Midterm I Essay question
Fall 2004


The Great Migration was a revolutionary experience for African Americans. The entry of the U.S. into World War I in 1917 pulled hundreds of thousands of black men and women from the rural South to the industrialized North. It was not always a success: many African Americans merely traded the plantation for the dead-end of the ghetto. But overall, the Migration was one more chapter in the search for new economic opportunities and social freedoms for black Americans.

Among those who made the trip up North was Louis Armstrong. Armstrong was a Southern musician (born in New Orleans, with family roots in rural Louisiana) who made his reputation in New York and Chicago's South Side. By "making it" in the white-dominated world of show business without abandoning his roots, Armstrong inspired those who sought to retain their identities as African Americans through adherence to black folk culture while adapting to the harsh realities of urban life.

How could Armstrong's early career (up through the early 1930s) be taken as a symbol of the Great Migration? In what ways did Armstrong negotiate the Migration's difficulties and conflicts? How might you use details of his career as well as examples of his music (from recordings) to make your point?