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Great Migration: Finding Pictures

From about 1915-1970, millions of African Americans moved from southern, primarily rural areas of the U.S. to urban areas in the north and west. This guide provides strategies for finding related visual resources.


Jack Delano, photographer. In the Perfect Eat Shop, a restaurant on 47th Street near South Park, owned by Mr. E. Norris (Negro). Chicago, Illinois. 1942. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black & White Photographs. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.

During the Great Migration, from about 1915 to 1970, millions of African Americans moved from southern, primarily rural areas of the United States to urban areas to the north and west. They sought better opportunities away from racial discrimination and violence in the South. This guide provides strategies for searching the Prints & Photographs Division collections for images related to this movement, because the designation “Great Migration” appears in very few descriptions of pictures.

As when searching for images related to any historical movement, doing some background research will help you prepare by identifying the names of places, people, and occupations to search for. Because the Great Migration encompassed life in places of origin, journeys to new locales, and experiences in new cities, the geographic scope of these stories can be broad. Some artistic works portray the Great Migration and others shed light on the experience because the artists, authors, and musicians participated in or observed the migration. Depending on your research project, a given image may or may not have a direct connection to this social movement. See the "Searching for Images" section for more points to consider.

Please note that terminology in historical materials and in Library descriptions does not always match the language preferred by members of the communities depicted, and may include negative stereotypes or words some may consider offensive. The Library includes the historic captions because they can be important for understanding the context in which the images were created.