Changes that the Great Migration Brought

The Great Migration was the movement of 6 million African Americans from the South to the urban areas of the North, Midwest and West from around 1916 to 1970. Driven from their homes by brutal segregation laws and unfavorable economic chances, numerous blacks traveled north, where they exploited the requirement for mechanical specialists that originally emerged from the First World War. Amid the Great Migration, African Americans started to assemble another place for themselves in broad daylight, effectively standing up to racial injustices and financial, political and social difficulties to make a dark urban culture that would apply colossal impact in the decades to come.

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        The primary factors for immigration among southern African-Americans were segregation, an increase in the spread of racist ideas, widespread lynching, and lack of social and economic opportunities in the South. After the Civil War and the Reconstruction era, white supremacy was largely restored across the South in the 1870s, and the segregationist policies known as Jim Crow soon became the law of the land. Southern blacks were forced to make their living working the land due to black codes and the sharecropping system, which offered little in the way of economic opportunity, especially after a boll weevil epidemic in 1898 caused massive crop damage across the south, and while the Ku Klux Klan had been officially dissolved in 1869, the KKK continued underground after that, and intimidation, violence and even lynching of black southerners were common practices in the Jim Crow South. In the south, Blacks were harshly treated, and were not expected to be anything other than a slave.

Soon after, World War I broke out in Europe in 1914, industrialized urban areas in the North, Midwest and West faced a shortage of industrial laborers, as the war put an end to the steady tide of European immigration to the United States. In turn, the labor shortages in northern factories brought about by World War I, resulted in thousands of jobs in steel mills, railroads, meatpacking plants, and the automobile industry. With war production kicking into high gear, recruiters enticed African Americans to come north, to the dismay of white Southerners. The pull of jobs in the north was strengthened by the efforts of labor agents sent by northern businessmen to recruit southern workers. Black newspapersparticularly the widely read Chicago Defenderpublished advertisements touting the opportunities available in the cities of the North and West, along with first-person accounts of success, and northern companies offered special incentives to encourage black workers to relocate, including free transportation and low-cost housing.

By the end of 1919, some 1 million blacks had left the South, usually traveling by train, boat or bus. A smaller number even had automobiles or even horse-drawn carts. In the decade between 1910 and 1920, the black population of major Northern cities grew by large percentages, including New York , Chicago , Philadelphia and Detroit. Many new arrivals found jobs in factories, slaughterhouses and foundries, where working conditions were arduous and sometimes dangerous. Female migrants had a harder time finding work, spurring heated competition for domestic labor positions. Aside from competition for employment, there was also competition for living space in increasingly crowded cities. While segregation was not legalized in the North , racism and prejudice were nonetheless widespread. After the U.S. Supreme Court declared racially based housing ordinances unconstitutional in 1917, some residential neighborhoods enacted covenants requiring white property owners to agree not to sell to blacks; these would remain legal until the Court struck them down in 1948. Rising rents in segregated areas, plus a resurgence of KKK activity after 1915, worsened black and white relations across the country. The summer of 1919 began the greatest period of interracial strife in U.S. history at that time, including a disturbing wave of race riots. The most serious was the Chicago Race Riot of 1919. It lasted 13 days and left 38 people dead, 537 injured and 1,000 black families without homes.

        As a result of housing tensions, many blacks ended up creating their own cities within big cities, fostering the growth of a new urban, African-American culture. The most prominent example was Harlem in New York City, a formerly all-white neighborhood that by the 1920s housed some 200,000 African Americans. The black experience during the Great Migration became an important theme in the artistic movement known first as the New Negro Movement and later as the Harlem Renaissance, which would have an enormous impact on the culture of the era. The Great Migration also began a new era of increasing political activism among African Americans, who after being disenfranchised in the South found a new place for themselves in public life in the cities of the North and West. Black migration slowed considerably in the 1930s, when the country sank into the Great Depression, but picked up again with the coming of World War II. By 1970, when the Great Migration ended, its demographic impact was unmistakable. Whereas in 1900, nine out of every 10 black Americans lived in the South, and three out of every four lived on farms, by 1970 the South was home to less than half of the country’s African-Americans, with only 25 percent living in the region’s rural areas.

The Great Migration exposed a paradox in race relations in the American South at that time. Although blacks were treated with extreme hostility and subjected to legal discrimination, the southern economy was deeply dependent on them as an abundant supply of cheap labor, and black workers were seen as the most critical factor in the economic development of the South. One South Carolina politician stated,  “Politically speaking, there are far too many negroes, but from an industrial standpoint there is room for many more.” When the Great Migration started in the 1910s, white southerners seemed to be unconcerned, and industrialists and cotton planters saw it as a positive, as it was siphoning off surplus industrial and agricultural labor. As the migration picked up, however, southern elites began to panic, fearing that a prolonged black exodus would bankrupt the South, and newspaper editorials warned of the danger. White employers eventually took notice and began expressing their fears. White southerners soon began trying to stem the flow in order to prevent the hemorrhaging of their labor supply, and some began attempting to address the poor living standards and racial oppression experienced by Southern blacks in order to induce them to stay.

As a result, southern employers increased their wages to match those on offer in the North, and some individual employers opposed the worst excesses of Jim Crow laws. When the measures failed to stem the tide, white southerners, in concert with federal officials who feared the rise of black nationalism, co-operated in attempting to coerce blacks to stay in the South. The Southern Metal Trades Association urged decisive action to stop black migration, and some employers undertook serious efforts against it. The largest southern steel manufacturer refused to cash checks sent to finance black migration, efforts were made to restrict bus and train access for blacks, agents were stationed in northern cities to report on wage levels, unionization, and the rise of black nationalism, and newspapers were pressured to divert more coverage to negative aspects of black life in the North. A series of local and federal directives were put into place with the goal of restricting black mobility, including local vagrancy ordinances, “work or fight” laws demanding all males either be employed or serve in the army, and conscription orders. Intimidation and beatings were also used to terrorize blacks into staying. During the wave of migration that took place in the 1940s, white southerners were less concerned, as mechanization of agriculture in the late 1930s had resulted in another labor surplus so southern planters put up less resistance.

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Changes That The Great Migration Brought. (2019, Oct 31). Retrieved October 7, 2022 , from
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