The Weekly Text, January 25, 2019

Next Friday marks the beginning of Black History Month 2019. This year’s theme is Black Migrations; that link will take you to a page where you’ll find a printable PDF that would serve nicely as classroom door banner. People of African descent everywhere have been the subjects of voluntary migration and the objects of involuntary migration. In the United States, after Americans of African descent endured the horror and infamy of their forced migration into chattel slavery, they once again migrated from the southern states in what historians have dubbed The Great Migration.

Most Americans, alas, lack understanding of the ways in which The Great Migration changed–for the better, inarguably, in my not at all humble opinion–this country. I’ve always thought the most succinct reference to the changes to this country wrought by The Great Migration was uttered by the old bluesman, played by the great Joe Seneca, in Walter Hill’s 1986 film Crossroads. The Julliard student and aspiring blues guitarist played by Ralph Macchio is fixated on the music of Robert Johnson, and he wants Joe Seneca’s character, Willie Brown–whose name is called out in Johnson’s song “Crossroads,” to teach him a long-lost song of Johnson’s he believes Brown possesses. Macchio’s character, Eugene Martone, is fixated on Delta Blues, which he plays on an acoustic guitar. In exasperation, as the two of them prepare to play live, Brown tells Martone (I paraphrase, but closely, I am confident), “Muddy Waters invented electricity” as he takes the young man to a music shop to trade in his acoustic guitar for an electric.

The comment is freighted with numerous implications, not the least of which is that Muddy Waters and others like him (e.g. Howlin’ Wolf and John Lee Hooker) added numerous genres to the spectrum of American music. If you know anything about the blues, you know that without it there would be no rock and roll. In fact, whole genres of music in the United States would not exist without the influence of Americans of African descent.

Anyway, this week’s Text is a lesson plan on migration as a cause of history. I begin this lesson, when I teach it, with this context clues worksheet on the noun nomad. Finally here is the (very) short reading and comprehension worksheet that I’ve used in this lesson. This lesson, incidentally, is part of a unit I wrote to help students develop their own understanding of some basic concepts in historical study. I named the unit after a introduction to liberal studies course called “Causes of History” I heard students complaining about at Amherst College when I took Russian language classes there. I still remember what the students in my Russian class called it: “Causes of Misery.”

If you find typos in these documents, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

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