Popular Migrant City of Chicago

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Today many things can be said about the city of Chicago, both bad and good. It is a modern metropolitan city today, because of the original influences of Daniel Burnham, and his views for the Plan of Chicago. His goal was to create a metropolitan American city who people would love and enjoy, to create a vision for the cities planning and its future. He wanted to create his own pan with minor influences of some European cities. With his vision came growth for the city of Chicago in many forms, it wasn’t just in infrastructure, but also in the increase of its city’s population. During this time the African American population of Chicago rapidly rose from 8.2% in 1940 to 14.6% in 1950. In the next couple paragraphs, I will explain what lead to the increase number of African American. What influences during this period pertain to populations growth and is there a trend increase in today’s population that continue to increase or decline. What can be said about the migrating population of African Americans was this a reason to free slavery to the south or was it an opportunity for them to prosper in a new city of Chicago.

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Daniel Burnham plan for the city of Chicago was unique as its location was crucial for its citizens. Its location would lot just have a luxurious waterfront and bold infrastructure, but it its location would be accessible and a gateway from seven other states. Unfortunately, the plan of Chicago had many set backs. When the plan was initially published in 1909 the population of Chicago was not diverse, mainly white Caucasian blue- and white-collar citizens. Yet, the plan was to build this city to replicate some infrastructure of European cities and with plans of Paris in mind. The way cities are developed with roads and highways, these elements also work as boundaries and segregation.

Throughout history many African Americans have dealt with slavery, segregation and discrimination. In 1909 with the development of Burnham’s plan was no different. Many African Americans remained in the southern states of the united states attempting to be free and escape slavery. Many faced hardships within their everyday life. As segregation was real, to them jobs and education was limited as well as all means of daily life. Limited to the kind off work they could do they many where laborers, farmers and worked within still know in free America plantations. So, during this time many remained in the south.

This would all change as major events would start to unfold. African Americans did not start to migrate to Chicago until WWI, in which Chicago had an increase of industrial development and the expansion of the railroad system became a necessity for support in the war. By this time Burnham had already passed but slow some of his plans would take shape by his successors. These industries provided an opportunity for Africans Americans to migrate and escape violence and segregation in the south. African Americans went from being a mostly rural population to one that was mostly urban. After the war there was still Africans moving to Chicago not by vast amounts but still in the thousands. They concentrated themselves mainly on the south side of Chicago to be known as “the Black Belt”. This was an area of aging, dilapidated housing that stretched 30 blocks along State Street and was rarely more than several blocks wide. Initially, a pattern of education discrimination had reemerged, and blacks were still excluded from the civil service, industrial jobs, and most unions. Many former slaves worked as pullman porters on trains, which was low paying. Yet, this would be the migration of African Americans from the rural south to the urban north became a mass movement. The great African American migration started in 1915 and went through about 1970’s but there was a big increase between 1940 and 1950’s.

As many African Americans continued to migrate to Chicago it became apparent to many like the European settlers that came to Chicago prior to them they lacked some of the same qualities. Many black and Europeans came to Chicago lacking education and holding limited skills, mainly in farm fields and as laborer’s, but in rapid fashion they had to adapt from their rural living status to adapting to the urban environment that Chicago had to offer. Many blacks knew if they wanted change they would have to develop more skills and become better educated. Still the issue was jobs were limited majority to white men and limited in availability for blacks due to segregation in the Chicago area. Then there was a change in not just the United States but the world, best know as WWII.

Not yet the 1940’s but WWII started in 1939, a time where many Americans where affected drastically but offered many opportunities for others. By 1940 the war was in full affect and soldiers where needed in the front lines. Lacking volunteers President Roosevelt signed the Selective Training and Service Act. This initiated the United States of Americas first military draft. With the draft came they need for industrialization; many new factories came to life which produced many labor jobs to support the war and its mobilization effort. The draft opened the doors for African Americans as white men were called to war due to the draft. This was a major win for the black African Americans. Prior to this period many jobs in skilled laborer where not available for them, and the jobs that where available had no major benefits. Initially many of these jobs that where just available for whites. Many blacks that where hired held lower jobs, with more work and less pay. But now with lack of workers blacks stepped into new roles, yet they did not receive the same compensation as whites.

In 1941 as the war was still going on the industry was still booming, many manufactures couldn’t keep up with the demand needed to support the war. Workers, where pushed to their limits but without reward as discrimination within the industries, was still visible. Many blacks where not happy with the unfair treatment because of color, therefore they decided to threaten protest. In 1941 during this time if a protest would to occur, manufacturing of goods needed for war would almost come to a halt due to the amount of blacks that would not be working in these factories due to unfair treatment and discrimination. But before this could happen the president issues an executive order that banned discrimination in defense industries and established the Committee of Fair Employment Practices.

With new anti-discrimination laws and a needed workforce word of mouth made its way to the south. Thus, increasing the amount of blacks migrating to Chicago. The number grew fast within this period there was an average of around 3000 African Americans migrating to Chicago each week. As they stepped off the trains from the South and made their ways to the Chicago neighborhoods they had learned about from friends, many became worried. The whites where worried because now you had European and black immigrants competing for jobs and housing with the new arrivals, especially on the South Side, where the steel and meatpacking industries had the most numerous working-class jobs. This also created a problem for urban planning and infrastructure. In 1946, the Chicago Housing Authority tried to ease the pressure in the overcrowded ghettos and proposed to put public housing sites in less congested areas in the city. The development of new Highrise buildings I the 50’s to provide an opportunity for shelter to house all people and create jobs. Increase in population means an increase in traffic and other major city functions.

The African American population also brought a lot of good influences from the south. They developed a new renaissance in Chicago and many African Americans became scholars. The brought with them music “Jazz” and “rhythm and blues” which brought soul to its neighborhoods. Many Chicago cities became self-independent and many African Americans took advantage developing their own shops in their neighborhoods. The migrants could spend their hard-earned wages in several shopping malls with well-provisioned department stores, movie theaters, and banks. It also brought some bad things like increase of violence between blacks and euro-Americans and themselves. After the war with soldiers coming back, jobs became scarce as defense production decreased. So many people lost jobs including the blacks. Thus, migration was ultimately a success to the blacks for a period, but the numbers of migration increases as many more immigrated and more where born.

Unlike the1940’s and 1950’s, todays Chicago African population is still dominant. Many African Americans that do make it out of the urban city and get educated leave. For a period, the African American population increased as no one was leaving. Yet in recent studies it shows due to lack of jobs and prosperity in urban Chicago many of them are leaving and numbers are beginning to decrease.

The representation of African American population in Chicago during the decade of 1940-1950, was primarily due to the net gains of African Americans through migration. Key to this that many African Americans wanted to leave the scene of slavery that foreshadowed them in the south for decades. So, migration was a huge factor due to job opportunity, laws against discrimination and fair treatment in the workforce, and some would also say due to word of mouth from family and friends. This increase is mainly since there were many African immigrants coming in and not out or leaving the city of Chicago. Also, with the large number of migrations came an excess of births than deaths, so the ratio of births surpassed deaths. Therefor the black population can be said and represented through the expansion of African Americans beyond the black belt into other cities in the Chicago region. Many African Americans just knocked of the door of opportunity.

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Popular Migrant City of Chicago. (2021, Dec 29). Retrieved February 5, 2023 , from

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