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The Great Migration was the movement of 4.1 million African Americans out of the Southern United States to the North, Midwest and West from 1910 to 1930.[1] Precise estimates of the number of migrants depend on the time frame. African Americans migrated to escape racism and seek employment opportunities in industrial cities. Some historians differentiate between the First Great Migration (1910–40), numbering about 1.6 million migrants, and the Second Great Migration, from 1940 to 1970. In the Second Migration, 5 million or more people relocated, with the migrants moving to more new destinations. Many moved from Texas and Louisiana to California where there were jobs in the defense industry. From 1965–70, 14 states of the South, especially Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi, contributed to a large net migration of blacks to the other three Census-designated regions of the United States.[2]

Since then, scholars have noted a reverse migration underway that gathered strength through the last 35 years of the 20th century. It has been named the New Great Migration and identified in visible demographic changes since 1965. Most of the data is from 1963-2000. The data encompasses the movement of African Americans back to the South following de-industrialization in Northeastern and Midwestern cities, the growth of high-quality jobs in the South, and improving racial relations. Many people moved back because of family and kinship ties. From 1995-2000, Georgia, Texas and Maryland were the states that attracted the most black college graduates. While California was for decades a net gaining state for black migrants, in the late 1990s it lost more African Americans than it gained.[2]



When the Emancipation Proclamation was signed in 1863, less than eight percent of the African-American population lived in the Northeast or Midwest. In 1900, approximately ninety percent of blacks resided in former slave-holding states. Most African-Americans migrated to New York City, Philadelphia, Boston, Buffalo, Baltimore, Minneapolis, Detroit, Chicago, Milwaukee, Kansas City, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Indianapolis, as well as to many smaller industrial cities such as Gary, Dayton, Toledo, Youngstown, Ohio, Peoria, Muskegon, Omaha, Newark, Flint, and Albany to name a few. People tended to take the cheapest rail ticket possible. This resulted in, for example, many people from Mississippi moving directly north to Chicago.

Between 1910 and 1930, the African-American population grew by about 40% in Northern states, mostly in the biggest cities. Cities such as Chicago, Detroit, New York, and Cleveland had some of the biggest increases in the early part of the century. Because changes were concentrated in cities, urban tensions rose as African Americans and new or recent European immigrants, both groups chiefly from rural societies, competed for jobs and housing with the white ethnic working class. Tensions were often most severe between ethnic Irish, defending their positions, and recent immigrants and blacks.

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, recruited people. The primary factor for migration was the racial climate and widespread violence of lynching in the South. In the North, they could find better schools and adult men could vote (joined by women after 1920). Burgeoning industries meant there were job opportunities.

  1. African-Americans left to escape the discrimination and racial segregation of late 19th century constitutions and Jim Crow laws.
  2. The boll weevil infestation of Southern cotton fields in the late 1910s forced many sharecroppers and laborers to search for alternative employment opportunities.
  3. The enormous expansion of war industries created job openings for blacks—not in the factories but in service jobs vacated by new factory workers.
  4. World War I and the Immigration Act of 1924 effectively put a halt to the flow of European immigrants to the emerging industrial centers of the Northeast and Midwest, causing shortages of workers in the factories
  5. The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 displaced hundreds of thousands of African-American farmers and farm workers
Lynchings and racially motivated murders in each decade from 1865 to 1965



Demographic changes

The Great Migration of African-Americans created the first large, urban black communities in the North. It is conservatively estimated that 400,000 left the South during the two-year period of 1916-1918 to take advantage of a labor shortage created in the wake of the First World War.[3] The 20th century cultures of many of the United States' modern cities were forged in this period:

  • In 1910, the African American population of Detroit was 6,000. By the start of the Great Depression in 1929, this figure had risen to 120,000.
  • In 1900 Chicago had a total population of 1,698,575.[4] By 1920 the population had increased by more than 1 million residents. During the second wave of the Great Migration (from 1940–1960), the African American population in the city grew from 278,000 to 813,000. The South Side of Chicago was considered the black capital of America.[5]
  • Other cities, such as St. Louis, Cleveland, Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York, also experienced surges in their African-American populations.
  • In the South, the departure of hundreds of thousands of African Americans caused the black percentage of the population in most Southern states to decrease. For example, in Mississippi, blacks decreased from about 56% of the population in 1910 to about 37% by 1970[6] and in South Carolina, blacks decreased from about 55% of the population in 1910 to about 30% by 1970[6].

