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Lesson Plan Migration During the Great Depression: Living History

Many people in Central Florida came from somewhere else. Students first analyze life histories from American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940 to learn oral history techniques. They then interview and photograph these "transplants" and collect their life stories. In the process, students strengthen their communication skills and learn of the diverse experiences of people who now call Central Florida home.

Objectives

Students will be able to:

  • be able to search online and other sources effectively;
  • develop visual literacy skills through analysis of historical photographs;
  • become acquainted with New Deal programs and the experiences of Depression-era Americans;
  • improve communciation skills through the oral history interview process.

Lesson Preparation

Materials

Resources

Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives and Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Color Photographs
A two-part collection of depression era and pre-World War II photographs, primarily in black and white, with some later images in color.

American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940
Life histories collected by the federal writers of the Works Progress Administration

Excerpt of "He Never Wanted Land Till Now"

NOTE: This is an excerpt. The full text version of "He Never Wanted Land Till Now" is in American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940.

(Excerpt begins)

{Begin page no. 2}

Moss and his wife and two youngsters were busily engaged in going through a poor stand of cotton , plucking the white fiber from the scattered bolls and depositing it, with an automatic-like movement born of long practice, into sacks which were tied around their waists.

There was something about Mose's appearance that reminded me of the two mules I had observed in the yard-- something that suggested too much hard work in the fields and too little to eat at times. He seemed glad of the chance to stop picking cotton and talk to me.

With a little prodding and prompting, Mose told me how the Southern tenant farmer or sharecropper about whom the Administration evinced so much concern in 1938 lives and what he lacks.

"What is your average annual income, Mose ?" I asked. "That is, how much money do you make off your farm in a normal year?"

"Nothin', or almos' nothin'," he replied. "If I have enough left over, after payin' for my go-ano and such, to buy flour an' meal and rise through de winter, den I calls myself lucky. I ain't made no money farming in ten or fifteen years.

"De landlord, he gets a fourth of de peas (soy beans)

{Begin page no. 3}

and de cotton and a third of de corn and sweet potatoes, and I gets de rest. He furnishes me a house, de outhouses and de land, and I furnishes de team, de work, de seed and de go-ano. He keeps all de books and accounts, and he settles up wif me at de end of de year. If I'se got anything a-tall comin' to me atter all de bills is paid, I feels lucky.

"You sees dis cotton , don't you? Two or three bolls to de stalk, where dere ought to be two or three pounds. If I had to hire hands to pick it, I'd lose money on it. I'se got a pretty fair stand of peas, but dey ain't selling for nothin'. And dem's de only two crops I got dat I can sell. I didn't raise no sweet potatoes to sell, and I jes about got enough corn to feed my team till next year."

(Excerpt ends)

Lesson Procedure

Part I - Stirring the pot: accessing students' prior knowledge

  1. Conduct an in-class discussion/survey of students’ family connections to Florida.
    • How many moved from elsewhere?
    • Whose parents/grandparents moved from elsewhere?
    • From where?
    • What brought you/them to Florida?
  2. Discuss some of the unique peculiarities of Florida which are attributable to the different cultures which have imprinted the state (Indian and Spanish place names for example). Explain that there are many interesting stories of how these people migrated to Florida. Through this unit they are going to learn about the experiences of some of the people who migrated (were 'transplanted') to Florida.

  3. Begin by introducing students to the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and its mission during the Great Depression. In 1935, as part of the New Deal, the WPA hired unemployed writers to collect life histories of people from all walks of life. The WPA also hired photographers to take pictures all across America. In this unit students will learn more about this work and then assume the role of a modern-day WPA writer and photographer to collect a life history of someone who migrated to Florida - a 'transplant.'

Part II - Photo analysis: developing visual literacy

  1. Show students a photograph (see Florida Photograph Gallery for ideas). Model/complete the process with the whole class. Students analyze the photograph, recording their thoughts on the Primary Source Analysis Tool. Before the students begin, select questions from the teacher’s guide Analyzing Photographs and Prints to focus and prompt analysis and discussion.
  2. Then using photographs in your textbook or Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives or Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Color Photographs, assign students in small groups to analyze photographs using the form and then share their analysis with the class. The analysis guide compels students to examine their photograph closely.

NOTE: This activity can be done in the classroom without a computer. Photographs in the collection can be printed, copied, and distributed to small groups. Displaying a photograph to the class can be done by printing the photograph to overhead transparency film or by sharing from the Web site using a projector.

Part III - Search and rescue: searching an online photo collection

  1. Pre-select 10-15 photos from the Florida Photograph Gallery and print the large version without a caption.
  2. Pair students and give each pair a different photograph to examine.
  3. Ask them to brainstorm keywords, topics, or subjects that might apply to the photograph.
  4. Student pairs should then go to the computer and access Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives or Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Color Photographs and type their "key words" in the search box to locate their chosen photograph.
  5. Once students have located their photograph, they should write down as much written information as is provided about their photograph (title, caption, date, photographer, LC number, etc.).
  6. Follow up with a class discussion. Ask students questions like:
    • How is this information helpful/not helpful?
    • Were all the keywords/topics you typed successful?
    • What problems did you have in locating your picture? Why?

Part IV - What does it look like? Connecting primary source documents with visual materials.

  1. Read an excerpt of "He Never Wanted Land Till Now" from American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940.
  2. Ask students to describe a photo that could possibly illustrate the excerpt.
  3. Ask students what keywords or subjects they would use to locate an appropriate photograph to illustrate the life history excerpt.
  4. Write their ideas down and then show students a photograph you pre-selected to illustrate the story.
  5. Search Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives or Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Color Photographs using the student-generated keywords to see if the pre-selected photograph is located.
  6. Identify the keywords (like sharecroppers, cotton plantations) that will locate the photograph.
  7. Assign students to search American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940 for a story that interests them. Students analyze the life history, recording their thoughts on the Primary Source Analysis Tool. Before the students begin, select questions from the teacher’s guide Analyzing Oral Histories to focus and prompt analysis and discussion.
  8. Once students have found a life history, ask them to find a photograph with some connection to the life history they have selected and explain why they chose it.

Part V - Connecting primary souces with the students' community.

Use oral history techniques to connect students with history in their communities.

  1. Select a theme for the interviews. Possible themes might include: Transplants; Heroes; and Family Themes and Traditions.
  2. Provide adequate practice for students to develop interviewing skills before they proceed with the interview. See Explore Your Community: A Community Heritage Poster for the Classroom for ideas on how to structure the interviews.

Lesson Evaluation

Evaluate student progress, participation, and products according to criteria specified by the teacher or generated in conversation with the class.

Credits

Laura Wakefield & Joy Penney

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