Introduction to Migratory Farm Labor

Lesson Author
Required Time Frame
One to two 45/55 minute class periods (depending on student familiarity with primary documents)
Grade Level(s)
Lesson Abstract
Students analyze primary source documents and then write letters for and against legislation related to migrant labor.

Students will analyze primary documents. Students will participate in group discussion over information gathered from primary documents to make connections to today’s issues and past issues. Students will then apply all knowledge learned on the issues and write two letters for and against legislation dealing with migrant workers. Technology can be used by students to access notes on Power Point presentation and accessing the primary documents required online. If technology is not available documents will be provided by the teacher.

Rationale (why are you doing this?)

Students can practice their analyzing skills with primary documents while drawing conclusions about the Migratory Farm Labor issue from 1949-1952.

Lesson Objectives - the student will
  • Understand the prejudice involved with illegal Mexican immigrants.
  • Analyze the differences big farm and small farm owners faced with employees.
  • Obtain information on living conditions, salaries, education, and laws pertaining to migrant workers.
  • Understand the need for a law to protect and regulate migrant workers from Mexico.
  • Analyze primary source documents to gather information.
  • Utilize technological research skills to gain access to documents online. (If applicable)
District, state, or national performance and knowledge standards/goals/skills met

Show-Me Standards (Missouri)

1. Principles expressed in the documents shaping constitutional democracy in the United States.

2. Continuity and Change in the history of Missouri, the United States, and the world.

6. Relationships of the individual and groups to institutions and cultural tradition.

7. The use of social science inquiry (such as surveys, statistics, maps, and documents).

Kansas Standards (High School)


Benchmark 1: The student understands the rule of law as it applies to individuals; family; school; local, state and national governments.

1. (A) evaluates the purposes and function of law.

2.(A) analyzes how the rule of law can be used to protect the rights of individuals and to promote the common good

Benchmark 4: The student identifies and examines the rights, privileges, and responsibilities in becoming an active civic participant.

2. (K) explains how public policy is formed and carried out at local, state, and national levels and what roles individuals and groups can play in the process.

3. (A) analyzes policies, actions, and issues regarding the rights of individuals to equal protection under the law.

4. (A) examines issues regarding political rights (e.g., to be an informed voter, participate in the political process, assume leadership roles).


Benchmark 5: The student makes effective decisions as a consumer, producer, saver, investor, and citizen.

1. (K) - describes how various jobs and employment are impacted by changes in the economy.

2. (K) - illustrates how the demand for labor is influenced by productivity of labor and explains the factors that influence labor productivity (e.g., education, experience, health, nutrition, and technology).

3.(A) - explains how the demand for and supply of labor are influenced by productivity, education, skills, retraining, and wage rates.


Benchmark 4: Human Systems: The student understands how economic, political, cultural, and social processes interact to shape patterns of human populations, interdependence, cooperation, and conflict.

1. (A) identifies trends of population growth and migration in response to environmental, social, economic, political, or technological factors.

Secondary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed

Presentation for lecture notes attached

Primary sources needed (document, photograph, artifact, diary or letter, audio or visual recording, etc.) needed

The Problem of Migratory Farm Labor in the United States, 1948-1952 Student Research File #37

  • 2-1 David Niles to Harry S Truman, June 8, 1949
  • 3-1 Telegram, Wally Robertson to Harry S Truman, February 7, 1950
  • 3-14 Claire V. Cook to Harry S Truman, June 20, 1951
  • 4-6 George J. Garza to Cleveland Bailey, June 27, 1951
  • 4-9 H.L. Mitchell to Harry S. Truman, July 3, 1951 
Fully describe the activity or assignment in detail. What will both the teacher and the students do?
  • As an introduction to the activity, the teacher will open the lesson by asking students their opinions on illegal Mexican immigrants coming to America to work on farms and food processing plants. The teacher will ask the students if they believe Mexican workers coming to America for agriculture jobs is a recent or past problem. Introduce students to the issue about Migratory Farm labor during President Truman’s time in office through a lecture. Provide the Power Point titled Migrant Farm Labor 1949-1951 for a twenty minute lecture over key points and facts needed to achieve an understanding of what issues were involved. Students should take notes for their assessment assignment for the later portion of class.
  • The class will work in cooperative learning groups analyzing documents selected for this assignment. The primary documents used will deal with bringing awareness and a need for change in migrant workers conditions. A worksheet dealing with each document should be provided to help guide students. This document can be found at to help students analyze the documents. Students will need five worksheets for the five documents.
  • Students will then take information learned from the lesson and apply it by writing a letter to President Truman. Students will be assigned a group which they will represent the ideals presented. Students will either represent a big farm owner, a small farm owner, an American-Mexican citizen migrant worker, an illegal Mexican migrant worker, or a Union representative. Students should write two letters, pro and con for the issue on Migrant Farm Labor. Each letter should be addressed to President Truman and signed by the student with their affiliation (i.e. Union, Farm name, status of citizenship). The letter should include at least 2-3 facts from the lesson or primary documents.
Assessment: fully explain the assessment method in detail or create and attach a scoring guide
  • Students will be graded with the following rubric for their letters written to President Truman.
  • 5 points for clarity; is the letter clear if you are for or against the proposed bill on migrant workers and conditions?
  • 5 points for structure; is the letter clearly written and addressed as a letter?
  • 5 points accuracy; are all the facts accurate? Did the student use 2-3 facts from the lesson to support their letter?