity and inclusivity offer.


The Great Migration, Fall 2020 Projects

The Great Migration: Past and Present Consequences, Spring 2020

Students’ projects are on exhibit in The Heritage Society Museum Gallery from July 5-August 19.

 View images from the July 12 opening reception here.

  • Students' Great Migrations Exhibit  

    Spring 2017 Honors College history students from both U.S. History and Houston History classes, as well as history students from Texas Southern University, created projects that explore the reasons for and the lasting legacies of the “great migrations” in America. 

    A public opening of the Students' Great Migrations Exhibit was held April 26 from 4-6 p.m. in the Honors College Commons. The projects remained on display through the end of the spring semester. 

    Click here to see and listen to student projects.

Semester-Long Related Events

  • Get in the Way, the Journey of John Lewis Documentary biography

    "Get in the Way, The Journey of John Lewis" is the first documentary film biography about Congressman John Lewis, the civil rights hero and respected legislator whose unwavering fight for justice spans the past fifty years. Get in the Way is especially relevant today given President Trump’s recent disparaging tweets about Lewis, which caused a political uproar. The film captures both Lewis’ hard-won achievements and inevitable disappointments as he defends the rights of all people through policy, civil disobedience, and action. Free admission. With guest speaker filmmaker Kathleen Dowdey.

    When: Feb. 7 at 6:30 p.m.
    Where: UH Student Center Theater South

  • Houston Blues Museum About Blues Culture (ABC)

    Houston Blues Museum About Blues Culture (ABC) African American Library.

    When: Feb. 11 from 1-3 p.m. (takes place monthly)
    Where: Gregory School, 1300 Victor Street 

  • African Rhythms Documentary Screening: “Negro Arts

    African Rhythms documentary screening on first world festival of “Negro Arts,” held in Africa in 1966.

    When: Feb. 13 at 6:30 p.m.
    Where: UH Student Center Theater South

  • The Wilmington Ten: Violence Injustice and the Rise of Black Politics

    The Wilmington Ten: Violence, Injustice and the Rise of Black Politics. Book talk with Dr. Kenneth Janken about The Wilmington TenIn Feb. 1971, racial tension surrounding school desegregation in Wilmington, North Carolina, culminated in four days of violence between white vigilantes and black residents. Ten persons were convicted of arson and conspiracy and sentenced to a total of 282 years in prison. They became known internationally as The Wilmington Ten. Dr. Kenneth Janken narrates the dramatic story of the Ten, connecting their story to the transformation of post-Civil Rights era political organizing.

    When: Feb. 16 at 11:30 a.m. 
    Where: UH Agnes Arnold Hall, Room 210.

  • Dr. Lori Flores at the Holocaust Museum Houston

    Dr. Lori Flores speaking on "Grounds for Dreaming: Mexican American Immigrants and the California Farmworker Movement." In conjunction with the museum’s current exhibit, "Bittersweet Harvest: The Bracero Program, 1942-1964.

    When: Feb. 16 from 6:30-8 p.m.
    Where: Holocaust Museum Houston

  • Chasing Beer Bottles and Privy Pits: Urban Archeology

    A presentation by archeologist Doug Boyd titled "Chasing Beer Bottles and Privy Pits: Urban Archeology" at the Frost Town Site in Houston (meeting of Houston Archeological Society).

    When: Feb. 16 at 7 p.m.
    Where: St. Thomas University, 3800 Montrose Blvd, M.D. Anderson Hall

  • A Celebration of Black History in Song with the Texas Southern University Concert Choir

    "Let Freedom Sing! A Celebration of Black History in Song with the Texas Southern University Concert Choir." Free.

    When: Feb. 19 at 4 p.m.
    Where: Latter Day Deliverance Revival Church, 4036 Lyons Avenue, Houston 77020

  • Blues History: Ebb and Flow

    Blues History:  Ebb and Flow,” Sandra Scott, director of the Houston Blues Museum. A discussion of blues music Celebrated Houston guitarist Milton Hopkins
    history, blues pioneers, and the development of the genre in the Deep South, including Houston, as well as its transformation as it traveled to the cities in the Upper Midwest and North. Music included. Celebrated Houston guitarist, Milton Hopkins (pictured at right), will join Ms. Scott.

