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About the History Harvest

The Great Migration refers to the period between 1915 and 1970, when millions of African Americans fled Southern segregation. Most went North, in search of fairer treatment and better jobs. Beloit, Wisconsin was a primary destination for migrants from Chickasaw County, Mississippi; newcomers typically sought employment at one of Beloit’s many factories, typically Fairbanks Morse or Beloit Iron Works.

This website documents the stories of some of the individuals who left their homes in the South and came to Beloit. A history class at Beloit College invited members of the African American community to attend a "History Harvest" on March 22, 2019, to tell us their stories and bring photos and artifacts that document their experiences. 

The student-curated exhibits on this page attempt to capture and present these stories thematically and to preserve the words and memories of the Black community in Beloit. 

Students researched the history of the Beloit community in order to interpret and provide context for what we learned. They prepared for the History Harvest by reading Isabel Wilkerson's book, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migrationwhich actually mentions Beloit, WI as a destination for migrants from the South. They learned about Beloit's history--and about the first African Americans to attend Beloit College--by exploring documents in the College Archives, with the help of Mr. Fred Burwell and his deep knowledge of Beloit's History.

On the day of the Harvest, which was held at New Zion Baptist Church in Beloit, guests arrived with photographs, newspaper clippings, artifacts and heirlooms and, perhaps most important, their memories and stories. Students photographed and scanned the items they brought and they were able to capture some of those stories in lengthy interviews.

We are grateful to so many people who helped make this project possible.  We want to thank Mrs. Connie Clayton who met with us before the Harvest and shared her own migration story and to Ms. Jackie Jackson who served as a consultant throughout the semester and helped us make vital contacts within the Beloit community. To the people who came to the Harvest itself, we want to say that we couldn't have done this without you, and we want to single out Mrs. Cheryl Johnson Caldwell who gave us three hours of her time a few weeks later and whose storytelling helped us understand the relationships between many of Beloit's oldest Black families. Of course we are also grateful to Pastor Ivy and the people of New Zion Baptist Church, whose space we were able to use.

There are many, many more stories to be told and memories to be shared.  If you would like to contribute to future History Harvests in Beloit, please contact Professor Ellen Joyce (joycee@beloit.edu) or Professor Beatrice McKenzie (mckenzie@beloit.edu) at Beloit College.