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Wisconsin's Opportunity for African Americans: 1945-1959

By Eric V. Franco
Standards: 8.1, 8.5, 8.10, 8.12; 12.2, 12.5, 12.9, 12.18
Grade Level: Secondary
Topic: Wisconsin's Response to 20th-century change

Lesson Plan Text:

In response to the social norms created by Jim Crow laws in the south, some African Americans created a society-within-a-society, where two cultures, southern white and southern black, lived in tandem. Often the targets of discrimination and violence, many southern blacks  migrated to northern states such as Wisconsin beginning in the 1920s, hoping to find employment and new opportunities.

Lesson Objectives: Throughout the lesson, students will think about the level of acceptance and opportunity available in Wisconsin for African Americans.

Poster board

Book: "Milwaukee's Negro Community"

Book: "Negro families in rural Wisconsin : a study of their community life."

Suggested Activities:
The class will assume the role of a new state committee on civil rights and race relations to report to the governor on the quality-of-life for African Americans in Wisconsin. Each sub-committee report will focus on a specific theme for discussion. The class will be divided into four groups (sub-committees) in order to evaluate the two documents:

Group 1: Economic opportunity in rural Wisconsin for African-Americans.

Group 2. Economic opportunity for African-Americans in urban Wisconsin.

Group 3: Population distribution in rural and urban Wisconsin.

Group 4: Social and cultural disposition of African-Americans in Wisconsin.


Each group (sub committee) will review and analyze the primary sources, "Negro families in rural Wisconsin : a study of their community life", and "Milwaukee's Negro Community." Citizens' Governmental Research Bureau." While reviewing the documents, students should keep the following questions in mind:

A. What evidence shows how ¿friendly¿ or ¿unfriendly¿ Wisconsin is to African Americans?

B. What are the opportunities for African Americans? Why would African Americans WANT to migrate to Wisconsin?

C. Is there a difference in quality of life between whites and non-whites in Wisconsin?

D. What improvements could be made to enhance African Americans¿ ¿quality of life¿ in Wisconsin?

E. Are there any identifiable ¿trends¿ in how Wisconsin has dealt with people of color? If so, what are they?


Each sub-committee will prepare a brief poster report that highlights the group¿s focus area. Groups are encouraged to make charts or graphs based on the statistical data that is presented within the documents. Additionally, groups must provide a rating on Wisconsin¿s treatment and opportunity for people of color (i.e. ¿report card¿ style rating.).
Each group (sub-committee) must assign a ¿spokesperson¿ to inform the Committee Chair (teacher) of their findings and recommendations to the Governor.
Student evaluation is based on the depth of analysis; quality of poster and oral reports.

Possible Lesson Extensions: 
Conduct a similar activity for the Hispanic, Asian, and Native American population of Wisconsin.

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