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Mon, 06.19.1916

The Great Migration, a brief story

*The Great Migration is affirmed on this date in 1916.  Sometimes known as the Great Northward Migration or the Black Migration, this episode came in two chapters. 

The first Great Migration (1916–40), which saw about 1.6 million people move from mostly rural areas in the South to northern industrial cities.  The Second Great Migration (1940–70), which began after the Great Depression and brought at least 5 million people including many townspeople with urban skills to the North and West.

When the Emancipation Proclamation was signed in 1863, less than eight percent of the African America lived in the Northeastern or Midwestern United States. This began to change over the next decade; by 1880, a migration was underway to Kansas. The U.S. Senate ordered an investigation into it. In 1900, about 90 percent of Blacks still lived in Southern states.  African Americans moved as individuals or small family groups. There was no government assistance, but often northern industries, such as the railroads, meatpacking, and stockyards, paid for transportation and relocation.

In 1900 Reverend Matthew Anderson, speaking at the annual Hampton Negro Conference in Virginia, said that "...the lines along most of the avenues of wage earning are more rigidly drawn in the North than in the South. There seems to be an apparent effort throughout the North, especially in the cities to debar the colored worker from all the avenues of higher remunerative labor, which makes it more difficult to improve his economic condition even than in the South."  

Between 1910 and 1930, the Black population increased by about forty percent in Northern states as a result of the migration, mostly in the major cities. The cities of Philadelphia, Detroit, Chicago, Cleveland, Baltimore, and New York City had some of the biggest increases in the early part of the twentieth century. Tens of thousands of Blacks were recruited for industrial jobs, such as positions related to the expansion of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Because changes were concentrated in cities, which had also attracted millions of new or recent white-European immigrants, tensions rose as the people competed for work and scarce housing. Tensions were often most severe between ethnic Irish, defending their recently gained positions and territory, and recent immigrants and Blacks.

In the late summer and autumn of 1917 racial tensions became more violent and came to be known as the Red Summer. This period of time was defined by violence and prolonged rioting between Blacks and whites in major United States cities. The reasons for this violence vary. Cities that were affected by the violence included Washington D.C., Chicago, Omaha, Knoxville, Tennessee, and Elaine, Arkansas, a small rural town 70 miles southwest of Memphis.  The race riots peaked in Chicago, for the most violence and death occurred there during the riots. The authors of The Negro in Chicago; a study of race relations and a race riot, an official report from 1922 on race relations in Chicago, came to the conclusion that there were many factors that led to the violent outbursts in Chicago. Principally, many Blacks were assuming the jobs of white men who went to go fight in World War I.

As the war ended in 1918, many men returned home to find out their jobs had been taken by Blacks who were willing to work for far less. By the time the rioting and violence had subsided in 1919 Chicago Riot, 38 people had lost their lives, with 500 more injured. Additionally, $250,000 worth of property was destroyed, and over a thousand persons were left homeless. In other cities across the nation many more had been affected by the violence of the Red Summer. The Red Summer enlightened many to the growing racial tension in America. The violence in these major cities prefaced the soon to follow Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s. Racial violence reoccurred again in Chicago in the 1940s and in Detroit as well as other cities in the Northeast as racial tensions over housing and employment discrimination grew.  

Historically in every U.S. Census prior to 1910, more than 90% of African America lived in the American South. In 1900, only one-fifth of African America living in the South lived in urban areas. By the end of the Great Migration, just over 50% of the African America remained in the South, while a little less than 50% lived in the North and West and African America had become highly urbanized. By 1960, of those Blacks still living in the South, half now lived in urban areas and by 1970, more than 80% of African Americans nationwide lived in cities.  Since the mid 20th century American Civil Rights Movement, a less rapid reverse migration has occurred.

Dubbed the New Great Migration, it has seen a gradual increase of African American migration to the South, generally to states and cities where economic opportunities are the best. The reasons include economic difficulties of cities in the Northeastern and Midwestern United States, growth of jobs in the "New South" and its lower cost of living, family and kinship ties, and improved racial relations. 

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Poetry Corner

Dere’s an ol’ man called de Mississippi Dat’s de ol’ man dat I’d like to be! What does he care if de world’s got troubles? What does he care if de land... OL’ MAN RIVER by Paul Robeson.
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