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AMCS 3520 - Topics In American Culture Studies: The Great Migration And Its Legacies In St. Louis, 1910-1960

St. Louis, considered by one writer in the 1940s as "a Northern city with Southern exposure," was one of the destinations for a combined six million African Americans between 1910-1930 and again between 1940-1960 who were fleeing the rural south to start new lives in the industrial, urban centers of the North, Midwest and West. St. Louis served as an important, if understudied, destination in this movement. Over the course of the first half of the 20th century, the city's black population more than quintupled, from 35,516 in 1900 to 235,000 in 1956. Using St. Louis as a case study, this course asks what it meant for African Americans to pursue an urban future. Here, black businessmen and politicians worked to create their own version of a "city within a city," a "Black Metropolis," with institutions built with black capital to serve black customers and enhance black political clout. Here, migrant struggles for economic justice and equal access to jobs in the interwar years laid the groundwork for later, national struggles like the March on Washington Movement of the 40s, the Black Power movement of the 60s and the Black Lives Matter movement of today. Here, the Great Migration set the stage for St. Louis to play a central role in the story of urban segregation in America, from the early fights over race and real estate that made St. Louis a pioneer in mechanisms of segregation like racial zoning and restrictive covenants to the wholesale displacement and dispossession of mid-20th century urban renewal. Through deep dives into local archival resources alongside selected secondary source readings, we will examine how migrants to St. Louis created-and in some cases recreated-communities and laid the foundations for new forms of cultural and religious expression, often in the face of violence, hardship and discrimination. We will also examine migrants' influence on the political and social movements of the long civil rights era. This course offers the opportunity to conduct independent research in local archives in a structured setting with close guidance from the instructor. Each student will complete a semester-long research project on a subject related to the impact of the Great Migration on the politics, culture, or urban landscape of St. Louis.
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