Discrimination and working conditions

While the Great Migration helped educated African Americans obtain jobs, eventually enabling a measure of class mobility, the migrants encountered significant forms of discrimination. Because so many people migrated in a short period of time, the African American migrants were often resented by the European American working class, fearing their ability to negotiate rates of pay or secure employment, was threatened by the influx of new labor competition. Sometimes those who were most fearful or resentful were the last immigrants of the 19th and new immigrants of the 20th century. In many cities, working classes tried to defend what they saw as "their" territories.[citation needed]

Nonetheless, African Americans made substantial gains in industrial employment, particularly in the steel, automobile, shipbuilding, and meatpacking industries. Between 1910 and 1920, the number of blacks employed in industry nearly doubled from 500,000 to 901,000.[3] After the Great Depression, more advances took place after workers in the steel and meatpacking industries were organized in labor unions in the 1930s and 1940s, under the interracial Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). The unions ended segregation of many jobs, and African Americans began to advance into more skilled jobs and supervisory positions.

The migrants discovered racial discrimination in the North, even if it was sometimes more subtle than the South. Populations increased so rapidly among both African American migrants and new European immigrants that there were housing shortages, and the newer groups competed for the oldest, most rundown housing. Ethnic groups created territories they defended against change. Discrimination often restricted African Americans to crowded neighborhoods, as in Chicago. More established populations of cities tended to move to newer housing as it was developing in the outskirts. Mortgage discrimination and redlining in inner city areas limited the newer African American migrants' ability to determine their own housing, or obtain a fair price. In the long term, the National Housing Act of 1934 contributed to limiting the availability of loans to urban areas, particularly those areas inhabited by African Americans.[7]

Integration, and non-integration

As African Americans migrated, they became increasingly integrated into society. As they lived and worked more closely with European Americans, the divide existing between them became increasingly stark. This period marked the transition for many African Americans from lifestyles as rural farmers to urban industrial workers.[citation needed]

However, during the migration, migrants would often encounter residential discrimination in which white home owners and realtors would prevent migrants from purchasing homes or renting apartments in white neighborhoods. In addition, when blacks moved into white neighborhoods, whites would often react violently toward their new neighbors, including mass riots in front of their new neighbors' homes, bombings, and even murder. These tendencies contributed to maintaining the "racial divide" in the North, perhaps even accentuating it. In cities such as Chicago and Omaha, the postwar housing boom developed suburban housing restricted to white populations. By the late 1950s and 1960s, African Americans were hyper-urban, more densely concentrated in inner cities than other groups.

Since African-American migrants sustained many Southern cultural and linguistic traits, such cultural differences created a sense of "otherness" in terms of their reception by others who were living in the cities before them.[8] Stereotypes ascribed to "black" people during this period and ensuing generations, often derived from African American migrants' rural cultural traditions, which were maintained in stark contrast to the urban environments in which the people resided.[8]

See also


External links


  • Hahn, Steven. "A Nation Under Our Feet" (2003), pg. 465, The Belknap Press of Harvard University, ISBN 0-674-01765-X.
  • Arnesen, Eric. Black Protest and the Great Migration: A Brief History with Documents (2002), Bedford/St. Martin's Press, ISBN 0312391293.
  • Grossman, James R. Land of Hope: Chicago, Black Southerners, and the Great Migration (1991), University of Chicago Press, ISBN 0226309959.
  • Lemann, Nicholas. The Promised Land: The Great Black Migration and How It Changed America (1991), Vintage Press, ISBN 0679733477.
  • Scott, Emmett J., Negro Migration during the War (1920).
  • Sernett, Milton. Bound for the Promised Land: African Americans' Religion and the Great Migration (1997), Duke University Press, ISBN 0822319934.
  • Up from the Bottoms: The Search for the American Dream, (DVD on the GREAT MIGRATION)

Simple English

The Great Migration was the migration (movement) of around 2 million African Americans out of the Southern United States to the Midwest, Northeast and West. The main reasons African Americans left the south were to escape racism and seek jobs in industrial cities. [1]

When a lot of African Americans moved to the south from the 1960s and onwards, it was called the New Great Migration. In 1963 to 2000, data shows the movement of African Americans back to the South following de-industrialization in Northeastern and Midwestern cities, the growth of good jobs in the South, and better racial relations. Many people moved back because of family ties. [1]


  1. 1.0 1.1 "Migrations: The African-American Mosaic (Library of Congress Exhibition)". Retrieved 23 January 2011. "In the early decades of the twentieth century, movement of blacks to the North increased tremendously. The reasons for this "Great Migration," as it came to be called, are complex. Thousands of African-Americans left the South to escape sharecropping, worsening economic conditions, and the lynch mob. They sought higher wages, better homes, and political rights. Between 1940 and 1970 continued migration transformed the country's African-American population from a predominately southern, rural group to a northern, urban one." 


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