The first of these migrations, starting more than five centuries ago, was the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Of course, the slave trade was a forced movement. In most cases, the black migrations were voluntary, as African Americans took to the road [or the rails or the seas] to seek a better life.
"For far too long, the history of the African American experience has been written as a history of our victimization, what others have done to us. With the migration you begin to see what people of African descent have done for themselves," says Howard Dodson, who heads the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, the New York Public Library unit behind this new online exhibit. "We've been able, over the course of the three years of the project, to put together some 25,000 pages of material - 16,000 of them text [and] 8,000 of them images - to tell this really remarkable story in a very in-depth way."
The 13 migrations highlighted in this online exhibit include journeys by runaway slaves, emigration to Africa and elsewhere, and the so-called Great Migration from southern U.S. farms to northern factories. And what really makes this special is the vast amount of material - including original documents, maps and photos - which helps bring the story to life.
"Scholarly articles, manuscript items, chapters of books - whole books at times - that allows a person who wants to know more about that particular migration to go into it in greater depth," says Mr. Dodson.
There's a smaller version of "In Motion" at the Schomburg Center's exhibit hall in New York, but Howard Dodson says the web version is bigger, deeper and more accessible. "In this online environment, it's accessible not just in our building, but indeed around the world. And anyone that wants to access this material can now go to our website and have access to it 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. That is, in my judgment, the way of the future," he says.
The African American Migration Experience website just went live this month, and with online lesson plans, much of it will certainly find its place in school curriculums. For an in-depth look at African American history that goes beyond just a few famous names or events, surf on over to nypl.org, and click on "African American Migration Experience."