    When: Feb. 21 at 4 p.m.
    Where: Honors College Commons

  • Guided tour of “Bittersweet Harvest: The Bracero Program, 1942-1964,”

    Guided tour of “Bittersweet Harvest: The Bracero Program, 1942-1964,” is a guided tour by the curator and Dr. Jesse Esparza, who has interviewed many of the former Braceros. This program pertains to the Bracero Program, 1942-1964, a binational agreement between the U.S. and Mexico. Free.

    When: March 6 at 4:30 p.m.
    Where: Holocaust Museum, 5401 Caroline St. 

  • Houston Blues Museum About Blues Culture (ABC)

    Houston Blues MuseumAbout Blues Culture (ABC) - African American Library. 

    When: March 11 from 1-3 p.m.
    Where: Gregory School, 1300 Victor St.

  • Lucille’s Restaurant: Southern Food Traditions and the Great Migration

    Lucille’s Restaurant: Southern Food Traditions and the Great Migration: Chef-owner Chris Williams of Lucille’s Restaurant Lucille’s Restaurant will serve food samples for us, while he talks about the ways in which African-American food culture changed America’s food culture with the Great Migration.

    When: March 20 at 4:30 p.m.
    Where: Lucille’s Restaurant, 512 LaBranch (Museum District)

  • Bayou City Blitz: Panel on High School Football

    Bayou City Blitz: Panel on High School Football: Former area high school stars discuss Houston’s football history.

    When: March 29 at 7 p.m. 
    Where: The Heritage Society, 1100 Bagby

  • I Am Not Your Negro, Documentary Film

    I Am Not Your Negro film nominated for an Oscar Award for best film-documentary, focuses on the Civil Rights Movement and is based on the writings of the great novelist and poet, James Baldwin.

    When: April 3 (Limited run check for dates/times for showings; theater ticket charge)

    Where: River Oaks Theater, 2009 West Gray 

  • On My Journey Now: The Legacy of John Biggers Exhibit: Through April 13

    On My Journey Now: The Legacy of John Biggers Exhibit. Murals by the great African American artist, John Biggers, are also available for viewing at Texas Southern University.

    When: Through April 13 from 8 a.m.-6 p.m.

    Where: Two Allen Center, 1200 Smith Street
  • Black Athletes and Migration Before and After Jim Crow

    Undergraduate Student Research Panel, Texas Southern University: Black Athletes and Migration before and after Jim Crow. Free.

    When: April 6 from 5:30-8 p.m.

    Where: Texas Southern University Museum, 3100 Cleburne St., Houston 77004. 

  • Defiant Braceros: How Migrant Workers Fought for Racial, Sexual, and Political Freedom

    Dr. Mireva Loza will present "Defiant Braceros: How Migrant Workers Fought for Racial, Sexual, and Political Freedom" is the story of the Bracero Mexican-American fight for Civil Rights. In conjunction with the museum’s current exhibit, "Bittersweet Harvest: The Bracero Program, 1942-64."

    When: April 6 from 6:30-8 p.m.

    Where: Holocaust Museum Houston, 5401 Caroline St, Houston 77004


  • A Workshop About Bone Hill: The Concert

    Singer/performer Martha Redbone will give a free workshop that will cover the history and creative process behind “Bone Hill: The Concert.” For more information, click here.  

    When: April 20 at 1 p.m.

    Where: Texas Southern University, McCoy Auditorium, Room 114 

  • Exploring The African Diaspora in Houston before and after Jim Crow: April 20

    Graduate Student Research Panel: Exploring The African Diaspora in Houston before and after Jim Crow

    When: April 20 from 5-8 p.m. 

    Where: Texas Southern University, School of Public Affairs, Room 204. Free
  • Read-in and Book Signing: Celebrating Lillian B. Horace's "Angie Brown" April 22

    Read-in and Book Signing: Celebrating Lillian B. Horace's Angie Brown, a Jim Crow romance and migration novel (Outskirts Press, 2017), editor, Karen Kossie-Chernyshev, Ph.D., with foreword by Michon Benson, Ph.D. Free.

    When: April 22

    Where: Texas Southern University

  • Exhibition Opening of Students’ Great Migrations Projects: April 26

    The Honors College Commons, refreshments served. Free and open to the public.

    When: April 26 from 4-6 p.m.

    Where: University of Houston Honors College Commons, Room 212