Interviewing Ms. Mitchell about the Great Migration

February 16, 2016

(Photo credit: Caitlin Wolf/Center for Inspired Teaching)

This piece was written by Allison, a student at Woodrow Wilson High School (DCPS) and a 2015-16 Real World History student. As part of her first semester Real World History coursework, Allison conducted an interview with a senior Washingtonian who had personally experienced the Great Migration. This is Allison’s reflection about this experience. 

While researching the Great Migration, I discovered that most available resources outline the event, describing the mass movement of African Americans and the cultural, social, and economic outcomes.  They throw out broad dates and vague details about push and pull factors. While these resources are helpful for gaining an understanding of the overarching framework of the Great Migration, rarely do they focus on a single story or a person’s journey of opportunity and discovery. For this reason, conducting an interview of Ms. Mable Mitchell’s life experiences was incredibly valuable as it put a face to the Great Migration and helped me to understand and appreciate this event on a deeper, more personal level.

Before the interview, I was nervous that I would quickly run out of questions to ask and end up without much more information on the Great Migration than I had before. But after only one question, Ms. Mitchell began recounting her childhood in Raleigh, North Carolina, sparing no details. Her many descriptions and digressions were helpful in portraying the scope of her life and providing a vivid image in my head. One moment that struck me the most was when she recounted experiencing racism in a restaurant in Raleigh. Listening to someone describe a hurtful experience involving discrimination is a lot different than reading about it in a textbook. Ms. Mitchell’s stories gave me a more comprehensive understanding of the Great Migration.

This complex movement of people is not a topic that can be learned in its entirety by any one person over just six months. However, listening to the personal anecdotes of one woman’s experience enabled me to further my comprehension of this topic, which is an integral part of American history. I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to expand my knowledge of the Great Migration, a phenomenon of which many of my peers are unaware. It was so interesting to explore the effects that the Great Migration had on Washington, DC and to see how they are still apparent today. After conducting this interview, I am eager to delve even deeper into the topic as I feel there is still so much more to learn.

In her second semester, Allison and other Real World History students will intern at a historic DC site, putting her skills as a historian into practice. 

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